What Premium Features Does Your Virtual Phone Line Need?

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In today’s world of infinite technology, there are more options for a virtual phone than one can fathom. Advanced call routing, a number of VoIP protocols and even Instant Message Integration are all features possible with certain types of virtual service. But, realistically, how many features does a contact center really need?

The Essentials

What Premium Features Does Your Virtual Phone Line Need?For starters, virtual phone numbers have the capability to receive an international call forwarded number. This means that you can have a number local to China (or Brazil, India, Germany, UK, or anywhere else) and when locals call that number, it transfers to wherever you’re actually located. While your customers think they are calling a Beijing number, your headquarters rings on a local number – whether it’s rural Indiana or London. This enables several international numbers to ring to the same centralized office.

Local Number Portability is crucial to most businesses. While “physical” or POTS lines cannot transfer your number outside of a fairly small geographic region, virtual numbers can be moved anywhere in the world. Many businesses value their phone number almost as much as the company name, as it’s sometimes the only method of contact for a past customer.

Most of the remaining basic features are very straightforward, depending on the size of the business. Things like standard call forwarding, basic voicemail, call waitingcall blocking and caller ID come standard and require little or nothing extra.

The Upgrades

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Along with the aforementioned, there are also some very unique features that virtual phones offer. Whether or not they’re beneficial for a business is completely dependent upon the business needs, and some are more universally accepted than others.

Trunk groups are especially common in SIP (Session Initiation Protocol), but are also very common in VoIP. Trunk groups allow a business with many lines an efficient means to call path routing. This is especially important for call/contact centers, but can be beneficial for any company with more than 2 lines.

Selective forwarding is another widely used feature in the business world, and is especially convenient for a growing business. This allows the end-user or business to create conditional forwarding services, such as busy or no answer. It can be configured to automatically reroute a busy call to another line so that the caller won’t hear a busy signal. This can be forwarded to a cell phone, backup/rollover number, or a different facility entirely.

Time of day forwarding is perhaps the most effective for managing a queue. Most businesses have a peak usage between 11-1 and another from 4-7. Being able to effectively manage where calls are routed based on these times can help managers and owners plan ideal solutions for high volume of calls.

Finally, find me/follow me is a pre-determined sequence of rings, where an incoming call is transferred to a chain of phone numbers (including cell) until the recipient picks up or the final number either terminates or goes to voicemail. This is especially helpful for decision makers and others who have time-sensitive needs, and call also be paired with simultaneous ring.

What’s Right for You?

When it comes to virtual calling, there are a plethora of options that every business needs to carefully weigh the cost and return on investment. Even a basic service offers a slew of benefits, so while it’s easy to get confused by the number of options, often it’s best to stick with the basics until a need arises. Choose the ones that are right for your business, and avoid those that can quickly increase your telecommunications spending.

Comment below: which features help your business to operate at maximum efficiency?

 

Receptionists Don’t Grow on Trees: What a Virtual Phone Answering Service Can Do for Your Business

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Receptionists Don't Grow on Trees: What a Virtual Phone Answering Service Can Do for Your BusinessSmall businesses and start-ups face many challenges, especially as they grow. It can be difficult to prioritize which areas of your business to spend money, and in which areas to focus on savings. Large organizations have the luxury of hiring new personnel on a whim, but smaller companies must be more strategic.

There comes a time in the life cycle of a small business where inbound call traffic becomes too overwhelming for the existing staff to handle. Employees want to focus on their jobs, they don’t necessarily want to be tasked with answering and transferring telephone calls.  But hiring a receptionist to manage this traffic isn’t always in the budget. In larger organizations, receptionists often have enough front-desk work to justify the full-time position. At smaller organizations; however, there may not be enough for a receptionist to do other than answer the phone; an expense that can’t always be justified.

So what is a growing business to do? How can you manage inbound call traffic without spending the money for a new, full-time employee?

What is Virtual Phone Answering?

Receptionists Don't Grow on Trees: What a Virtual Phone Answering Service Can Do for Your BusinessSmall businesses have several options when it comes to virtual phone answering. But one of the most cost-effective ways to manage inbound calls is through a virtual phone system. These systems use the power of the internet to deliver telephone calls and advanced calling features to customers, without the need for bulky and expensive hardware.

One of those advanced features is an automated attendant. When customers dial your number, the call is answered immediately. You can record a cheerful greeting, and then direct callers to take the next step required to connect their call to an employee. This can be done through touch tone inputs or even voice commands. Callers who know their party’s extension can bypass the menu and connect their call immediately. Others are given a list of options or extensions to choose from. They choose the best option, and their call is sent directly to the appropriate desktop phone.

Virtual Phone Answering – Your Internal Traffic Cop

Receptionists Don't Grow on Trees: What a Virtual Phone Answering Service Can Do for Your BusinessWhile some customers may just push “0” to default to the main line, virtual phone answering systems help ease the congestion that comes with a general phone free-for-all. Each employee can be assigned an extension. As customer and vendors become more familiar with your new answering system, they will bypass it and dial the precise extension they need when they call. This eases the stress on the main telephone line, and helps eliminate the all-hands-on-deck approach to answering and transferring calls.

Other Benefits of Virtual Phone Answering Systems

Virtual phone systems provide other features and benefits outside of acting as a virtual receptionist. Internet telephony is extremely flexible, and companies can customize their services so that their communications systems meets their unique needs.

  • Call Forwarding – Employees can route calls to mobile phones on the go

  • Voice-to-text – Individuals can have their voicemail sent to their email inbox as a recording or as a text-based communication.

  • Fax-to-email – Faxes can be delivered over internet telephone lines to email inboxes, eliminating the need for a physical fax machine.

  • Web Conferencing – Employees in separate locations can collaborate online via web conference.

  • Call tracking and reporting– Critical data regarding inbound and outbound calls can be collected and analyzed to assist in strategic planning.

At a certain point in the lifecycle of a small business it may be necessary to recruit and hire a receptionist to help manage inbound calls. For businesses attempting to scale, there may not be enough money in the budget to justify that expense. Companies looking to manage their call traffic and remain lean will benefit from the flexibility, scalability, and overall cost savings that comes with adopting a virtual phone answering service.

 

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

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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.

 

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

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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

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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

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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

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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.

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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

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

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

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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

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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.