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If you're in any type of real estate business, the phone is something you cannot escape from.
At some point, your company must communicate verbally with customers, prospects, colleagues, and business associates.
But the interesting thing is, not all phone calls are equally important.
If you've worked in any sales or secretarial role, you know that most of the initial calls you receive aren't important.
They come in from prospects who aren't going to do business with you, solicitors trying to sell something or people who shouldn't be calling you in the first place.
These calls are a total waste of time… but the only way to weed out the junk calls from the valuable ones is to have someone available to answer every call, and figure out which “bin” they belong in.
This is one of the primary reasons why secretaries and assistants exist… but for most new businesses, the owner answers many of these phone calls because nobody else is on staff to do it. As a result, these phone conversations chew up a lot of their valuable time.
What is PATLive?
Luckily for us, several companies have full-time virtual receptionists you can hire to simply be available to take these phone calls for you.
One of the most well-known companies is called PATLive.
There are plenty of other services that can do a similar thing to PatLive (CallPorter, Smith.ai, Numa, AnswerFirst, and Call.me are just a few examples), but PATLive is sort of like the “Kleenex” or “Band-Aid” brand in this space. They've been around for a long time, and to many, it's the first name that comes to mind about virtual receptionist services.
Why Use a Call Answering Service?
Thousands of business owners hire this kind of service because it allows them to portray the idea that they're available at all hours of the day (even when they're closed). For some types of businesses, it allows the business owner to distance themselves and their customers.
This is a BIG thing for real estate investors because we send out so much marketing to cold prospects, and many of the people who respond aren't going to do business with us. If we don’t find an effective way to handle these incoming calls, we'll be wasting a huge amount of your time on one of the least-important steps in your acquisition process.
For most of my real estate investing career, I handled these incoming calls with an automated voicemail message, which is cheaper, and very effective at weeding out the sellers who aren't motivated to sell (because most unmotivated sellers won't listen to a 2+ minute long voicemail greeting AND leave a detailed message)… but at the same time, it can also weed out some legitimately motivated sellers who just want to talk to a human being.
Depending on your business and what you need a virtual receptionist for, PATLive can be used for a variety of tasks, such as:
- Taking Messages
- Scheduling Appointments
- Event Registration
- Lead Collection
- Order Processing
- Call Transferring
- Handling Overflow Calls
- Taking Lunch/After-Hours Calls
When cold prospects call in and can talk to an actual person (instead of a pre-recorded greeting), there's also a higher likelihood that you'll pull some information out of that caller and possibly even do business together, whereas many of them would just as well hang up before leaving a voicemail in response to a pre-recorded message.
While the service is pretty flexible, it's important to have proper expectations about what it should and shouldn't be used for.
When we look at the real estate investing industry, PATLive is most often used as a message-taking service. It's important to remember that the person answering your phone knows nothing about your business. They're just a hired hand who can answer with a friendly voice and ask whatever questions you want.
It's not their job to negotiate deals, act as your sales rep, make decisions, or talk about anything outside the basic script you provide.
The people who answer your phone will answer your phone and have an American accent (a big plus), and they'll be reasonably good at taking down the details and delivering the messages to you, but don't expect much beyond that.
Best Practices for an Answering Service
Because this is just a message-taking service, you may want to consider keeping your script short and to the point. The goal is to find out, as quickly as possible, whether the caller wants to do business with you. Have your assistant begin with the most important disqualifying questions, so you can find this out ASAP.
If the caller isn't the right fit, get them off the phone fast (because you'll get charged by the minute).
If the caller does want to do business, then you'll want your PATLive rep to extract the most essential information so you can proceed with your due diligence and decide whether you want to follow up with them.
Unlike the normal due diligence questions I ask on my buying website, it may be overkill for your PATLive rep to ask all of these. Remember: for every additional question they have to ask, it adds to the time they're on the phone with each prospect (which is going to cost you, by the minute) and it also adds more opportunities for the conversation to go sideways.
Since this is only the initial screening stage (and since MANY callers will be disqualified before they reach the next stage), the idea is to identify the serious prospects and get them off the phone as quickly as possible.
PATLive will send you a plain text email with a summary of each conversation (even if that call was simply a hangup).
This is a fine first step, but setting up something more sophisticated and efficient is not a bad idea if you start getting a huge volume of calls. You can create an online web form and have PATLive fill out this form after each call. When they submit the form, the information can go wherever you want with a simple Zapier integration. It could go to a Trello board, a Google Sheet, a Podio account, or another virtual assistant who then handles the next step in your due diligence process).
Who Are These “Virtual Receptionists” Who Handle Your Calls?
PATLive hires many college students and recent graduates, with older folks and others looking to make PATLive their work-from-home careers.
When PATLive hires a new employee, they pull the top 2% of applicants in their hiring pool and put them through several basic tests:
- Typing speed/accuracy
- Simulated cold calls for soft skills benchmarking, etc.
If applicants make it past this initial round, they will be interviewed by the PATLive management and training team. Passing that second round earns an applicant a spot in a training class. Each training class is roughly two weeks of classroom instruction, covering everything from internal policies and procedures on handling different types of calls and being an effective receptionist.
If applicants pass all their tests and simulated calls, they will advance to job shadowing. At this stage, they will listen to live calls as a partner agent takes them, and then they’ll be tested on what they heard later. After they get through this phase, it reverses the shadowing role, and the applicant will take calls with an experienced agent. They will get their spot if they get through all of that.
As live receptionists, their performance is measured daily, weekly, and monthly by PATLive's Quality Control Team.
They grade agents on a variety of factors including, but not limited to:
- Message accuracy
- Soft skills
- Speed to answer
- Voice tone
In addition to the quality control staff, they also have call graders who listen to samplings of every agent's calls and score them for later factoring into the overall audit they receive every month.
Do the virtual receptionists typically have an American accent?
PATLive is located 100% in the U.S. and does not outsource their calls anywhere else. They do have bilingual agents available who can speak Spanish, but for the most part, any noticeable accents will typically be of the South Georgia tilt.
Do you have any say in which specific individual(s) will answer your phones?
PATLive works on a first-in/first-out model for their call center. When they receive a script from a new client (that's you), they will look at several factors to determine who will answer the phone. These factors include:
- Type of workflow
- Whether they need to use third-party software
- Average call duration
- Call frequency/volume, etc.
In other words, some logic is involved with who answers the phone… it's not a random process.
They use these benchmarks to place each script into a queue. Their goal is to distribute the workload evenly around their agent pool while maintaining a certain consistency of experience for the agents, which in turn leads to a more solid sound on the phone (agents work better when the calls they take tend to be similar).
Each queue comprises a certain number of agents available to answer calls, and queues are nested to prevent long waits. At any given moment in around the clock, a particular script will have around 25-35 agents available in the first string to answer. Overall there are about 100 agents on the roster for each queue, with a subset on duty at any given time.
My Experience With PATLive
In this video, I'll show you how to create and submit your script to PATLive.
You can also hear a test call I did, where I pretended to be a prospect responding to a blind offer sent by my company.
When you become a PATLive customer, you'll get a dedicated phone number. You can give this number to the world (on your website, direct mail, business card, etc.).
I use my existing OpenPhone phone number and forward all calls to my PATLive number. This way, I can continue using the same intake number I've always had.
If your goal is to have PATLive follow a basic script and ask a few key questions, you can either:
- Receive a plain-text email after each call
- Provide a web form for the PATLive assistant to fill out and submit to you
The benefit of using a web form is that the information can go anywhere you want instead of cluttering your inbox. For example, if you've integrated it with a Trello, Podio, or whatever CRM system you use to keep your leads organized).
My PATLive Call Script
I'm not saying my call script is perfect, but if you're looking for an example to go by, these are the questions I have my virtual receptionist ask when people respond to my blind offers:
- Are you interested in selling your property?
- If calling for another matter: May I ask the nature of your call?
- Thanks for calling! We wish you all the best. If you change your mind, feel free to call us again.
- May I have the reference number included at the top of your offer?
- Are you the owner of the property?
- If not, what is your relationship with the owner?
- Do you know of any back due taxes owing on this property?
- Do you know of any mortgages or liens on this property?
- If so, what amount is owed on those?
- Are any utilities available at this property (water, sewer, gas, electricity)?
- Are there any improvements on this property (slab, fence, shed, other)?
- Are there other co-owners who need to sign off on selling this property?
- Do you have any other properties you’d like to sell?
- Did you have any questions about the offer?
If the price is too low…
- What is the absolute rock-bottom price you’d be willing to entertain?
- If the prospect said YES to selling their property:
- “Thanks for calling. If you haven't already, please sign and return the offer to us via the address information at the bottom of the page.”
- If the prospect said MAYBE to selling their property:
- “Thanks for calling. Our team will take a closer look, and if we can pursue this property further, you will hear from an associate in the next 2 business days.”
- If the prospect said NO to selling their property:
- See above
There are mixed reviews and experiences with virtual receptionist services like PATLive.
I've heard from others who have left PATLive and come back simply because the alternatives they tried were significantly more expensive or not nearly as good… so while PATLive has its shortcomings, other virtual receptionist services have them too.
I've found that all the virtual receptionists I've had with PATLive have an American accent.
I've also found their customer support to be pretty solid. Whenever I've had questions, I've never been ignored or dismissed with an unhelpful response.
What I Like About PATLive
I love how a service like PATLive lets me completely offload one of the most mundane and mentally taxing jobs of gathering information and chit-chatting with strangers.
Maybe it's because I'm introverted and would be perfectly content with a day in the office alone. Maybe it's because I know how much time can be wasted on these phone conversations. Either way, it's a BIG burden that I don't have to worry about.
Granted, I still have to process the information that comes in from these calls, but at least the job of talking to these people frankly doesn't need to be done by me, and PATLive provides a good enough solution for handling this constant inflow of communication.
What I Don't Like About PATLive
Depending on the volume of direct mail I'm sending out, sometimes I'll see higher monthly charges that catch me off guard, especially when the maximum number of minutes under my plan is exceeded.
Regardless of which monthly package you sign up for, it will cover a finite number of minutes. If you have a month where you get crushed with a higher-than-normal call volume, the fees can add up quickly once those minutes are exceeded. If your call volume tends to “spike” from month to month, depending on what marketing pushes you to have, that's a potential issue you'll want to be prepared for. Whereas, if you've got a consistent marketing push each month, you probably won't have a lot of surprises here.
Should You Use PATLive?
The bottom line is, even though I can always do a better job of talking to my customers than a virtual receptionist will, I don't love this part of my business, and I'm not a critical component of making this part of my business function properly. As such, it only makes sense to hire out this job to someone professionally trained to handle it and do a reasonably good job.
If you want to give them a shot, feel free to sign up through the REtipster affiliate link and/or give them a call through our direct line at 800-861-4543.
If you sign up through either of these mediums, you'll get a discount on the service for the life of your subscription.