Getting a Virtual Phone Number: Free Guide to Entrepreneurs

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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.

Virtual Phone Number

International Businesses

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.

Scheduling

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.

Features

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.

Toll-Free Numbers

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.

Finding the best VoIP service for your Startup

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Voice-over Internet protocol, or VoIP is wildly popular among businesses and individuals alike for several reasons. The most obvious is price — Internet telephony is almost always less expensive than a phone system built on the traditional Public Switched Telephone Network, or PSTN. VoIP is software-based, making upgrades or the addition of extra lines simpler and less expensive, and VoIP provides extraordinary customizability for businesses of all sizes. Finally, the best VoIP service providers offer a range of features that would usually cost extra on traditional PSTN networks. When deciding which provider is right for your business, look for the following features.

Simultaneous Dialing

When choosing which is the best VoIP service provider for your business, ask if they offer simultaneous dialing. This allows incoming calls to be forwarded to multiple locations at the same time. Whoever answers first, takes the call, which is then terminated on all the other lines. This decreases wait times, virtually eliminates the chance of an incoming call receiving a busy signal and prevents the need for the representative who fields the call to put the customer on hold.

Sequential Dialing

Customers or clients should never hear a busy signal. The VoIP provider you choose should offer — for free — sequential dialing. This service allows the business owner to choose several phone numbers for calls to be routed to sequentially. If the primary line is busy, the VoIP provider will automatically redirect the incoming call to the second number in the sequence. If that number is also busy, it will forward the call to the third number and so on.

Routing Based on Time of Day

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The best VoIP service providers will offer — generally without extra charge — time-of-day routing. If a company does business internationally or even nationally, this service delivers time-zone efficiency that was once reserved only for businesses with scattered local offices. The business can set a schedule based on the time of day — or day of the week — that a call is placed, and determine a secondary location that is charged with receiving the call. If a call is placed to a call center that has closed for the night, it can be routed to an open call center in another location, in another time zone. This system is often referred to as “follow the sun” routing.

International Tones

Just as is the case with police and ambulance sirens, different countries have different ringback tones. Often overlooked as a triviality, establishing the correct ringback tone provides continuity and familiarity to the caller. A customer’s call — even one placed to a local number — is often bounced around the globe through sequential dialing, call routing, etc. But the best VoIP service providers establish a sense of consistency to people placing calls to businesses, no matter where the call originates. This provides reassurance to customers, as if the call they placed was uninterrupted and handled at the local level. Internationally correct ringback tones add to this veneer.

When choosing a VoIP provider, you should never have to sign a long-term contract that can’t be cancelled at any time without charge. Unused minutes — at least a portion of them — should be rolled over to the next month. Extra minutes that exceed the monthly limit established in your plan should not cost more than 15 cents each, technical support should be available 24 hours a day, and you should always be able to alter your plan, or add or remove phone lines. VoIP is popular for many reasons, not the least of which are the wide range of features that are included for free — make sure you choose a provider that offers all of them.

Management Consulting and Customer Service: VoIP Business Telecommunications

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The most important factor in the success of a management consultant company isn’t necessarily results-based. Customer service, and the manner in which client calls are handled, can make up for a great deal of shortcomings, and conversely, can expose a great deal of shortcomings. Consultants typically spend a great deal of time and money investing in analytics software, databases, and other process-based tools. They scour data and understand how to recognize patterns and solve problems. They typically even consult with clients on improving their communications systems and customer experience.

But what about a consulting company’s own communications systems and customer experience?

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Efficient communication is critical to the success of any professional consulting firm. Clients are often scattered across the country and around the globe and consultants typically spend a great deal of time on the road. The ability to receive phone calls and messages is critical. One missed call can mean walking into a meeting with incomplete data or can lead to a fractured client relationship.  Old and outdated communications and collaboration systems can chip away at a consulting firm’s productivity and affect its ability to remain competitive.

The Traditional Communications Model

A Private Branch Exchange (PBX) is the traditional approach to business telephony.  This is the standard phone system model that delivers inbound calls to individual extensions.  Unfortunately, this type of system has become outdated and expensive.

With a traditional PBX setup, firms must operate one system per office. If you have locations in New York and Los Angeles, each location will have its own, traditional phone system. Employees who must interact by phone have to place long distances telephone calls to reach their colleagues.

Traditional PBX systems also have limited support for telecommuting and traveling staff members.  These workers must locate and operate separate phone, mobile, fax, and data lines. If a consultant is on-site with a client, she must use the client’s phone system or her own mobile phone to place a long distance call back to the office.

This model can get costly.  Firms must pay up front for the phone system, then pay monthly maintenance costs in addition to the cost of calls and network services. There is no way to predict the expense from month to month, and there is no way to expand your consulting business without incurring increased hardware and maintenances costs.

Online Communications Systems

Online phone systems overcome the limitations of the traditional model and give consulting firms far greater scalability and flexibility. Voice Over Internet Protocol, or VoIP sends calls over the internet rather than over traditional phone lines.  These systems require less hardware than traditional phone systems and actually allow phone numbers to travel wherever you direct them, as long as there is an internet connection on the other end.

This technology has created more efficient PBX systems for business. With a hosted PBX system, calls are switched and routed not with a bulky switchboard, but through the VoIP system. Hosted PBX works with traditional and online phone systems, either in tandem with or in replacement of your current system.  With hosted PBX, a call comes in through your external telephone line, travels over the internet, and is routed to any endpoint you determine. That may be a desk extension, a mobile phone, or even a computer.

Online phone systems give management consulting firms far greater flexibility to conduct business through:

  • Advanced routing features: As individual consultants travel to visit clients and prospects, they can remain connected to the home office. VoIP systems allow users to route calls to any destination they choose. Through simultaneous and sequential ringing, they can send calls from their desk to their mobile phone, a client’s office, or even their laptop or tablet.

  • Every call to colleagues is in-network: Consultants visiting clients on-site will no longer have to place long distance calls from the client’s office or their own mobile phone in order to reach their colleagues at the home office. Instead, they can place calls directly from their laptop or tablet, and the call remains in network.

  • Connecting multiple locations: In the same way, colleagues working in different locations can reach one another by phone through a simple extension, rather than by placing an outbound call.

  • Voice and data integration: Traveling employees can receive voice messages and faxes in their email inbox, improving response time and eliminating missed client communications.

  • Resiliency: If the phone lines go down due to a power outage or natural disasters, calls can be routed to other phones with the click of a mouse, eliminating downtime.

  • Scalability: When the firm has to add phone lines or develops a need for advanced services, online phone systems can be instantly expanded to meet those needs without adding additional hardware.

Efficient Systems, Improved Service

Management consultants must be flexible and they must be mobile. And a firm’s communications system should be just as flexible and mobile as its consultants.  By adopting online systems, consulting firms can improve their response time and reduce costs. Key team members will always be “plugged in,” even if they are visiting a client halfway around the globe.  Traditional phone systems limited workflow and stymied collaboration. But online systems are scalable, adapting to the needs of the organization as well as the needs of the individual user. They provide unprecedented flexibility and mobility, and improve the way consultants deliver customer service.