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Original Article

Virtual Phone Systems for Better Customer Service

An inexpensive service lets SMBs look like megacorporations.

Size: Three full-time employees
Challenge: Provide the customer service of a big company
Solution: GotVMail
Results: Massive cost savings-$40 per month instead of a $30,000 PBX

Brandon Smith worked for a large company for many years, and he always noticed problems with the phone system. So when he started SmallCellars.com, he chose to skip the in-house PBX entirely: “I wanted to be in the business of designing and installing small residential wine cellars, not maintaining a PBX.” After one false start, Brandon found GotVMail. He provisioned a nationwide toll-free number and set up a menu system. Virtually overnight, SmallCellars.com had many features of an in-house PBX at a fraction of the cost.

Today, potential customers calling for sales information are automatically routed to the nearest franchised installer. Current customers reach customer support through the same toll-free number. Franchisees get their own extensions. This system provides a central point of contact for all aspects of SmallCellars.com’s business-not an insignificant feat for a three-person business with no telecom staff.

“A new business is time and capital-intensive,” says Smith. “Now I can spend that money on marketing and legal instead of on a PBX.”

How You Can Do It Too

Have you ever called a big company, gotten stuck in a voice-greeting loop, and instantly developed a fierce hatred of that company? At moments like those, I’ve felt that the company I was calling was so big it didn’t even need my business. Now, look at it from the other side: Would you like your company to look that big (minus the angry customers)? A virtual PBX can accomplish that quickly and easily, for a small monthly charge plus usage fees. Small offices don’t have to find a place to put a big PBX, and the hosted solution works extremely well for companies with a distributed workforce.

The Players In addition to GotVMail, companies such as Angel.com, CallButler, Innoport, Onebox, and VirtualPBX have solid offerings. A sampling of features includes dial-by-name directory, e-mail delivery of voice mail and faxes, an out-going fax gateway, sophisticated call routing, Web-based administration, custom hold music, custom greetings, follow-me calling, and call screening. Decide which features you need and then look for a provider that offers an affordable bundle.

Follow-me Calling A standout feature for the businessperson on the go, follow-me calling provides a single contact point for customers by ringing a series of phone numbers. This works like a charm-you can be at home, taking a client out to dinner, even out of the country, and callers can get right through to you. Plan your follow-me calling carefully by selecting each phone number, the hours during which each number should be active, the length of time that the system should try each number, and the sequence the call routing should take.

Choices No matter how you slice it, a traditional PBX, an IP PBX, or a hosted IP PBX will require some planning. The most complex tasks are the voice greetings and call flow. Write out the main greeting, let it sit, then reread it-aloud-and make sure it is what you want. Think about which parts of your business should be reachable by a main extension (“Press 1 for sales”). Create a spreadsheet that lists everyone in your company and assign extensions and temporary passwords.