Using dumb cellphone as an answering machine?

My business sometimes has the need for clientele to contact me when we are closed. To achieve this, callers get a message directing them to call an answering service if they have an emergent need to speak with me. The answering service texts me the information and I call the person from my cellphone which has caller ID blocked.

The problem is the answering service charges me $98 a month, and there are months I get zero calls. At the most I get one call a week. There’s got to be a cheaper way to do this without anyone getting my primary cell number.

I’m thinking about having the message at work tell people to call 123-456-7890 and leave a message detailing their situation. The number they’d call would be a dumb phone that I would never answer, just using it like an answering machine. My return call to them would be via my primary cellphone with caller ID blocked. The dump phone would only be used for voicemail, I’d never place calls from it or speak on it.

Anyone see flaws with this? Anyone know how cheaply I could do this? Thanks!!

Sure. Just get a prepaid phone with voicemail. Add a minimum number of minutes, and if you set up the voicemail so you can retrieve your messages from another phone, you won’t even use minutes checking them.

Cool. I’ve never purchased/used a phone like that. I use Verizon for my “real” phone. Do I even have to deal with a provider?

It was a while ago that I used one, like 10 years ago, but when I did I had a T-Mobile prepaid phone and I believe I had to call them once to get it activated, but even “dumb” phones are so much more sophisticated today that you probably don’t need to actually talk to anyone like I did way back when.

If I were you, I’d go with either an AT&T or T-Mobile prepaid phone. AT&T will cost you $2 a day, but only for days you actually place or receive a call; I’m not sure whether calling it yourself to check voicemail counts or not, you’ll have to read the agreement carefully. If it doesn’t, it could potentially cost you nothing.

T-Mobile will cost you just $3 a month and that includes 30 minutes. I don’t think they roll over. Using it to check voicemail counts against those minutes, but again, you can set up the voicemail with a PIN so you can call that phone from another phone, don’t answer yourself, and when it goes to voicemail press * to get to the menu, enter your PIN, and you can listen to your messages without using the prepaid minutes.

I didn’t know live answering services still existed. I wonder how many other clients they have.

I know they have enough to keep them very busy! The company is located Johnstown, an hour-plus drive from me. When I have to call them they repeatedly put me on hold to deal with “real” calls.

Decades ago I used an answering service that was local. It was started by a couple who were both blind. After they retired their sighted daughter took over.

Telling a client to hang up and call another number is really unprofessional.

You need to use “conditional call forwarding” instead. This is different from the normal “immediate call forwarding” that forwards all calls. CCF only forwards calls when your line is busy or you fail to answer the phone. It can be turned on or off whenever you want. For example, you could turn it on only after business hours and turn it off when you open in the morning.

You could have the calls forwarded to an answering service, your home phone, your personal cell phone, whatever. The caller would not be notified of the number to which the call is being forwarded.

Edit: Come to think of it, why not just use immediate call forwarding (and only activate it after business hours) to forward the calls to your personal number or the answering service?

If none of these calls are international, should really take a look at Google Voice. What that does is give you a free phone number that links back into voicemail and the voicemail transcription system that you can read through an app. It is essentially free unless you are racking up outside of country charges…it does require that you have a Google account though.

If you really want to do it this way, try PagePlus. They are a reseller of Verizon service. (The technical term is MVNO – Mobile Virtual Network Operator). Their cheapest plan is $10 for 120 days of service. Calls you place or receive are charged at 10 cents/minute plus a 50 cent monthly charge. That charge is deducted from the $10 you pay until the balance reaches 0, at which point you have to pay again. Any balance that you don’t use gets rolled over when you recharge. You must recharge at least one every 120 days.

There are cheaper plans if you need more, but if most months you don’t even get a call, this should be pretty good.
You can use any unlocked Verizon-approved phone except a phone that was originally sold as a Verizon Prepaid phone.m (That’s because Verizon heavily subsidizes the purchase price of its prepaid phones and doesn’t appreciate people buying them and not using Verizon service.)

Without going into the specifics of my business (which I’d prefer not to do) it is difficult to reply to your points. Forwarding calls would not work due to the volume of calls, most of which are just, “ummm, are you open on Tuesday?” type calls.

I only want to hear from clients with true emergency situations, many of which I can “solve” in a minute or two on the phone.

Forwarding all calls to a service would not work. Forwarding all calls to me would be a disaster. When we are open I never talk on the phone. I pay people to do that.

Offering my clientele a way to contact me when we are closed is something that sets me apart from my competition, all of whom just have a “we are closed, call back when we are open” type message.

Hmmm, I have a Google account, but never used Google Voice. I’ll poke around. Would it be a problem when I’m on the water without WiFi?

One of my doctor’s has a message on his answering machine at work saying something to the effect of “We’re closed right now, if you need immediate assistance, please call my cell phone at xxx-xxx-xxxx”.
Personally, I was really impressed by that. It was a lot easier than talking to an answering service and then waiting around for a call back. It’s another reason I like this doctor so much. To add to it, as we were talking I apologized for calling him so late at night and he assured me (multiple times) that it’s really no big deal.

Maybe between a burner phone and a message asking people to call you on your cell after hours, when they need immediate assistance. From there, you’ll quickly find out of people use good judgement or not. If not, don’t answer it, let all the calls go to voicemail and decide who you’re going to call back now and who you’re going to call back in the morning.

Couldn’t you just use a dual sim phone. Have one number for work calls and your existing private number for private calls. Have the message direct the caller to leave a message on the bogus number in an emergency. You can listen to the message and decide how to respond just as you do with the message service. Don’t use that sim for any purpose other than receiving “emergency” messages.

Your doctor sounds like a great guy, willing to do anything for his clients.

I am so not that guy. Seriously. I do not want to blindly answer a ringing phone. Hell, I do not answer my personal cellphone when a friend calls. They all know I’d rather read a text/voicemail and then reply via text.

If we both have service I can call you & talk to you.
If I have service I can call you & leave a message.
When you have service you can retrieve the message.

Thought of that, but wouldn’t work with Verizon, my current carrier who I really like.

My knee-jerk reaction to this is Google Voice. Again, they give you a free phone number that you can forward to any existing phone number. Your client would call the Google number, it would ring to your cell phone which you could answer or ignore, then act accordingly.

I agree that Google Voice seems like the best solution for you.

Google Voice would certainly work. You can check your account anywhere you have a data connection, whether wi-fi or cellular data.

Of course, to return the call, you’d need to either call from your cell phone’s regular number, or use a Google Voice app on the cell phone to dial out from the the GV number.

He really is, if anyone needs an allergist/allergy shots in the MKE area, I’d be happy to give out his name.

You wouldn’t have to answer it. I meant you could let all calls to the burner phone go to voicemail to screen them and then decide who needs to have their call returned and who doesn’t.