Virtual Business Phone Systems – What Do They Provide Besides Call Forwarding and Voicemail?

When you add up all of the features and benefits provided by an online hosted-PBX virtual phone system like Phone.com, they should exist chiefly to provide your sales prospects and existing customers with in-bound call experiences that are easier, faster and less obstructed than they were previously. Most web based “virtual telecom” companies do not, in fact, achieve this purpose upon close inspection. We did find a few. But only after some serious digging. Ultimately, we decided to focus on one virtual telecom provider, Phone.com (phone.com), as our ‘case study’.

As I indicate, very few of these Web based, or hosted PBX, phone systems deliver on their sales and/or marketing claims. Sometimes these claims are stated outright, and often they are merely indicated.
Running a busy marketing consultant practice in New York (Sadwith eMarketing & Communications), my colleagues and I were of course interested in finding what “marketing benefits” actually lay beneath the façade of the clever marketing verbiage and smooth advertising slogans.

Hence, we embarked on a part time “Online Business-to-Business Telecom” research project, duration of 3-months, largely spent surveying corporate customers, listening to testimonials from their corporate subscribers; plus closely examining the various programs offered by the most prominent “virtual phone system” and “hosted PBX” companies advertising online and appearing regularly in the organic listings on all the major search engines.

We did find one such Internet based company that does, in fact, deliver the marketing-supportive benefits and revenue enhancing features indicated in their marketing language. The company we identified with the most effective suite of such tools and features is called “Phone.com”, who’s flagship suite of business and home-office phone features and communications tools is entitled “Virtual Office”.

Frankly, we were intrigued by the title, and encouraged by their particularly interesting suite of office communications tools, and so we decided to investigate.

But how? How can one differentiate between the empty corporate slogans without any substance, and the real deal? Especially at such low monthly rates ($10 to $15 per month, average fees).

First of all, we found the eventual result [concerning inbound callers] of Phone.com’s telecommunications infrastructure and business tools to be a noticeable improvement of their corporate subscribers’ direct customer communications and sales prospect engagement efforts; much lower cancellation rates, hence decreased attrition; improved Customer Relationship Management (CRM), based on feedback from customers; and higher retention and loyalty numbers across the board – with higher sales “close rates”.

We found this telecom platform to be a genuine, high-end, up-to-date phone system that does a lot more than simply log voice-mail messages and forward calls to people in the field or in their car.

It is, in fact, a front line communications system that also provides a cleverly designed marketing infrastructure, with promotional tools you’ve probably never even thought of before – like voice-to-text functionality for voicemail messages, giving you an important record, or paper trail, of all messages coming in.
You also have the option of typing messages and having those messages go out as a voice you choose to use (corporate, British, comical, dramatic, whatever) – which is obviously helpful if you’re not always, perhaps, as confident on your feet as you’d like leaving critically important messages with folks who make you nervous.

They probably do this because most business owners get addicted to a number of the features they provide, and can’t let it go once they get used to using the system. I know we did. We also like the low price, and the 24/7 live tech & customer support. We’re not good with technical matters, and we really need the support – which probably drives our tech-reps nuts, but they’re extremely patient and good-natured, and they put up with us, with good cheer.

So we have here a “virtual, hosted phone system” that also functions as a sort of “marketing solution assistant”, at really low rates. We found other flexible tools & features built in to Phone.com’s Virtual Office suite, that contribute to this promotional application.

Our favorite, in terms of making an everlasting ‘good impression’ on 1st time callers and sales prospects, plus keep existing customers happy, (which qualify as “branding tools”) are the “Follow-Me Calling” and Queue features.

The Queue feature that Phone.com promotes pretty aggressively doesn’t appear to be offered by any of the other virtual phone companies. It puts inbound callers in line to keep dialing various numbers belonging to the party they are calling (a cell. numbers, an office landline. a home number, a PDA) until the party is reached. It greatly limits on-hold time, which as you know allow a lot of prospects to hang up. Not a good thing. And the Follow-Me calling tool also achieves the same continuous calling result – except while they wait for the connection that locates their party, they hear company updates, and news about impressive new clients we have signed on recently – more marketing tools in use, branding tools if you want to be exact.

If the party of choice is never reached the call goes into voicemail – but the unique aspect to all of this is that fact that once the call hits voicemail, we get an email alert immediately, telling us who called. And all we have to do is click on the messages in the email to activate a callback. Easy, and fast; and we never lose potential customers to competitors, or infuriate impatient customers by returning calls hours later or even the next day.

Another Phone.com “brand image marketing tool” we particularly liked is the fact that every single person working for our company can have a unique extension, plus a voicemail with it’s own unique message. Plus our own promotional messages they hear when they are being transferred to the ext. they are looking for.

Imagine how much business companies lose with a one size fits all “general mailbox” (like some of our marketing agency competitors) that callers are offered when they call in after business hours.

All of these tools make or break your chances for a sale when it concerns 1st time callers – who are often sales prospects, or potential customers. With them, as you know, you have 20 seconds, if that, to make a good impression, which this system, thankfully, helps you do.

Branding tools, Phone.com calls it. We agree. They really are. Creating positive 1st impressions is key. If you create a negative impression with a 1st time caller, chances are he or she will never call back – and you’ll never even know about it. They just won’t call back. You can’t track that kind of stuff. It just happens. And you can do everything right for the next 20 years, but that caller will always remember that first call, and the negative impression they received from it. You can never go back and change a 1st impression…
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We also have the ability to leave special promotional offers and quotes from happy clients on the system that callers hear when they are on hold, along with classical music, which gives us a bit of class. I’d say these are pretty sharp marketing tools that could help bring in more business. Plus the toll-free number you get from this particular company, with no extra charge every month for the use of it (unlike many of the other virtual telecom companies, by the way)…

A toll free number increases number of inbound calls, as it is free. A toll free number create a more professional brand image, no question about it. A toll-free number limits cancellations, as customers are much more inclined, statistically, to call in to resolve issues or technical problems, clear them up and there by avoid canceling or un-subscribing.

Again, I’d call these brand-marketing benefits. If you make the most out of it. It’s up to us to execute effectively and creatively, concerning any of these high-tech communications tools and widgets.

Well, this surfaces some of the elements that we believe go into making a virtual phone system an effective communications and marketing/sales tool… We hope you enjoyed hearing about it. We’ll be submitting another article that goes into some other areas of interest, in terms of helping a small businesses get more out of their phone system.