A virtual phone number — sometimes called a direct inward dial, or DID, number — is a phone number that is not directly linked to a specific phone line. Virtual phone numbers are most often associated with call forwarding. A virtual number assigned to a business can be forwarded to several different existing phone numbers, either mobile or fixed. Virtual numbers work on both the public switched telephone network, or PSTD, or voice over Internet protocol, or VoIP, systems. No matter where the call originates, a virtual number can route it to any predetermined phone line.
Companies that do business globally use virtual numbers to provide familiarity to callers in a specific region. When a person dials a local number, that call is routed either to a business, an individual or a call center without the caller’s knowledge. Whether the number is toll free or local, this provides not just familiarity, but allows the call to be placed either for free or at the local rate.
Virtual number systems provide the benefit of precise scheduling. This is especially important when doing business across time zones. If a call is placed when a local business is closed for the night, the call can be routed to a proxy location that is open and available to take the call. Forwarding can be scheduled not only by time of day, but by day of the week, as well. If a local business is closed on Sunday, an incoming call can be routed to a call center that is open seven days a week.
Although the needs of each business are, of course, unique to the individual company, there are universal features that should should be offered by whichever company you choose. The service should be activated immediately, with no set-up fee. It should be possible to instantly add or remove forwarding numbers through a computer interface available to the client business. The system should work on SIP, VoIP, PBX, cellular and PSTN networks. There should be no long-term contract, and the client should be able to cancel at any time without paying a fee. Be sure that sequential dialing is included. Sequential dialing removes the chance of a caller hearing a busy signal by routing calls sequentially to a predetermined number of lines if one or more is busy.
Although the dominance of minutes-based mobile plans has negated the original purpose of allowing a customer to call a location without incurring expensive and arbitrary long-distance fees, toll-free numbers still serve a purpose. First, they’re often easier to remember than local numbers, which is especially important in radio and television advertising. Also, toll-free numbers provide continuity in advertising, meaning that separate ads don’t need to be created with different numbers in different regions. Vanity numbers — numbers whose corresponding letters spell a product, service or business name — are often an important part of brand familiarity. 1-800-FLOWERS, for example, is the business’s name and phone number, and can be forwarded from a virtual number no matter where or when the call is placed.
Virtual numbers provide businesses flexibility across time and geographic space. No matter where a call originates, it can be routed from a virtual number to any line or lines. Whether it’s a sole proprietor who needs all calls to be routed to his or her personal cell phone, or a global corporation that fields calls from across the world, virtual numbers are an important tool in getting ahead of time zone, language and scheduling problems. Make sure the appropriate features are included, insist on sequential dialing and let a virtual phone number be the central element of your business’s communication center.