Today’s businesses have had to evolve to integrate many new platforms to meet the standards of a global marketplace that sometimes includes remote workers, web conferencing, mobile marketing and a plethora of other systematic ways for business owners to reach out to customers and other businesses that can strengthen their company; however, these systems can be complex, hard to integrate without a great deal of help and tech support, or at the very least, a terrific telecommunications system platform to work with.
Due to the natural progression of the internet and the growth rate of business applications, new cloud-based telecommunications service providers have emerged to serve the needs of entrepreneurs with targeted, streamlined voice and other business services. Below is a guide to some of the most common services you can find online and some of the things you will want to think about before approaching these types of service providers…read on!
Most popular business phone system features
If you do not have a traditional office setup, have remote workers, or sometimes work offsite while on vacation, this option allows you to have a professional main phone number for other companies or customers for inbound phone calls. This helps you to maintain a professional image no matter how untraditional your actual company may operate.
- Voicemail Specialty Features – Some of the cloud-based providers may have specialty services attached to their voicemail services that can transcribe voicemails or directly fax voicemails to a designated line. These may be either part of a package that you choose or might be an add on, depending upon the company you select to be your service provider.
- Call Forwarding – You can designate where your calls will go when you aren’t in your office. For example, you can route calls to your mobile phone if you need to be out on errands or to your home phone so that you never miss a business call.
- Video Conferencing/Webinar Functions – This allows you to meet with multiple people, including other business owners or customers, employees or any other group related to your business functions either to introduce new products or services, explain new policies, conduct training seminars, do sales showcases, exchange information or conduct meetings in remote sites using a virtual format with a computer, smartphone or laptop.
- Interactive Voice Response – An automated web of menus that your callers navigate by pressing keys or speaking a response to get to the function they are seeking.
- Ring Groups – A call can be designated to be answered by anyone within a specific group. This type of function is excellent for compartmentalizing calls within departments and getting inbound calls answered quickly for better customer service rates.
- Call Monitoring – For companies that need “calls monitored for quality assurance”, this function will automatically provide that service, recording the entire call and applies monitoring for a set of metrics that will help apply quality control standards.
What should I look for with a basic business phone system?
Some of the more common features included in basic plans are:
- Toll Free Numbers
- Local Numbers
- Global Numbers
- Custom Greetings
- Hold Music
- IP Phones/Devices
- Call Forwarding
- Call Blocking
- Call Screening
What should I look for with an advanced business phone system?
Some vendors include premium features for an additional cost which vary in price and availability depending on the provider chosen. These features may include:
- Text messaging
- Manual transcription
- Video conferencing
- Vanity phone numbers
- Call recording
- Premium hold music
Again there are many other features available for different prices for different providers. These are just a sample of the premium features available and it is up to the business to decide which features are right for them.
How does a virtual phone system actually work?
A virtual phone service is a new way to organize and handle high volume calling for businesses. It is an alternative to the traditional secretary handling and disbursing calls all day. This frees up precious time and resources for a business by having their phone system streamlined by a third party with better organization and call handling. There are a few areas of interest in a virtual phone system that a business manager should look at before purchasing a plan.
One of the most basic things to know about any internet-based phone service is that no matter what service you sign on with and what guarantee you have about reliability they offer, your provider will always be dependent upon your internet service. If you live in a remote area with spotty connectivity, then you will not have dependable service no matter how diligent your telecommunications provider is with their service. Therefore, make sure that you have access to high speed internet with the very best connection for the very best results if you are planning to use a cloud-based business communications company to serve your business needs.
There are many features available for call handling. Most of the basic plans allow the business to set up certain departments with different touch tone numbers. For example a customer will call and be greeted by a prerecorded message that instructs them to press one for sales, two for service, and so on. Call forwarding is offered and normally handled through the use of a mobile app with smart phones. All there is to do is set up each persons smart phone with the app and when they want to receive calls out of the office it is as easy as activating the application. Extensions are normally offered with unlimited access and all will have their own call forwarding and voice mail features. These extensions can be connected virtually, through a regular analog phone, through a cell phone, and through computer software.
What type of numbers are offered — toll free or local?
There a normally a few different options when it comes to which numbers you can use. You can keep your existing local numbers, use toll free numbers such as 800, 888, 877, and so on. Select providers also allow the use of global telephone numbers and will change depending on which country you want the number from. This is sometimes a premium feature, but not always. There are also some providers that will offer vanity numbers and global numbers that are not tied to a specific area. They almost always come as an additional cost but can be useful depending on what the business needs.
What is average pricing for a business phone system?
Pricing for all of the phone services is fairly similar but depends on the size of your operation. Some services do not cater to very large businesses so it is something to keep in mind. Most, if not all, of the virtual services offer some sort of free trial which is normally for 30 days. For a small business requiring only one or two phone lines you will be looking to spend anywhere between $19.99 and $39.99 per line per month for a basic service. For larger businesses you can save a bit as you are buying in bulk and can expect to pay anywhere from $12.99 to $21.99 per line per month for basic service. This is normally for a plan with ten or more lines needed.
When it comes to minutes and premium features every service provider is different. You can expect each line to start with 400-600 minutes per month on the starter plans and you can add more by purchasing more expensive plans. Premium features can greatly increase your monthly bill so it is a good idea to research exactly what you will need and cross out features that may not be used as often.
However, be careful of basing your decision solely upon the price of a package. Yes, while pricing and affordability is an important part of making a business solution actually be a solution instead of a stressor, it is equally important that you get the tools that you need. There are many service providers out there today, which makes pricing and packaging competitive, all of which will work in your favor. By doing your homework, comparing prices and discussing the services with customer service agents with the various business communications service providers, you will easily be able to find an affordable package that meets or exceeds your expectations.
Lastly, it will be important for you to look to partner with a service provider that is interested in giving you the tools to help your company grow. You should not feel that you have been locked into a communications package that is just enough to keep you afloat with your current business needs but will not grow with your company or will be too hard to add on features as you need them and make changes to your existing plan. You may also want to look for a service provider that offers training for using some of their more advanced communication tools, such as webinar features or video conferencing so that you can start setting some goals for a return on your communications investment.
Are virtual phone systems secure?
When you have narrowed down your potential choices to a handful, make sure to contact the customer service agents to ask any questions you have. And before you have left the conversation, make sure that you have addressed online security to your satisfaction. Ask what type of security software and protocols they have in place, what secure servers they use and what level of encryption they have for their sensitive data. What protection do they offer to you as their client?
Overall a virtual phone service can certainly be worth the money for any business large or small. There is a healthy amount of competition available so you will not be overpaying for the services. They all offer relatively similar services with minor differences in pricing, basic, and premium features. If you are looking to upgrade your office phone system any time in the near future it would make sense to add a virtual phone system into the discussion. Just keep in mind to go over all the details and features to get a system that offers you exactly what you need but will stay within your monthly budget. There are many benefits to using these systems over a traditional phone system but you do pay for the enhanced service.
If you follow these basic principles while looking for an online service provider, your choices will be simpler and you will be much more satisfied with your results and choices for your business.