Posted on September 20, 2019 by Casey Houser
Have you looked at your business’s phone bill lately? You might be paying more than you need to.
We’d like you to consider VirtualPBX for your next Business Phone System, so take a few minutes to examine your current phone bill. Then consider these features that are included in all our plans but are missing or priced higher at our competitors.
You’re even welcome to send us your phone bill! Reach out to our Sales Team to talk about switching to VirtualPBX.
Not included on Vonage Mobile plan
One essential part of every business is the need to accept incoming calls from customers. Our Automated Attendant makes that easy by presenting callers with your custom greeting and routing them to individuals and group extensions.
If you’re routing incoming calls manually, an auto attendant could make your business more efficient by freeing the time of your receptionist. Many employees are working double duty by answering phones and handling other concerns like filing paperwork, writing copy, and even developing software.
Let our Automated Attendant lift that burden from your shoulders.
Not included on Vonage Mobile or Premium
Part of the power of our Automated Attendant comes from its attachment to Ring Groups.
With Ring Groups, you can sort users into logical groupings – like department or location. Then you can give that group a phone system extension that rings the group’s individual users in an order you choose.
Your Auto Attendant can ring the department head’s phone for the first 20 seconds, then the lead writer for 20 seconds, and then the social media manager for the final 20 seconds. Or you could ring them all at once or any combination you desire.
Keep your departments organized with our Ring Groups.
Not included on Nextiva Basic
Audio Conferencing gives your entire office the opportunity to meet in group phone calls.
Conferencing is an excellent choice for distributed teams that have regular meetings. Any user on our Business Phone System can dial into a meeting room or create their own room. Individual rooms can even be protected with a PIN.
It’s also possible to bring customers or stakeholders into conferences. System users can bring outside parties into calls with a few presses of the conference button on their VoIP phones.
Keep your teams connected with Conferencing.
Not included in Grasshopper Plans
One of our newest features, Zapier Integration, is also one of our most exciting.
With Zapier, you can connect your web-based services to our Business Phone System. It allows you, for example, to log your incoming call data within a Google Sheet or receive a Slack notification when a call comes in.
Zapier can help teams manage repetitive tasks that would normally eat into their productivity. It works well for small businesses and enterprises alike.
Keep your applications connected with Zapier Integration.
Ready to Send Us Your Phone Bill?
We’re standing by. Grab that phone bill and send us a quick email.
Our Sales team will consider the features you need and the price you’re paying now for phone service. Then we’ll do our best to beat that price and offer you an even better set of features.
And don’t forget that, throughout the month of September, you can save up to $5 per user on any new VirtualPBX Phone Plan. Click the banner below to compare our plans and sale prices.
Posted on September 17, 2019 by Casey Houser
Although it may seem like a silly goal at first, it can be extremely valuable for your team members to learn about business-related communication types.
Within your business, you might speak upward to a manager, downward to a subordinate, or laterally to a co-worker. Then, with a broad scope, you might also speak with customers. Both internal and external communication might not come easily to everyone at your company, so it can be a helpful tool to educate them about how they might manage these various styles of communication. Moreover, learning communication types can help them better assist customers with sales and services.
To that end, let’s again use the sprint planning model – this time to create a company document that outlines each communication style.
Communication Types Overview
We’ll start with a quick overview of a few broad communication types. This will set the stage for using them as part of a business sprint.
Upward Communication (Internal)
Speaking upward refers to communication a person would have with their manager or anyone higher than them in the ranks at a company.
This communication type is often exemplified by formality. They’re initiated with simple greetings like “Hello” or “Good morning.” Then they’re often closed with a “Good bye” or “Thanks.”
The body of any conversation can vary widely in context. However, it can include shares of important information that begin from the bottom and move upward. In other words, it’s proper for employees to share information with managers about their department activities so the hierarchy can function effectively.
Downward Communication (Internal)
Speaking downward refers to communication a manager would have with an employee. It’s the direct opposite to upward communication.
This communication type will likely include all the niceties of upward communication. “Hello” and “Thanks” will continue. However, it will seek to gather information in many cases rather than share it.
A manager who expects to be informed about department activities would need to listen more than share. They might ask leading questions such as, “What has your progress been on Project X?” to inquire about a specific task that’s been a recent priority.
Lateral Communication (Internal)
Speaking laterally refers to communication between employees on the same level of the business hierarchy. Two entry-level employees speaking with one another is one example. A board meeting of department vice presidents is another.
In these cases, some informal language could become commonplace. There’s no need to impress and no threat of being reprimanded. Greetings like “Hey” could replace “Hello.” A “See ya later!” could end a conversation.
The type of information passing at this level could include both shares and inquiries. Managers might need to know about the ongoing activities in other departments, so they might ask leading questions for that purpose. Entry-level employees could just as easily share their experiences with onboarding activities or about their similar day’s tasks.
External Communication With Customers
All the previously-discussed communications types here are defined as internal because they happen within a company. When anyone at the company speaks to a customer, it’s defined as external communication.
Like the upward and downward types of internal communication, external is usually more formal than informal.
Employees at any level should greet customers with a formal “Hello” or “Good morning.” Then they’ll want to continue with that same style of discussion throughout the conversation.
This mode of communication is similar to downward communication because it also relies on information gathering. You will always want to help the customer with some type of issue – whether it’s signing up for a service or troubleshooting a broken product. This requires a lot of listening on the part of the business so issues can be addressed efficiently.
Communication Types in a Sprint
You can create your own communications document as part of a business sprint. The steps are straightforward enough that the task shouldn’t take more than a few weeks.
1. Define Your Goal, Educate Yourself
Your goal here is to create a shareable document that everyone at the company can read to learn about communication types.
To create that document, you’ll want to educate yourself about the types listed above and the ways in which they affect your company. Look into other literature about communications styles, and look at the relationships your business contains.
Most businesses will have a structure that places managers above employees and will see multiple people in those types of positions. Your business will have its own unique elements, though, so it will be good to note where the least and most communication takes place.
2. Speak to Department Heads
A great way of gathering information about how your company functions is by speaking to department heads.
These individuals may not be involved in every discussion in their department. But if they’re effective managers, they will witness most of what takes place.
They will be able to share the types of conversations they have with others at the company. Furthermore, they can share what they’ve seen between others, which can lead you to further interviews with employees.
3. Speak to Employees
Your conversations with department heads should lead you to employees.
These individuals can give you reciprocal information about how the department functions and what communication types are most prevalent.
In Steps 2 and 3 you will be creating a sort of ethnographic study. While this could be interesting regarding each department’s actual function (or disfunction!), the primary goal is to use what you’ve learned here in Step 4 where you’ll compile exact information as it applies to your company’s operations.
4. Write the Document
You will want your document about communication types to include both generalized and specific information.
In particular, it could be helpful to start with an overview of the types and their functions within any organization. This will allow readers to become familiar with the broad strokes of the topic.
Then you can you move into specific examples of how one person might speak to another. You can draw from your interviews with managers and employees to create short scripts about, for instance:
- A manager asking an employee how a project is progressing
- A middle manager providing a progress report to the CFO
- An entry-level sales person speaking to a customer
Finishing an Effective Sprint
While it won’t be possible for you to address every last communications situation, you can touch on a number of common themes revealed from your interviews with individuals at the company. This will help everyone at the company get an overarching look at the way the company functions at its core, and it could educate individuals who aren’t aware of specific differences in communications style across organizational levels.
The impact of your document could spur behavioral change at any level of the company. Although it could seem obvious to some people that formality is generally required when speaking to customers, not everyone has had the same personal or professional upbringing.
At VirtualPBX, we might want to use this document as part of our onboarding process for new employees. Our own KP360 post about managing a remote team speaks about introducing new hires to standard company documents. This type of instruction, alongside other introductory materials, can help us better handle sales of our Business Phone System by preparing employees to deal with customers and the managers who monitor their work.
Your sprint in this particular instance could also lead to future shorter sprints that use this document as their lead. You could create a sprint with the goal of creating an educational spreadsheet about communications types. Or you could take your ethnographic pseudo-study and show members of the company how various departments are working (or not working) well.
In any case, using this project as your first sprint should create some positive effects at your company and will help you better understand the way a sprint works to lead a project along a timely schedule.
Posted on September 12, 2019 by Casey Houser
In the light of our recent blog about sprint planning, we wanted to provide a deeper look at that process through a specific example: Calling your own phone tree.
Today’s post will break down the process of reworking your Automated Attendant – also known as a phone tree – to improve the initial experiences callers have with your business. Follow along to see how you can do this on your own.
Break It Down
Define Your Goal
The initial step in creating a business sprint is to define your goal. Ask yourself what you want to achieve at your business that will make your relationship with customers better. In the example of this article, the goal is this: We want to make our phone tree more efficient.
Instead of just making the phone tree better, you should focus on the word efficient in this case because sprint planning is all about completing measured tasks in short periods of time. You want to keep your goals achievable, measurable, and relatively quick.
Better is too broad and could lead to a number of conclusions about what’s necessary to complete this project. Efficiency suggests something quick, dense, and packed with helpful information, which is exactly what you want your automated attendant to be.
Determine Your Time Period
Business sprints afford you, at most, a month of time to complete a goal. This method keeps your goals in check because it makes you choose tasks that won’t exceed that time period.
Consider the Customer
Once your primary goal is established, think about how your goal affects your customers.
One easy way businesses can become stuck is through their phone trees. As a customer, you have probably sat through an automated menu of choices (“Press 1 for Sales, Press 2 for Marketing) that’s too long or meanders through its options.
Customers can become frustrated with this inefficiency. It may feel like a waste of time. And if they don’t give up on a call altogether, they’ll at least begin their call in a sour mood.
Now that you know the headaches your customers can feel when interacting with poorly-made phone trees, you have a good starting point for creating measurable sub-goals to complete during your sprint.
We’ll focus on three here:
- Create a transcript of all phone tree messages
- Pare down the language to make the customer’s trip more efficient
- Upload new messages with a clear voice and background music
Work on Your Sub-Goals
Although it would be possible to break down every sprint into smaller and smaller goals – thereby creating many smaller sprints with each iteration – it’s not necessary to bury yourself in the specifics of what should and shouldn’t become a new sprint.
You only need to look at the scope of your overall goal and think about what individual tasks need to take place to achieve that goal. Our three sub-goals for this phone tree example project are fairly succinct and shouldn’t take more than a couple weeks for each task. Here’s some detail about what you should try to achieve in each step.
1. Create a Transcript
Time: 1 Week
The first step to reworking your phone tree is to listen to all the messages in your automated attendant.
Call your own business phone number and type out the messages you hear. Listen to the introduction and all the menus. Listen to any sub-menu messages.
A visual interface to this system, like the one provided in our Dash Phone System shown here, may make the transcription process a little easier to visualize. However, it doesn’t take the place of writing down all the messages your customers can reach.
2. Pare Down the Language
Time: 1 Week
Once everything is written down, start cutting the language.
Introductory phrases, like “Hello, you’ve reached Frannie’s Floral Arrangements, the fanciest full-service floral shop on the east coast and that’s ready to serve all your needs for individual, parties, and more…,” could be shortened to a simple “Hello, you’ve reached Frannie’s Floral Arrangements.”
Your customers only need to know who they’ve called. The name of your business makes that clear. Then your phone tree options will make it clearer where the paths lead.
Push essential information to the top of your message. Be polite and say hello, and then provide customers with an immediate list of quick choices. If callers can reach extensions at any time, let them know it’s possible. And reserve extra information for after the “Press 1 for Sales…” language.
Your customers will be happy to hear about your business hours and available promotions after they know how to reach individuals at your company.
3. Upload Your New Messages
Time: 2 Weeks
Once you’ve made your messages as succinct as possible without losing clarity, you can put them back into the automated attendant.
You will need to begin by recording your messages again. This can be done in house, or it can be outsourced to a professional recording company.
You can also choose to provide light background music to your message. Although this isn’t necessary, it’s available again as an in-house option or an option from a professional recorder.
The length of this final step will be determined by the number of messages you need to record. Some businesses will have a simple introduction message and a handful of primary phone tree options. Others may have sub-menus applicable to different departments and groups.
Replicate This Phone Tree Example
Now it’s your turn to replicate this example. If your phone tree sounds like it needs a fresh message, take it apart and put it back together.
If you’re already a VirtualPBX customer, you can find even more guidance in our Support page about Incoming Call Handling with your Automated Attendant.
For only a month’s worth of effort, you can make your Business Phone System more efficient and improve the happiness of the customers who interact with your brand.
Remember that every inbound caller will need to cross paths with your automated attendant. This project is a great way to introduce your company to the business sprint and an even better way to improve your interaction with all customers who want to reach you.
Posted on September 10, 2019 by Casey Houser
One business planning style that’s become popular with fast-paced offices is called agile, which can involve sprint planning as a method of defining goals throughout a company’s calendar.
In short: Sprint planning has businesses define short-term goals that are attainable within no more than a month’s work. Businesses complete a sprint within the specified time period and then plan a follow-up goal for a successive sprint.
At VirtualPBX, we might use sprints to define goals for the development of our Business Phone System or for the improvement of our Sales or Marketing processes. Sprints can work for a range of tasks, and you can follow this method at your own business by clearly defining a goal, considering its scope, and being flexible with your results as new information arises throughout the month.
Define Your Goal
The most salient idea behind sprint planning is that your goals should be achievable. A sprint gives you a month, at most, because it tries to strike a balance between pace and results.
The goal you have in mind might require a month’s worth of work. It may only require two weeks. Or maybe even one week.
Whichever length you choose, you shouldn’t try to rush yourself. Be realistic with your time investment estimate. Make sure your grasp doesn’t exceed your actual reach.
Consider your calendar and other upcoming business events. If you want to re-work your phone system’s automated attendant message and expect it to normally take two weeks, then make sure your upcoming two weeks won’t include a big product release or multiple onboardings for new hires.
Also be sure to keep your goal realistic with respect to its results.
Pick a goal that has substantial impact – like completing a survey of your Sales and Services departments to gauge their interactions with customers. Avoid picking a goal that tries to do too much – like completing a survey and developing new scripts for each team member based on their reactions to the survey.
Although those multiple tasks may be linked, the example of the survey and script development should be split into two different goals. Each one should have its own sprint because each will produce a different fundamental set of results, and when they’re combined, they would take more than a month to complete.
Be Open to New Information
In many ways, sprint planning tries to create a better end product for the customer. To that end, a business is encouraged to consider the changing requirements of its current sprint’s goals as new information arises.
What this would mean for an internal survey about customer interaction is that customer needs might change. It could also mean that unforeseen customer needs may not have been addressed.
For instance, a brief discussion with Sales before the survey was created could reveal important aspects of the sales process that drafts of the survey don’t talk about. This new information could lead to a redesign of the survey itself.
Iteration is important because it invites new information as a pathway to a better sprint. However, it’s important to stay focused and think continuously about the scope of your sprint’s results.
Sprint Planning is a Learning Experience
Overall, you will want to use your sprints as a learning experience. You won’t be able to get everything correct in your first sprint, but that’s no reason not to try your best.
We’ll cover two more examples of sprint planning in follow-up blogs this month. Stay tuned for a detailed look at the monthly goals of calling your own phone tree and surveying your departments about communication styles. In those breakdowns, we’ll consider what it looks like to create a specific goal and see a sprint’s process take shape.
In the meantime, you can check out our Summer Cleanup Sale to save $2-5 per user on new Dash Phone Plans. Click the banner below to learn more.
Posted on September 4, 2019 by Casey Houser
Are you ready for a months-long sale? We’re certainly ready to bring you one. Our End of Summer Cleanup is here!
Each of the coming Fall months will have their own deals related to our Dash Business Phone System and its accessories.
Begin this month with discounts at all levels of our phone system. Save in October on our integration with Zapier. And close out the season with special pricing on desk phones, conference phones, and other essential hardware.
Starting in September
Save on Business Phone Plans
We’ve hit the ground running by offering discounts on all our Dash Business Phone Plans.
When you sign up for a new plan, you’ll save $2 on Basic, $3 on Essentials, $4 on Advanced, and $5 on Essentials for every user on your account, every month, for the life of your account. It can save you hundreds in the months and years you stick with VirtualPBX.
Dash offers many useful features businesses of all sizes:
- Automated Attendant lets incoming callers easily reach your employees
- Ring Groups help you link individuals in separate departments and give groups their own extensions
- Enterprise add-ons like Call Recording and CRM Integration give you the power to capture important customer conversations and essential information
Save on Polycom Phones
Choose your plan and choose your discount. Then take advantage of the Polycom Rebate Program that offers a rebate from $10-60 per phone when you upgrade five or more phones.
Anyone is eligible for the Polycom Rebate Program. But Dash customers will save even more with their discount in the VirtualPBX Store.
Don’t wait. Discounts on our Dash Plans last only through September. And rebates for Polycom phones are only issued through Dec. 31, 2019.
End of Summer Cleanup in Oct. & Nov.
Our End of Summer Cleanup lets you first get Dash at a reduced rate. Don’t wait to sign up!
Once you’re settled in, we want to give you the opportunity to improve your office automation through Zapier and extend your office phone access through savings on additional VoIP hardware. Stay tuned to our blog for upcoming details about the deals you can expect in October and November.
The next few months will see many businesses picking up steam as they head into the biggest sales months of the year. It’s no different for us. We’re just starting the sales season a bit early.