We explain some of the clever ways you can put more advanced (but affordable) phone services to good use.
As we have explained in another feature, Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) services range from very basic to more advanced plans that offer a range of useful functions.
These advanced functions can help you and staff become more productive – and give your small business the appearance of being bigger than it really is, with features that divert calls at specific times to specific people, make conference calls, perform some receptionist’s duties, and more.
And the good news: these advanced plans are still very affordable. Here’s a guide to some of their features.
Receptionists are becoming increasingly rare, especially in small businesses, and their traditional tasks are being spread among other staff. Handling incoming calls that are actually for other people is time consuming and means frequent interruptions. An auto attendant (“Thank you for calling SmithCo. For sales, press 1…”) gets callers to the right person more quickly, and reduces the number of calls that have to be handled by whoever is on receptionist duty.
Music on hold
It’s not just music – this feature is really about taking the opportunity to provide callers with information while they wait. Just make sure the information you provide is accurate and kept up to date.
There are plenty of professional studios and voice artists that do this kind of work - it needn’t be expensive. We’ve seen prices as low as $100 for talent and recording, or a few hundred dollars for packages including scriptwriting.
If you do include music, choose it carefully and be sure to get the appropriate licences – APRA AMCOS has plenty of information on this.
There’s also plenty of royalty-free music available on the web to get around that issue – just remember that ‘royalty-free’ doesn’t necessarily mean ‘free’.
Call waiting, hold, park, pickup and transfer
This group of functions is quite straightforward once you’re across the terminology. Waiting and hold are commonplace; park is similar to hold but lets you return to the call using any phone on the same virtual PBX. Pickup means you can answer someone else’s phone from your own handset. Variations on the transfer theme let you make the transfer with or without talking to the person destination line.
Follow me allows incoming calls to be received in multiple places. The feature usually provides a choice of multiple ringing (where all the lines ring at once) or sequential ringing (if the primary line isn’t answered in a given time other lines are tried in turn).
This can be particularly useful for businesses where people usually work at home and therefore their colleagues can’t hear an unanswered phone ringing to use call pickup. It’s also handy for people who work irregular hours, as they don’t need to keep changing their call diversion settings.
Hunt groups become more useful as your business grows. They are similar to ‘follow me’ but the idea is to assign a phone number to a team (such as your sales staff) and then incoming calls are routed to the members either simultaneously or sequentially. That way, customers can ring the sales number if they’re happy to talk to anyone in the department, or they can ring a specific salesperson’s number when they want to talk to him or her.
Diverting calls is nothing unusual, as it has been a feature of many phone services for years. What selective diversion adds is the ability to route calls according to certain criteria.
For example, a plumbing business that offers out-of-hours service visits might set up a schedule for nights and weekends to divert to the mobile phone carried by whoever is on call. During the day, such calls would be handled in the office. Time of day and day of week can be separate criteria.
The caller’s number can sometimes be used in diversion rules. That could be useful for diverting your most important customers’ calls to your private mobile number on weekends and public holidays, or to otherwise ensure that selected contacts can always reach you via a single number.
A general point about diversion: there’s no extra cost involved if you divert a call to another of your VoIP lines, but if you divert to a fixed line, mobile or a number on another VoIP provider’s network you’ll be charged at your usual rate for such calls.
Perhaps better described as three-way calling, this feature lets you combine two calls into one. Some providers offer multi-way conference call facilities that you can use on a pay-as-you-go or subscription basis.
Self-explanatory, really, but it’s convenient to be able to record calls where appropriate and without having to install extra hardware or software. State laws apply, so make sure you know what is and isn’t legal in your jurisdiction. Regardless of the legalities, it’s basic etiquette to make sure the other party knows that you’re recording a conversation.
Another capability that isn’t obvious to the outside world, but one that can be handy if you often need to phone your colleagues. A feature of VoIP plans is that you don’t pay for calls to the same provider, so all of your lines are ‘extensions’ in the traditional sense.
What this feature lets you do is dial those other lines with a few digits rather than the entire number, and without taking up any of the limited speed-dial slots on your handset.
Voicemail, voicemail to email
There’s nothing unusual about voicemail these days, but we find the ability to have messages forwarded as email attachments is a real convenience. Its unobtrusive, requires little action on your part, and allows the message to be played as many times as necessary without incurring call charges (especially when travelling overseas).
A 1300 or 1800 number can also help project an image that your business is bigger than it really is. Since they can be used with VoIP or traditional phone services, we’ve covered this topic in a separate feature: Don't have a 1300 number? Here's how to get one.