What is call screening? Best practice tips for small businesses

Call screening can help your customer service teams to save time and stress, by keeping your phone line free for the calls that matter most.

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Written and reviewed by:
Helena Young

Spam calls are a big issue for today’s companies. Robot callers and bad actors waste your time and cost you money. Business telephone systems offer security features as a first line of defence, but call screening is the best way to reduce the impact on operations.

Call screening describes certain dedicated checks that include caller ID, which helps verify genuine incoming queries. In short, your service desk can sort the wheat from the chaff and prioritise actual, valuable customers.

Call screening is a smart idea for any business; whether you run a large call centre or a mobile phone side hustle. Below, we’ll explain what call screening is, how it works, and why it’s a crucial tool to have in your business arsenal.

What is call screening?

Call screening is the process of vetting incoming phone calls to recognise and block spam messages before they can be picked up.

As technology develops, unwanted phone calls from telemarketers and robots are becoming harder to spot. With call screening, agents can evaluate a phone number to decide whether to take the call, send it to voicemail, or block it via call routing.

Screening is the most thorough way to filter out unwanted calls. Unlike call blocking, it filters incoming messages using set criteria, not general restrictions on numbers or area codes.

This is vital because call blocking can lead companies to accidentally restrict legitimate callers. With screening, you’ll get real-time insights for smarter decision making. Plus, using business telephone software, this will all be automated for instant and reliable intel.

Security is a key benefit of call screening, and one this article will focus on. The term is also used to describe call management, for example, establishing which department to route a caller to, or recording a customer’s voicemail if you’re too busy to answer.

How does call screening work?

Call screening is easily enabled by modern telephone providers using Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP). In the few seconds that your software registers an incoming call, the VoIP phone will automatically screen the caller in three steps:

Step 1. Caller ID matching

Like a bouncer checking a guest list, the system starts with the name, number, and network associated with the call.

It compares this information to databases of known spammers, telemarketers, or numbers you’ve blacklisted (you can curate these lists manually or subscribe to pre-populated ones) to instantly stop calls it views as fishy.

If the call history doesn’t raise concerns, the system will move onto the next step. Should it require a human eye to judge, it may ask for an agent to review before taking action.

Step 2. Information analysis

The system analyses multiple aspects of the caller, including reviewing public databases to check if the caller belongs to a known spam network.

Advanced systems also offer interactive voice response (IVR) to collect a caller’s name and reason for calling before they reach an agent. Most are AI-powered, which means they can also predict the sentiment of the conversation and react accordingly.

This can also be useful if you want to direct a call to a specific department, such as forwarding an inquiry about pricing to the sales team.

Step 3. Decision time

The system will then choose how to handle the call. If the caller is judged dubious, it will block the call or send it to voicemail. If it seems legitimate, it will be forwarded as normal.

Once on the phone, voice pattern analysis may be able to spot robotic elements in the caller’s voice, unusual pauses, or odd characteristics as an added safety net.

If you’re not comfortable letting WALL-E make the final judgement call, you can also set up your own rules for screening. For example, you might decide to limit calls outside of business hours to set work boundaries.

Call screening example

Emma owns a boutique jewellery store in Liverpool. She uses a VoIP system with call screening features. One day, the VoIP system detects that an incoming call is being routed through a VPN server, a type of software often used by scammers to mask their identities.

Emma receives a notification on her screen, alerting her to the suspicious call. Based on the details, she can either:

  • Answer the call: if the VPN location matches a legitimate business partner or known supplier, Emma can choose to answer the call.
  • Go to voicemail: if the reason for the VPN use is unclear, Emma can send the call to voicemail and review the message later.
  • Block the number: if the evidence points to a scam or unwanted marketing call, Emma can block the call and add the number to a blacklist.

In this case, Emma decides to be cautious and send the call to voicemail. Listening to the message, she discovers it’s a potential customer inquiring about a specific vintage necklace. Relieved, she calls the customer back directly.

This is just one example of how call screening is beneficial. Emma was able to use the intel gathered by her phone system to judge for herself if a query was legitimate, avoiding a potential scam and still being able to provide satisfactory customer service.

Benefits of call screening for businesses

The advantages of identifying and blocking unwanted numbers for businesses are obvious: you won’t have to worry about time wasted or your information being stolen.

There are some specific benefits that call screening tools offer over traditional call blocking methods. Here are the top five reasons to use a business phone that offers call screening:

1. Time savings

Call screening tools automate the detection of spam calls. You won’t need to waste time on the phone with a scam – if your VoIP system tells you a caller ID is dodgy, you can screen the call without touching a button.

2. Customer satisfaction

Call screening can run in the background of a call, so you won’t need to bother customers with verbal background and ID checks, minimising disruption and letting them get to their query faster.

3. Enhanced security

Telephone scams are evolving rapidly. Screening takes into account sophisticated signals of a scam, including the network and robot voices, ensuring sensitive customer information and business operations are more secure.

4. Cost savings

Filtering out the bad actors means your business phone lines will be working at full efficiency. Only genuine queries coming from high-value customers can get through, meaning less money and time wasted on meaningless conversations.

5. Scalability

Familiarising yourself with call screening features early on will make it easier for the business to scale up operations down the line. For example, as your team grows, you’ll be able to introduce new staff members to call screening and other security protocols.

Call screening features to look for

Every VoIP software has something unique to offer – which is why it’s critical to research the top providers that offer most or all of the following 10 advanced call screening features:

  • Caller ID: an absolute must-have for call screening; this tells the software who is calling and from where for an initial screening check.
  • Customisable greeting: to avoid keeping customers waiting during caller ID checks, upload custom audio into your call flow to keep them occupied.
  • Do-not-disturb (DND) mode: when activated, all calls are sent directly to voicemail until turned off again – useful for when you’re away from the desk.
  • Voicemail: this function allows you to send a call to voicemail, so you can decide whether it’s a genuine inquiry or an unwanted cold call.
  • Voicemail to text: this function turns voicemail messages into text so you can quickly review the call.
  • Virtual receptionist: virtual receptionists use AI to identify callers and understand their intent and purpose. This allows for more precise call screening
  • Call routing: commonly used to transfer calls to the correct department, call routing also lets you automatically block calls by sending it to a predefined destination, such as voicemail or a busy signal.
  • Call monitoring: some VoIP systems let managers track agent’s calls. This lets security teams keep an ear out for suspicious actors for another layer of protection.
  • Encryption: encryption prevents third-parties from accessing call data. It’s a good idea to have in case a spammer gets through your call screening shields.
  • Company hours: this allows businesses to create a schedule for when their phone line is open, reducing the risk of spam calls from international numbers.


Call screening is a smart way to make business communications more time-efficient and secure, reassuring company owners that their time and money is being well spent. Plus, thanks to the wonders of modern VoIP technology, it does all this without you having to lift a finger.

Read more about the top small business VoIP phones with powerful call screening features, and find out how VoIP can help you dial up your communications strategy for a five-star customer experience this year.

Written by:
Helena Young
Helena is Lead Writer at Startups. As resident people and premises expert, she's an authority on topics such as business energy, office and coworking spaces, and project management software. With a background in PR and marketing, Helena also manages the Startups 100 Index and is passionate about giving early-stage startups a platform to boost their brands. From interviewing Wetherspoon's boss Tim Martin to spotting data-led working from home trends, her insight has been featured by major trade publications including the ICAEW, and news outlets like the BBC, ITV News, Daily Express, and HuffPost UK.

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