As my virtual social media marketing firm Conversify grows, my business partner Monique Elwell and I are forced to assess and implement technologies to help us do our work better and faster. Both Monique and I are committed to keeping our company virtual and flexible.
While exploring solutions for a phone system that could help our company appear more cohesive and communicate more effectively, Monique started looking at VoIP switching systems or “virtual PBXs.” She focused specifically on RingCentral and Virtual PBX. We’re sharing some of our findings here because we know that many of you may be in the same situation as us: tying together dispersed teams under one phone system to have a more unified corporate presence.
Monique put the following list of questions together that we had to ask ourselves while researching phone systems for our company.
- How many lines do we need? Here we mean the number of phone lines that you expect to be speaking on simultaneously.
- How many extensions do we need? An extension rings to an individual, or to a department (such as sales).
- How much time do we spend on the phone? While we use a lot of email, we decided to go with unlimited minutes to avoid any surprise costs at the end of the month.
- Do we need a system that is incoming calling only, or one allowing us to transfer to other coworkers? We would prefer being able to transfer calls for convenience.
- Do we have to purchase a special phone or use the ones we have? Some virtual PBXs and phone systems do come with hardware while others are entirely online.
RingCentral and Virtual PBX are systems that allow your team members to be in multiple locations and are priced similarly so we’ll talk about those first.
For our team, we each have either a cell phone, a home or work landline or a Skype number that we use as our work numbers. But we lack the consistency of a common greeting messaging tree that instructs, “Thank you for calling Conversify. Press 1 for Aliza, press 2 for Monique, etc.”. While traditional offline PBXs offering this functionality can cost in the tens of thousands dollar range, there are dozens of services offering virtual PBXs and their costs are within reach of even a small startup company,
Ring Central and Virtual PBX use VoIP which these days is nearly indistinguishable from a regular landline, and the quality is far superior to cell phones.
Both Ring Central and Virtual PBX — and many other similar services — offer some standard features:
- Auto attendant. This is the voice that answers company calls and automatically routes them based on caller input.
- Call rules. This allows, for example, “Press 1 for Sales; Press 2 for Marketing.”
- Follow me services. This feature gives you the ability to have your calls forward to the phone number where you’re available.
- Custom greetings. This is the ability to record your own greetings for each person or department.
- Web-based system management. Being able to manage your phone system online means you can handle issues and changes from any Internet-connected computer.
- Virtual fax. This feature is nice for us because we are currently using a virtual fax system, so this can save some monthly fees.
- Dial by name directories. This allows callers to enter the first three letters of a team member’s name to find them easily.
Some virtual PBX systems offer the following options with or without additional costs:
- Integrated conferencing
- Vanity, virtual or toll-free numbers
The big difference between Virtual PBX or Ring Central and some other systems is that these two allow you to transfer calls to internal lines. Both also allow you to purchase a phone from them or use your own phone. Some systems even have a robust set of features to handle call centers but we weren’t looking for that kind of functionality.
Both Ring Central and Virtual PBX were easy to set up. For Ring Central, all we had to do was plug in the pre-programmed Linksys IP phone they sent to us to test. We’d have to buy the phone if we decided to use it along with their service. The phone looks like a regular office phone and includes a power cord and Ethernet cable.
For Virtual PBX, we chose to use our own phone so the set up was slightly more complicated but with this option, we would not have to buy a phone. We inputted our individual local phone numbers into our account on the Virtual PBX’s web site and took a two-minute tutorial on how to use the system.
Monique identified a challenge we are struggling with while exploring virtual PBX systems is that we have a UK presence and don’t want it to appear separate from our U.S.-based team. Every service we spoke with charges by the minute for calls to the UK. “For a small company likes ours, that could double our phone expenses,” Monique explained.
We also want a “local” virtual number to be used in the UK although this is less of a priority. We have considered giving our UK guy a US softphone but that means that when calls come from the UK, they are first sent to the PBX and then directed back to the UK so that would most likely degrade the quality of the call. So haven’t forked over any cash to a virtual PBX service just yet. Until we can figure out whether a virtual PBX can solve this international issue, we’re still using a Skype number.
What virtual PBX system do you use — if you use one — and what do you like about it?
Image credit: RingCentral.com