How to Get a Virtual Phone Number and Use it to Generate Leads

Share Button

A “virtual” phone number is a telephone number that isn’t associated with a physical, hard telephone line. Instead, it uses internet telephony to direct calls to a user’s main telephone number over data lines. Virtual phone numbers are typically used by businesses to set up toll-free lines, or to operate local telephone numbers in different locations.

How to Get a Virtual Phone Number and Use it to Generate LeadsFor example, a business located in San Francisco may wish to attract new customers from Dallas. In this case, the company would use a voice over IP service (VoIP) to purchase a telephone number with a Dallas area code. The service provider will use the internet to “point” that number to the business’s main line in San Francisco. When a customer in Dallas calls that new number, they do not incur any long distance charges, and they will not be able to tell that their call has been re-routed, even though the call is answered from California.

Businesses can also choose to purchase toll free virtual phone numbers. Toll-free numbers give customers from any location in the United States or Canada a free way to reach an agent. Companies can also purchase virtual vanity toll free numbers. Vanity numbers, such as 1-800-GOT-JUNK, spell out words or phrases to help brand an organization and improve customer recall.

Using Local Phone Numbers to Generate Leads

Expanding a business into new geographic territories can be costly. Companies must create a local presence in order to manage new customers and generate leads. In some cases, this means putting salespeople on the ground. In all cases, this means ramping up marketing and advertising efforts in that location. The remote sales team may work out of hotels, or the company may choose to lease out office space.  But the strategic use of virtual phone numbers can cut expansion costs and ease the transition into new markets.

All a business needs to do in order to test a new market is to purchase a local, virtual number within that area code and route it to their main sales line. The number can be added to all advertising and marketing materials scheduled to go out in that location. Interested potential customers in that market will call the local line, and calls will be answered by a salesperson at headquarters.

How to Get a Virtual Phone Number and Use it to Generate LeadsBut why bother? Why not just advertise your main line? A virtual local number can help establish a presence, without the need for a physical office space. Customers will feel comfortable with a local telephone number. They’ll be far more likely to call a business they don’t know if that company has a local area code. Trying to convince customers to dial a strange area code could be an uphill battle.

As this new customer base grows, it may be necessary to send employees to that area, but a virtual phone number can be an organization’s “advance team,” helping companies test the waters and connect with a strong base before committing to a new business location.

Using Toll Free Numbers to Generate Leads

Toll free virtual phone numbers can also be useful to help a growing company generate new leads. These numbers help establish trust with potential new customers. Over the years, consumers have been taught to trust businesses with toll free telephone numbers. They associate the toll free prefix with large organizations and teams of customer service reps.  But thanks to internet telephony, even solopreneurs can purchase toll free virtual numbers, helping them create an image of a large organization.

And many companies choose to brand themselves with vanity toll free numbers. When you use your phone number to spell out words and phrases, it improves customer recall and makes print and broadcast ads more effective. Potential new clients will be able to remember 1-800-LOANS4U much more easily than 1-800-562-6748.

How Can Your Business Get a Virtual Phone Number?

How to Get a Virtual Phone Number and Use it to Generate LeadsVoIP has given companies easy access to virtual telephone numbers. All an interested business needs to do is contact a virtual telephone provider. Together they can choose toll free numbers or local numbers in any location. There is no hardware required to add new lines, and service can be connected in a matter of minutes.

The costs for virtual telephone numbers are extremely low, and many businesses choose to both local and toll-free numbers to help them brand their business, generate new leads, and create a solid foundation for growth.

 

Reduce Your Carbon Footprint with an Open Source Softphone

Share Button

Cloud computing and open source software have become an integral part of daily business operations, regardless of a company’s size or its nature of operations. Cloud computing saves server space, reduces energy costs, and allows employees to connect to critical applications from any computer. And through cloud-based internet telephony, employees can remain connected by voice to their through their personal computers and mobile devices.

Many companies are taking advantage of internet telephony in the form of open source softphone technology. These systems allow the workforce to operate on a unified network, no matter where they may be physically located. Through internet telephony and open source softphones, daily operations can be conducted at a lower cost, with greater flexibility, and with a reduced carbon output.

What Does “Open Source” Mean?

The term “open source” gets tossed around quite a bit when talking about software. But what does it really mean? Most of the software that is purchased off-the-shelf is what’s known as “compiled.” Compiled means that the coding that was used to develop the software (the source code) has been run through a program that translates the code in a way that the computer can understand. Complied software is “locked.” It very difficult to modify, and it can be quite impossible to see precisely how the developer created the program. Major software producers compile their products as a means of quality control and protecting their interests against competitors.

Open source software takes the exact opposite approach. All source code is made available with the compiled version of a program. In fact, customization and modifications are encouraged. Developers who operate in the open source camp believe that giving everyone access to all code can improve the software over time.

What, Exactly, is a Softphone?

The rise of IP telephony for business has led to the development of softphones. Softphones are not actual telephones. They are software that allow users to place telephone calls over the internet directly from their laptop or desktop computer. Think of placing a call from your computer through Skype – that is softphone technology.

Reduce Your Carbon Footprint with an Open Source SoftphoneSo how to open source softphones work?  They allow users to communicate freely over the internet via voice, text, instant message, or video. Users can download and redistribute the softphone software as they like, and it is able to be used on a variety of platforms (Windows, Mac, Linux, mobile, etc.).

When companies begin investigating open source softphones, they may come across the term “WebRTC.” WebRTC is a specialized open framework that stands for “real time communication.”  This simply means that users can instantly communicate with one another through the internet, without the need to download and install extra programs.

WebRTC works through a web page, rather than outside software. Users can communicate with each other through voice, video conference, instant messaging, simply by visiting a website. Some examples of WebRTC in action include:

  • Video customer service chats – clients simply visit a contact page to connect with an agent face-to-face.

  • Real time document collaboration between employees.

  • Video conferencing through smart TV’s (eliminating the need for extra cables and AV equipment).

  • Place and receive “traditional” phone calls with a single click on a web browser.

The uses for softphones and WebRTC are customizable based on the needs of an organization. Communication is completely personalized, without having to add extra hardware or infrastructure.

How do Open Source Softphones Reduce Carbon Footprint?

Open source softphones can benefit businesses by saving them money – internet telephony is far less expensive than traditional public switched telephone networks (PSTN). They use the infrastructure that an organization already has in place to connect users with the PSTN. They can be scaled as-needed without adding extra hardware, and advanced features can be added at a much lower cost.

They also help employees stay connected with one another, and with customers, no matter where they may be. While traveling, key team members can connect to the company network from their open source softphone, right from their laptop. All calls will appear to come directly from their office line.

But softphones can also help organizations reduce their overall carbon footprint. Sustainability is becoming more and more important for business operations. A commitment to sustainability saves money and improves a company’s public persona. But how can a simple telephone software application help reduce carbon footprint?

The internet has made it less imperative for all employees to operate out of a corporate headquarters. Remote workers can now access critical applications via the cloud, which means they can conduct their daily activities from any location. A virtual workforce significantly reduces a company’s daily energy consumption and carbon output. And when workers do not have to physically travel to work, they can save 340 gallons of gas per year, and reduce their carbon emissions by three tons. A typical commuter with a one-way commute of 22 miles can save around 80,000 Megajoules of energy simply by working from home on a regular basis.

Through the use of internet telephony and open source softphones, organizations can offer their employees a more flexible work schedule, while allowing them to remain connected to the company network. This simple and customizable technology can open the door for companies to conduct business efficiently, while reducing their overall carbon footprint.

Smartphones are the New Office: Virtual Phone Numbers and Call Forwarding for the Mobile Enterprise

Share Button

It is not just the consumer world that has gone mobile over the last several years. As smartphones got cheaper, faster and more powerful, they became appendages of the consumers who came to rely on them. Those consumers, however, had jobs. The “bring your own device”, or BYOD, revolution emerged as employees realized that their personal mobile devices — specifically their smartphones — were at least as capable, if not more, than the technology they were supplied with at work.

Their smartphones allowed them to work remotely, unshackling them from the traditional constraints of workplace tech and workplace schedules. Managers, security specialists and IT departments initially struggled to keep up. But as entrepreneurs now realize that mobile employees — working on their own, familiar devices — are happier, more productive, and require no learning curve or training for phones they already own, businesses are evolving and smartphones are quickly replace the traditional office.

Smartphones: The Backbone of the BYOD Revolution

The mobile-enterprise movement is advancing so quickly through the business world that providing the means for businesses to mobilize their operations is, in and of itself, big business. Recent research suggests that revenue gleaned from mobile business users will grow to $370 billion by 2017. 30 percent of the mobile-services market currently comes from enterprise, and mobile enterprise is expected to grow at twice the rate of the mobile consumer market. The overwhelming majority of this growth comes from BYOD in general — and smartphones as business tools in particular.

Apps Turn Phones into Cloud-Based Offices

Cloud-based computing has already revolutionized the way offices function. Remote hosting has allowed businesses to access software — and the mountains of data that go along with it — without storing and securing it locally. This freed companies to focus on their core competency while letting an outside firm worry about hosting and storing crucial software and data such as that used for accounting operations.

Apps have taken that concept and individualized it — literally putting remote cloud computing in the palms of smartphone owners’ hands. Mobile employees can now turn their phones into virtual offices with a complete menu of enterprise apps. Apps related to enterprise mobility management, or EMM, and advanced mobile management, or AMM, are among those most commonly used by employees whose phones double as the portal to their workplace.

Case Study: VCC Construction

Virtual Phone Numbers Call Forwarding

VCC, a mid-sized construction company, wanted to extend to its project managers real-time access to information that was critical to servicing their accounts, retaining the best customers, managing customer data and collaborating with colleagues. Using apps and software, the company established a system that fed information such as messages, job schedules and workflows from a project manager into a central system. The system then distributed the information to the smartphones of all relevant employees instantly and in real time. With this new ability to analyze, organize and distribute data, VCC boosted new business by 40 percent and saved roughly 400 employee hours a month.

Whether launching a startup or converting an established business, smartphones are becoming venues in and of themselves. Although it requires an elevated level of vigilance for IT security, smartphone-based BYOD can — and has for many businesses — dramatically reduce infrastructure costs and streamline business operations, all while allowing employees the flexibility and familiarity that their own devices provide. Mobile business is big business — for businesses of all sizes.

Vanity 800 Numbers and Marketing Analytics: Strategies and Results

Share Button

By assigning more than one toll-free vanity number (or local number or any number) to different advertising strategies, businesses can determine which ads are generating the most valuable responses. This strategy is called call tracking. With one vanity number, for example, on a website, another on a billboard campaign and a third in a series of newspaper ads, call tracking allows a company to clearly see which ad medium generated the most calls, the most conversions, the most sales, etc. This service is offered by many different firms that specialize in marketing analytics. Different businesses use the service differently, but several features should be universal to all call-tracking campaigns.

Case Study #1: Paychex

Vanity 800 Numbers with Paychex A company specializing in payroll, human resources and benefits outsourcing, called Paychex, hired an analytical firm specializing in call tracking. Paychex received a large chunk of its inquires from phone calls, and previously had relied on a rudimentary system of asking callers how they had heard about the company or which ad they had seen. With more than 12,000 employees in 100 offices serving more than a half million businesses, this system was grossly inadequate.

After just one year of analytical call measurement, tracking and attribution, Paychex increased paid search lead volume by a full 98 percent. Perhaps more importantly, CPA dropped by 43 percent. The time that Paychex had to spend reporting and assessing their ad campaigns was cut in half.

Case Study #2: VersaTube

 

Vanity 800 Numbers with Versatube

 

VersaTube, a supplier of DIY building kits, underwent a massive marketing overhaul, the first and most important element of which was a call-tracking program. The company steering VersaTube’s new strategy used call tracking to differentiate whether calls were originating from VersaTube’s website, Google ads or their email campaign.

They replaced the phone numbers in all three ad locations with unique, trackable numbers. Year over year, VersaTube increased leads by 208 percent, while seeing an increase in sales of 89 percent. Moreover, they integrated their call-tracking software into their existing Google Analytics account, allowing them to constantly monitor any future changes.

Features

There are a large number of marketing specialty firms that offer call-tracking services — most of which include vanity 800 numbers. Their services, price structures and potential benefits vary widely depending on the size, industry, age and location of the client business. There are, however, several universal features that should be consistent to any call-tracking service your business considers hiring.

The service should track keywords, ad groups, campaigns and ads within pay-per-click campaigns that lead to phone calls. It should track calls that originate from both third-party referring links as well as specific search channels. Your service should provide aggregate-level tracking and trace calls back to specific placements in display campaigns.

Call tracking adds fuel to the already powerful marketing boost provided by vanity 800 numbers. Vanity numbers are easy to remember and can boost advertising simply by becoming part of the company’s name, as in 1-800-LAWYERS. Whether it’s to determine what the company’s full-time vanity number will be, or to track which ad campaign is working the best, call tracking backs up vanity numbers with a powerful analytical strategy. Make sure your provider offers the services you need — and no more. This will ensure you don’t pay for features your campaign doesn’t require.

Task Outsourcing Made Easy with an International Virtual Number

Share Button

With modern communications technology, the ease of task outsourcing has brought business productivity to an all time high, particularly within the information technology industry. Rather than move entire operations abroad, IT businesses can delegate small tasks to qualified candidates anywhere in the world, optimizing workflow while freeing up in-house workers for more important enterprises.

shutterstock_74031154

Outsourcing Small Tasks

Task outsourcing internationally can help to increase productivity while keeping payroll overheads to a minimum. The current shift in popularity from long term to short term contracts is largely thanks to the cost efficiency with which businesses can now communicate with international contractors. Short term, small task outsourcing allows employers optimum flexibility while enabling IT businesses to break the chains of the traditional IT outsourcing model, wherein contracts have prevented time efficient response to changes in consumer trends in the past. This rapid skilled employee turnover works to increase business resource pools, creating an efficient task network and bringing fresh perspective to business operations.

Optimizing Task Outsourcing

Miscommunication can be a major problem in task outsourcing operations. New employees are generally unfamiliar with business standards and project specifications, so opening a cheap and effective channel of communications is an essential step in the outsourcing process. With the rapidly growing popularity of web communications, many businesses make the mistake of conducting international employee relations almost entirely through email, project forum and instant messaging outlets, which can breed misunderstanding and hinder productivity. Rather than pay the crippling costs of standard international calling, businesses can now enable affordable voice communication with international workers through the activation of an international virtual number.

International Virtual Numbers

shutterstock_125320580.jpg

International virtual numbers are forwarding numbers that allow workers outside the US to communicate with project co-workers by calling a number that is local to their area and country code. Calls to these numbers are automatically forwarded to a predetermined US line at no cost to the international employee. Virtual numbers generally come with the following features that make task outsourcing communications cheap, easy and efficient for IT businesses:

  • Cost Benefits: International virtual numbers require no equipment purchase or installation, making activation completely free. Most good virtual number providers offer no contract service, enabling companies outsourcing internationally on an infrequent basis to activate and deactivate service as needed. Virtual numbers can be routed both traditionally and through Voice Over Internet Protocol (VoIP). By primarily using VoIP technology to route calls, virtual numbers help businesses to avoid the high roaming and toll charges that are generally associated with international communications.

  • International Business Expansion: Once activated, an international virtual number need not be reserved for the sole usage of long distance contractors. These numbers have proven useful to many businesses in recruiting international clientele, creating a local presence feel that cultivates a level of comfort between business and client.

  • Unlimited Global Outsourcing: International virtual numbers offer a level of flexibility that traditional lines cannot attain. Virtual numbers can be managed through an online control center that enables the activation and deactivation of international numbers as needed. Without the line limits that most telecom companies impose, companies can outsource small tasks across the globe with minimal telecommunications management.

My Local Virtual Number: An American-Costa Rican Ecotourism Partnership

Share Button

shutterstock_128460248.jpg

Eco-tourism businesses like Seattle-based Wildland Adventures play a vital role in helping to ensure the sustainability of some of the earth’s most beautiful natural environments. For entrepreneurs considering breaking into the ecotourism industry, Costa Rica is a stunning place to start.

American-Costa Rican eco-tourism partnerships employ staff based over 3,000 miles apart. For any business operating on this international scale, efficient networking is essential for success. Even for established eco-friendly businesses, overcoming distance barriers can be challenging, so let’s take a look at how Wildland Adventures has worked to overcome this problem:

Wildland Adventures is an eco-friendly tourism business with locations in over thirty travel destinations. The Wildland experience places an emphasis on the importance of interacting with local culture and discovering the native way of life. Wildland’s Costa Rican location enables travelers to discover the wild and exotic Costa Rican scenery without participating in the environmental destruction that is so often precipitated by the tourism industry. To optimize visitor

cultural integration, Wildland primarily employs native workers at their international locations, while also maintaining US-based office workers. To manage such a wide and diverse network of employees, Wildland uses virtual number services.

Virtual Number Servicesshutterstock_72353686.jpg

Virtual number services are often used in the tourism industry to efficiently manage call networking. Virtual phone systems offer the most environmentally-friendly telephony technology available today, making them particularly popular within ecotourism businesses. The following virtual number features make network management easier for businesses like Wildland Adventures:

  • Toll Free Call Forwarding: Wildland Adventures uses a toll free 800 number to offer customers all over the world an easy, free way to talk to a customer representatives about the great travel packages that they offer. When a customer dials Wildland’s 800 number, he/she is forwarded to the Wildland Adventures central office. Call forwarding works well for international businesses, enabling centralized networking and cost-efficient communications.

  • No Equipment Installation: Virtual numbers aren’t wired via traditional phone lines, which means that absolutely no equipment installation is required to activate one, making virtual phone systems an eco-friendly option.

  • 24/7 Emergency Answering Service: Because virtual numbers are routed through third-party call centers, international businesses like Wildlands can ensure 24/7 service without employing 24/7 office staff. Since Wildlands customers are often traveling off the beaten path, this availability is an essential part of their customer service package.

Crafting the Perfect Eco-Tourist Experienceshutterstock_125014706.jpg

Customer service is important within any industry, but for ecotourism businesses, crafting a positive customer experience is about more than just answering the phones promptly. Customers who choose an eco-friendly vacation are often seeking an experience that transcends the traditional resort package. Your visitors want to see the world as it was supposed to be–the Costa Rican jungles, the exotic wildlife, the exhilarating waterfalls.

  • Authenticity: An authentic experience is hard to find in today’s commercialized travel industry. To give your tourists a true international experience, employ native tour guides and resort workers. These workers will be able to introduce travelers to the real Costa-Rica in an authentic and often eye-opening way.

  • Exploration: Give your customers the opportunity to get off the beaten path while ensuring safety by providing experienced tour guides to introduce visitors to the local environment.

  • Adventure: Don’t limit your ecotourism business to the resort boundaries. Introduce your visitors to the local villages, to the mountain tops, to the true spiritual nature of Costa Rica.

Local Virtual Numbers

The ecotourist experience should begin with a phone call. While toll-free virtual numbers such as Wildland Adventures’ 800 number work seamlessly for international networking, the capabilities of virtual numbers can extend even further. To create a more complete sense of place, try marketing through local virtual numbers. Local virtual numbers are numbers that are tailored to a particular locality and forwarded through call centers. For example, Wildland Adventures could choose a Costa Rican phone number that, when dialed, actually forwards to their Seattle central office. Having a local forwarding number helps to create a sense of place while navigating language barriers and improving local and vendor relationships.

 

Unified Communications for Small Businesses: Minimizing Expenses

Share Button

Unified Communications NetworkUnified communications, or UC, is an undefined concept involving the integration of several different communication formats into a single, centralized platform. These formats include, but aren’t limited to, voice communication on landlines and cell phones, email, text messaging and video messaging. There is no quantifiable definition for UC, as the concept emerges as a different strategy for different entities. The overall goal of seamless, real-time communication, however, is almost always the universally desired outcome. Although the concept of unified communications existed before, it was experimental and not widely prioritized prior to the emergence of voice over Internet protocol technology. VoIP has advanced UC as a central concept for many mainstream businesses seeking to save money and increase flexibility in their communications network.

The Origins of UC

The concept of UC can be traced back to the 1980s, when businesses sought to improve communication between mobile employees in the field in an era before cell phones and personal computers were mainstream. As the emerging technologies of email and voicemail took hold, voicemail pioneer Gordon Matthews created an “email reader” onto his company’s existing voicemail system in 1985. This primitive device combined two forms of communications in a single platform, and the era of unified communications had begun.

The Modern Era

By the 1990s, big league companies such as AT&T and Microsoft were working to integrate not just voicemail and email, but business desktops, PCS and cellular phone technology. New investment bred new innovations, and in 1999, the release of the RIM Blackberry signaled the beginning of a new era. This “portable email reader”, as it was marketed, led the mobile revolution into the 21st century. But it was the arrival of voice over Internet protocol — or VoIP — technology that cemented UC as a concept that redefined business communication.

VoIP and UC

Although VoIP, or Internet telephony, had been under experimentation since the early 1990s, early versions operated on modem-based software that resulted in unreliable connections and notoriously poor call quality. As bandwith and Internet speeds improved, VoIP improved with it, and in 2004, Skype familiarized much of mainstream America with VoIP technology. This also signaled a watershed moment for business UC. The service enabled users to communicate with voice, video and messaging on the same platform over the Internet — the backbone of the UC concept.

Unified Messaging

The VoIP function known as unified messaging further bolsters business UC by providing variable access to voicemail, email, and fax communications through either phone or website access. This allows voice messages to be read over email, emails to be heard over the phone, and messages of all varieties to be forwarded to a fax machine.

VoIP Features for Business UC

VoIP technology also provides a range of other features that strengthen UC for business communications. Conference calling, for example, allows a single caller to speak with multiple parties at the same time. Find me/follow me lets mobile workers have calls forwarded to them from essentially anywhere. If the user doesn’t want to deal with forwarding, dual ringing places call to multiple phones simultaneously.

A Unified Communications Device
VoIP as the backbone of a UC strategy saves businesses both time and money by incorporating multiple features across multiple forms of communication. Using the Internet as the delivery method — as opposed to expensive and complicated traditional telephone hardware and lines — VoIP technology dramatically decreases the need for IT staffing, and updates are received through software, instead of with the installation of new hardware. Consolidation is the key to any UC strategy, and VoIP technology has the ability to channel several communication platforms through the same device at the same time. Although VoIP wasn’t designed as a UC solution, it has become one none the less.

VoIP and Business Communications: A Case Study in the Travel Industry

Share Button

shutterstock_94048381.jpg

Communications within the travel industry have long been fraught with challenge. Businesses must often communicate with employees over international distances, and maintain telecommunications in diverse settings. For many travel professionals, Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) technology has begun to provide the solution.

Cruise Adventure Travel Inc: A VoIP Success Story

Cruise Adventure Travel Inc. has travel agents posted all over the globe, offering cruise adventure trips to a wide range of diverse destinations, from Antarctica to the Amazon River. When president and founder Chris Lounder first started the business, his reach was much more limited. Working from a small office in Florida with just a handful of employees, he had relatively low-scale telecommunications needs. After years of steady business growth, however, he began to struggle with the limitations of his old-fashioned phone service. As Lounder searched for the key to global connectivity, he faced three primary challenges:

  • Productivity and communication: As Lounder’s company grew, his travel agents stretched over a wider geographic area.Lounder wanted to communicate with multiple agents simultaneously, but found himself struggling to maintain steady connections. Often, he would often lose touch with one or more employees during conferences. These challenges impeded the productivity of his business such that he decided to give VoIP service a chance.

  • Call quality and connectivity: Lounder’s initial experience with VoIP was poor. The first VoIP system he used was successful on a small, local scale, but quality and connectivity were compromised when he tried to expand his call network.

  • System management: The scale of Lounder’s business growth made communications management as important to him as connectivity. He didn’t want his calls to be routed via a third-party automated service, and he wanted to be able to review phone calls made and received by his agents to ensure customer service quality.

VoIP Solutions: Hosted PBX

Lounder found the solution to his telecommunications challenges in Hosted PBX, a virtual phone network that conducts calls using both VoIP signals and traditional phone lines. Hosted PBX offered Lounder the following free calling features:

  • Failover routing: Failover routing is a Hosted PBX feature that improved the quality and reliability of Lounder’s long distance calls. His third-party call center used more than one telecom provider, allowing calls to automatically re-route via the first available line in the case of failed connectivity.

  • Remote call center management: Thanks to remote call center management, Lounder was able to eliminate his central office altogether. Cruise Adventure Travel Inc. agents now work remotely from small or home offices, and Lounder is still able to communicate effectively with every employee. He uses an online control center to connect new employees, and can monitor call logs and listen to recordings to review customer service standards at any time.

  • Free long distance and international calling: The affordability of Hosted PBX proved a great help to Lounder’s growing business. He could place international and long distance calls to remote agents without incurring extra call costs, and was able to use his telecommunications system to expand the borders of his business.

  • Seamless call transfer: Using hosted PBX, Lounder was able to set up a follow-the-sun system, whereby international customers calling Cruise Adventure Travel Inc. are automatically connected with the first available agent. This feature helped Lounder avoid losing international customers to time zone differences.

Getting a Virtual Phone Number: Free Guide to Entrepreneurs

Share Button

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

Share Button
shutterstock_27260056

Image Courtesy of Shutterstock

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

shutterstock_102190453

Image Courtesy of Shutterstock

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.