Posted on January 10, 2019 by Casey Houser
Every employee in your office needs a virtual voicemail number.
With only a central voicemail box:
- Both your employees and customers will notice your lack of personalization
- You will experience a daily slowdown when sorting messages for individual departments
- Your professionalism will suffer on a personal and public front
Don’t let a single silo tarnish your image or your capability.
Let Your Personal Side Shine
When you set up a voicemail box for every employee in your care – like what’s possible with VirtualPBX Phone Plans – you give everyone, and every department, a unique outlet.
Customers who reach your automated attendant will want to dial “1” for Sales or “2” for Marketing to reach your experts at each level. When it’s after hours, those customers can leave detailed messages to individuals who know how to handle their concerns.
What would happen with a single company-wide voicemail box? Customers would hear a generalized message, such as the “we appreciate your business” cliche, and then immediately lose confidence that their words will be heard or addressed.
Speed Up Your Daily Customer Interactions
Those same messages would get lost in a sea of other unrelated concerns. Your department heads might only receive their messages second-hand. Worse, they might not receive them at all. In either case, the customers’ fears would be realized.
A secondary consequence of this situation is your lost time. Someone has to sort through your single inbox; that person may need to listen and transfer messages to an armful of departments.
This could eat up hours of their time, and it won’t improve the functioning of your operations. You’ll only spend too much time striving for a mediocre-at-best result.
Individual department heads can sift through their messages much more quickly. They will understand customers’ issues and can return calls or process order requests without first playing, ahem, the telephone game with a receptionist.
Boost Your Professionalism
The ultimate consequence of single voicemail number silo is that your professionalism suffers.
When you can’t offer customers reassurance that their messages are heard by an expert, you leave them with a bad interaction without even speaking to them in person.
When you can’t depend on your internal processes to inform department heads about important customer concerns, you erode those heads’ trust in the whole company structure.
Professionalism is both an external and internal business concern. Having a voicemail number for your central receptionist, your possibly-dozens of department heads, and anyone else with access to a phone gives everyone involved in your business operations the confidence you want to express.
Messages will reach their intended targets. Customers will – even after hours – have positive interactions with your brand. Employees will have important work naturally forwarded to them.
All Employees Need a Voicemail Number
Even the most junior employee will need to receive messages now and then. Give them, and their senior counterparts, confidence and capability in their positions.
Give them each a voicemail number they can quickly reach with a feature code. Then link your automated attendant to anyone you want customers to reach. It’s that easy.
Posted on December 20, 2018 by Casey Houser
If you or your employees use their personal phone numbers at work, it’s time to invest in a business phone number.
It’s not uncommon for new businesses to use personal mobile phones as workplace devices. This isn’t always bad. But work-life balance can be disrupted when personal numbers become your business numbers.
When your business has its own phone number, it opens up a world of options for yourself and your employees. You can utilize extensions to create a workplace network; your phone system can easily link employees in your network into meaningful subgroups; you can send all your contacts to voicemail when you need some hours to yourself. Our VirtualPBX business phone system can do all those things.
Let’s take a look at how you can make those examples a reality at your own small business.
Your Own Workplace Network
Virtual business phone systems, like ours at VirtualPBX, let you provide unique extensions to all your employees. You can create as many or as few as you like, and you can utilize a single main business phone number throughout.
Consider the number 555-1234. If that was your business’s phone number, you could attach an extension for yourself, 0001, and your chief operating officer, 0002.
Then you could be reached from an external line by first dialing 555-1234 and then entering x0001. Similarly, you could reach your COO at x0002, either by dialing the external number first or by simply using the x0002 extension from within the virtual phone network.
This network of extensions is easily accessible, no matter how many employees you add to your system. The web of desk phones and software-based phones you create gives every employee a place in your organization and a way to separate their personal numbers from workplace activities.
No longer will your phone “system” be a patchwork of individual mobile phones, inaccessible to each other through an internal link. And no longer will employees have to carry their work with them out of necessity, not choice.
The use of Ring Groups lets you further organize employee extensions into meaningful categories. It’s often easy to use departments as a guide for this task.
As a small business, you might have two people assigned to a marketing team, another three in sales, a few more in customer support, and a sprinkling of managers that oversee those departments. The use of Ring Groups lets you define those same categories in your virtual phone system dashboard.
From Auto Attendant to Department Groups
When you receive a call on your business phone number, the inbound caller will reach an Automated Attendant where they can press “1” to get to marketing, “2” to get to sales, and so on.
The Automated Attendant then accesses your Ring Groups to move the caller to the department they chose. In the marketing department, for instance, the inbound request could first ring the desk phone of Sherry, your department lead, for 10 seconds. Then it could begin ringing the softphone of Bob, the copywriter, for another 20 seconds.
You can have inbound calls ring one or more phones simultaneously, or in series, for as long as two minutes each.
Feel free to get creative and ring individuals by seniority (with the new hire first in line, of course). You could even rank them based on the number of times they brought in doughnuts for the whole office.
In any case, your organization here reinforces the workplace network as a business – not personal – entity.
Go to Voicemail
Even the most busy executive’s day will come to a close. At that point, it’s helpful to have a ready voicemail for all the communications you might have missed.
You and your employees can access their own Voicemail boxes to hear messages they missed during off-hours.
You can even set Holiday Hours in preparation for special events and set your business hours for when all calls can be routed to users’ voicemail boxes.
The proper use of voicemail is a powerful weapon against workplace burnout. It lets you save business concerns for the following day, giving you a much-needed escape from the grind of always being available.
The Utility of a Business Phone Number
All these aspects of a business phone system begin with your adoption of a dedicated workplace phone number.
Your business phone number funnels all your inbound and outbound call traffic through a central location. You can control how calls move within your phone system for improved flexibility and sanity as a group of employees.
Customers will appreciate the consistency and usability of your phone network. Meanwhile, you can appreciate the separation of workplace and personal concerns made possible by a phone number and virtual phone system that works always to your benefit.
Need some phones to attach to that new business phone number? Check out our Refurbished Phones and Hardware Sale taking place until Dec. 31.
Posted on December 18, 2018 by Casey Houser
You run a smart business. Your customer base in the U.S. is solid, so you’ve worked through tax regulations, pricing, and supply chain issues to expand your presence. All that’s left is international calling.
How will you reach new customers in Canada, Mexico, and beyond when your base is in the U.S.? How will your customers reach you?
With the right VoIP phone system, you can easily answer those questions and overcome the challenge of international calling. It doesn’t have to crush your dreams of expanding beyond your borders.
Inbound Calling: How Will Customers Reach You?
An excellent example for demonstrating the use of international calling is the travel agency. Let’s consider a travel agency that has a home office in Washington D.C. but offers deals for international hotel stays and local sightseeing to individuals in Canada, Mexico, and Germany.
Presence at Home, but Not Abroad
Immediately, you can see the problem. The travel agency’s base is in one location – D.C. – but that base isn’t in the countries where it offers travel packages. Callers in the U.S. might not have a hard time calling the D.C. office. However, customers already traveling would have a difficult (and expensive) time reaching the States.
International phone numbers disguise that disparity in locations because they act like local numbers for callers. The travel agency can, through VirtualPBX, order an international number to provide a number of benefits to its callers abroad.
Local Rates, Convenience
For inbound callers, the primary benefit of international numbers is that they pay local rates.
The U.S. citizen who traveled to Germany for two weeks won’t need to concern himself with connection charges or exorbitant per-minute rates if he needs to reach the travel agency during his stay.
Similarly, the German citizen looking for local deals to an up-country weekend tour can call into the D.C. office as if it’s right down the street. For the same rate as calling the downtown coffee shop, she can reach across thousands of miles of land and sea.
Callers will also find convenience in the inbound calling process. International travelers often have to make special arrangements to get a new cell phone or service so they can remain connected throughout their trips. If they can complete local calls, they can avoid the burden of dialing international calling codes while also sidestepping high calling rates.
Benefits for Businesses
International phone numbers from VirtualPBX are priced at a low monthly rate. Businesses can then accept as many international calls as their plans allow – from 1,000 minutes on our Basic Dash Plan to unlimited minutes on our Unlimited Dash Plan.
International numbers route directly to a business’s office. Features like Call Transferring and Ring Groups can then help their Automated Attendant or employees move inbound calls to any department or individual on their account.
Businesses then gain the peace of mind in knowing that anyone, in any country they serve, can contact them at a moment’s notice.
Businesses can also sign up for a VirtualPBX business phone plan to get low rates on international calls to other countries.
All our plans include free calling to Canada. To all other countries, including Mexico and the U.K., we have used our relationships with international carriers to keep rates low.
Unlimited VoIP Minutes
Businesses that have locations in multiple countries can also use our phone service to complete calls between system users for free.
For example, a business with offices in the U.S. and the U.K. can use a VirtualPBX plan to gain free calling between those locations. When users in the U.S. office want to reach their satellite in the U.K., they simply dial the U.K. user’s extension to complete the call.
Because that office-to-office call resides in the same calling network, we don’t charge any extra fee or any extra minutes to complete the connection.
How Can International Calling Benefit You?
You might not run a travel agency. But if you have offices in multiple countries or offer services abroad, international numbers could offer you many operational benefits.
Your customers will experience friction-free calling when trying to reach your office. Your employees can easily reach each other across borders, regardless of the miles between them. If you don’t already supply international number for your customers or link your offices through a global phone network, this is your call to switch.
Need some new phones for your office? You’re in luck. Our Refurbished Phones and Hardware Sale has discount prices on desk phones, computers, and telephony hardware that’s ready to ship. Sale ends Dec. 31st!
Posted on November 15, 2018 by Casey Houser
If you have received an automated call to your home phone or smartphone recently, you’re not alone. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) estimates that, if nothing is done to combat the problem, robocalls could represent nearly half of all calls in 2019.
The The Washington Post reports that this increase in robocalls is part of a multi-year trend where spam has jumped from 3.7 percent of total calls in 2017 to 29 percent this year. This dramatic increase has finally forced the FCC into action. An FCC press release this past week says the federal organization “will do everything we can to catch and stop spammers” and that it’s urging VoIP providers to “implement tools to speed the traceback process” to catch spammers in the act.
Furthermore, the FCC issued letters to 14 prominent telecommunications companies demanding that they implement the SHAKEN/STIR method of call protection. The Commission’s rhetoric includes the promise that it will “take action” if the telecoms do not fall in line.
What is SHAKEN/STIR?
The Signature-based Handling of Asserted Information Using toKENs (SHAKEN) specification and Secure Telephone Identity Revisited (STIR) protocol provide methods for caller identification. They appear to be the best chance the telecommunications industry has in defending the public against robocalls.
You can think of these protocols as the equivalent to websites that use the https:// communications protocol. In short, https:// sites differ from ordinary http:// sites because they use a method of encryption called Transport Layer Security (TLS). TLS makes sure that the information you send from your computer to a website is unable to be read by any entity except you and the website you want to reach.
TLS is essential for online banking, purchases on e-commerce sites, and sensitive communications between individuals. In addition to encryption, TLS also identifies the parties involved (in this example, you and the website) so bad actors can’t get in the middle and intercept your communications.
SHAKEN and STIR offer similar protections. SHAKEN defines the framework within which STIR can function. They work together in your phone system to identify callers and make sure that calls on a SIP session originate from an approved location.
How Does This Affect VirtualPBX?
The robocall spam you receive happens from within networks that use IP-based calling mechanisms. Spammers use the same type of technology that much of the telecom industry, including VirtualPBX with its Business Phone Plans, uses to process legitimate calls.
Spammers can enter the market for an extraordinarily low cost. They can also rely on the fact that the system isn’t inherently built to stop them. There’s no mechanism in place to establish secure, verified SIP calling sessions in a way that combats spam.
SHAKEN/STIR can effectively shake up (sorry) the situation by creating a mechanism where information stored in each calls verifies the legitimacy of the caller. It will also work with non-SIP parts of calls to further validate call origination along its path.
You can read more about how the PSTN handles VoIP calls in a feature on our blog. For this robocall issue, understand that there are parts of the public phone system that use the internet to manage calls. Not all of the information used in an IP-based call is necessarily used in an analog call, but SHAKEN/STIR should have the ability to authenticate data through the entire path, regardless of the underlying platform.
Protecting the Consumer
VirtualPBX and other hosted phone service providers use carriers – including the ones the FCC addressed in its letters – to move calls between their endpoints. The adoption of SHAKEN/STIR methods across the board will be good both for individual consumers and our business customers.
When we hand off calls to carriers, we can be sure that their internal processes verify the authenticity of those calls. This situation will hurt spammers’ ability to flood our customers’ phones with robocalls, and it will create a more secure network for calling overall.
We’re excited to see what the telecom industry will do with these new spam-fighting processes. And we certainly hope that, in the coming months, the number of robocalls inundating the public will shrink and disappear.
Posted on November 8, 2018 by Casey Houser
If you take a look at our What is VoIP? guide, you’ll read about how the Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN) comprises a host of analog and digital systems like cellular networks, undersea fiber optic cables, and copper telephone lines that allow people across the globe to complete voice calls.
The PSTN plays a primary role in many of the calls you make during your voice over IP (VoIP) calls, too. In fact, if your calls reach a residence or business with a landline – which a U.S. Center for Disease Control study showed that about 45 percent of households had in 2016 – you will use the PSTN to make those connections.
Let’s take a look at how your outbound business calls to customers’ landlines and cell phones would use the PSTN to transmit calling information.
About Switching Centers, Quickly
Before we get started, it’s important to know that the PSTN uses switches to transmit calling information in its network of hardware.
Calls in the PSTN often first make their way to a central office. This switching center is located close to where a call originated, such as a home phone subscriber’s residence.
Then those calls are commonly sent from the central office to a gateway — also known as a tandem office. The gateway switch is typically connected to multiple phone carriers’ interconnects – such as AT&T or CenturyLink – so carriers can route calls into each other’s local networks.
You may remember the switchboards that required individuals to manually connect incoming calls to their destinations, as is shown in the image above. Today, we have replaced those jobs with digital switches, which are just electronic devices that could fit on your desk.
The digital switches mentioned previously — the central office and gateway — make it possible for switching in the PSTN to take place not necessarily in entire buildings but in rooms that contain multiple pieces of automated telephony equipment.
The word “gateway” can refer both to a centrally-located office and the piece of telephony equipment that processes calling signals. Interconnects are a type of gateway hardware.
Business VoIP Call to Home Landline
With that information about switching centers in mind, imagine this first situation as one where your business is calling a customer’s home landline. You will call outbound from your VoIP desk phone that’s connected to a hosted VoIP service like our Dash Business Phone System.
First, the phone number you dial on your VoIP phone will make its way through the internet to VirtualPBX, your hosted phone system provider. The provider will then hand that information to a carrier, which will have to determine where to further move the call. At this point, your calling information will be in a gateway.
The gateway will move your call through one or more other gateways before it reaches a location that’s close to the customer.
When the final gateway is reached, if necessary, the carrier who moved your call to that location will hand the call through its own interconnect to another carrier’s interconnect – the carrier which owns the service the customer subscribes to. (This handoff may not be appropriate if the customer subscribes to the same carrier that moved the call to the ultimate gateway office in the first place.)
That final carrier handoff will take place at the gateway switch. Following that handoff, the gateway will then move your call to a central office.
Finally, the central office will reach the customer by ringing their home phone.
This process will work in reverse when the customer answers their phone and information is sent back through the system to you, the caller.
Business VoIP Call to Mobile Phone
What happens when you want to call a customer’s smartphone from your VoIP desk phone? Now that you understand the process of reaching a home phone, the change to a mobile phone is relatively easy.
All those previous steps are similar with the exception of one. When your outbound call finally reaches the ultimate gateway, it won’t need to seek out a central office.
Instead, the gateway will send the call digitally through the cellular network to a cell tower that rings the customer’s phone.
In some cases, your calls might avoid much of the PSTN.
Consider that you, a VirtualPBX subscriber, want to call a customer that uses Vonage. It’s possible that your outbound call will reach a VirtualPBX host, connect to a VirtualPBX carrier, be routed through the internet, connect to a Vonage carrier, and finally reach the Vonage user.
That call would never touch a copper wire or a cell tower. You would have sidestepped the PSTN because you used the internet, and not traditional telephony infrastructure, to move calling information from one VoIP phone to the other.
Carriers move their information in different ways, so it isn’t always accurate to say that a VoIP-to-VoIP call would have bypassed the PSTN. However, it is possible, and with gains in VoIP use at businesses and homes, it may become more likely.
What is the PSTN? The Takeaway
What you should take away from this short lesson is that the remnants of the PSTN past are still necessary for modern communications to function. If you didn’t have central offices that transmit digital data or copper wires that carry analog signals, the communications system as we know it would break down quickly.
Keep these ideas in mind the next time you dial a customer or accept an incoming call. It’s a jungle of buildings, switching, and lines, but it all functions together to make your seemingly simple phone calls possible.
Hungry for more? Keep reading to learn about packet switching, codecs, and the entire VoIP landscape.