Today smartphone are ubiquitous are they are becoming vital business tools not just for mobile communications but also for running business mobile apps. Executives and entrepreneurs alike run their businesses using nothing more than their smartphones and this has revolutionized the way they do business. By using mainly, mobile apps or more likely, for SMB and larger organizations cloud apps employees can work from anywhere and at any time. This mix of work/play time creates they say a more harmonious balance between the home and the office.
Such has been the uptake of mobile devices by the public that most now prefer to use their own devices within the workplace and this phenomenon is called Bring Your Own Device (BYOD). In this business case, employees request to use their personal smartphones, tablets and laptops to do their work. There are some security issues, such as data leakage from the company into the cloud, and these need to be addressed but in most cases BYOD results in improved efficiency and morale.
For the business have employees work from their own devices has its own obvious advantages, lower costs, higher efficiency, less expenses on software and maintenance, all these and more contribute towards the benefits derived from BYOD. However, one use of mobile phones in the business is not advantageous and that is ironically when employees use them to make and worse receive business calls.
The problem with employees using their own devices to receive customer calls is the loss of the control the company has on the customer relationship. In fact, the relationship will develop between the customer and the employee for better or worse and that is never a good thing in any business.
Therefore, the goals of many startup, SMBs and even medium enterprises are to find a way to utilize the employee’s smartphone without them operating out with the business telephone system. The preferred method would be to have a second number, which could somehow create the effect of two phone lines on one phone. The way they can accomplish this is through a virtual telephone system, and there are several vendors offering possible solutions.
Google voice is an online VoIP PBX that works from either a new or an existing mobile number and it can transfer calls to one or more additional phone lines. The idea behind Google Voice is that it will work as a central phone number, for in our case a business, but then transparently redirect the incoming call to one or several phones (extensions). Google Voice rings all the extensions simultaneously until the user answers or it sends the call to voicemail. For outbound calls if the user has opted for a Google Voice number then that number will show as the caller ID on outbound calls. This is okay for a startup getting a new business number as you could use the Google Voice number as the central customer contact number or you could port your existing business number to be the Google Voice number. On all other calls not using the Google App, I.E. the employee’s personal calls would then be handled (inbound and outbound) using the mobile’s own number.
Google Voice is available for both personal and business use but only in the US. If you are not in the US you can use Google Hangouts to make and receive calls.
Grasshopper is another virtual telephone system that has moved to the cloud. Previously Grasshopper worked as an incoming call management service that worked on an overlay across the public telephone network (PSTN). Unfortunately at the same time as this migration to the cloud the service in the UK and Europe was dropped so Grasshopper is now only available in the US.
The way Grasshopper works is by transferring incoming calls to a business number via an auto-attendant to a selection of other phones. This works much like Google Voice, however with Grasshopper you have an auto-attendant to offer the caller a choice of extension, which can be configured to represent departments and other employees so it works like a company switchboard redirecting calls to other employee’s phones. This feature makes handling incoming business calls very efficient as Grasshopper never lets a call go unanswered and if they cannot get an answer on a specific extension, Grasshopper will pass the call to voicemail.
The only drawback with Grasshopper is that it is for incoming call management only, it does not supply a dial tone so any outbound calls will need to use the Grasshopper’s mobile app. That is a minor inconvenience, when you consider all the advantages you get with Grasshopper. Features such as call hold, transfer, conferencing, call announce and voice-mail transcription to email or SMS.
Grasshopper starts at $12 per month
Visit Grasshopper for further details.
RingCentral is one of the leading cloud based virtual-PBX platforms so they have a strong presence in the small medium business environment. The Essentials edition is RingCentral’s starter route and is effectively a restricted version with video and other advanced features removed so that it only supports voice and messaging. However it still is a great solution for very small businesses with less than 20 users as it still has many admirable features. The main features for a solo or small business that needs to run from their mobile phones are; a local business number, unlimited calling in the US and Canada, unlimited business SMS – this is when the SMS comes from the Business number not your phones number. Voicemail-to-text, team messaging and document sharing amongst others. RingCentral supports HD voice and has a mobile app for Android or iOS. The primary differentiator between Grasshopper and RingCentral is that RingCentral has a much greater ability to scale as the business grows.
RingCentral starts are $20 per month
Visit RingCentral for further details.
Line2 is another possible solution to the second mobile phone number issue. Line2 allows for a second number that lets users send and receive calls on a compatible device. Line2 features include call waiting, call transfer, voice & video conferencing, visual voice mail and a desktop client for a PC or Mac. There is an optional auto-attendant.
Line2 is cloud based so is available anywhere but business numbers are only available for the US and Canada. However you can port across your existing business number free of charge if you wish. Some interesting features available with Line2 Pro plan are: an auto-attendant similar to Grasshoppers so you can set up a call plan and extensions; group calling and messaging; unlimited calling, SMS and MMS; as well as a widget to place on your website to allow customers to text your business. As Line2 is a mobile app available for Android and iOS it can run on all smartphones and even on PCs and Tablets and operates over Wi-Fi, 4G and LTE network connections.
Line2 Pro starts at 14.99 per month
Visit Line2 for further details.
You can get a second number for a mobile by installing the OneSuite Business app on either an iOS or Android device. OneSuite comes with all the standard features such as call history, call waiting, call conferencing and call transfer. OneSuite Business can be used as a personal service, or it can be set up to support multiple subaccounts. Configuring sub-accounts allows multiple employees and departments to be supported in much the same way as Grasshopper uses extensions.
The interesting thing about OneSuite Business is that it is actually a call management service rather than a virtual telephone service. This is because OneSuite focuses on administration of telecom costs by building a dashboard were you can manage many sub-accounts.
Managing sub-accounts is easy as you can monitor usage as well as transfer funds (credit) to sub-accounts when required. This means that OneSuite is a pay as you go model and this makes billing and charges very transparent and there is no contract. As a result don’t expect a bundle of virtual telephone features such as with RingCentral or Grasshopper but you will get to run quick reports to track calling activity and these are delivered to your email. On the other hand you could customize reports to run on a daily, weekly or monthly basis on all of your sub-accounts’ transaction history, usage history, and available balance.
OneSuite therefore is about saving your time on management & administration but you could make it easier still by allowing your employees to manage their accounts. Either way OneSuite is all about making life easier for the small business running on their users own mobile phones.
Visit OneSuite Business for further details.
Skype – Microsofst Teams
Microsoft recently announced the retirement of Skype for Business in favor of their Teams product as there was a lot of overlap between them. However, do not be too dismayed as standard Skype has over the years assimilated many of the premier features previously only available in the Skype Premier and Skype for Business editions.
Also Skype now has many extra features as it supports voice and video as well as being tightly integrated into the Microsoft Office product. Being part of Outlook, Word and Excel for example makes it a great tool for collaboration in business. Furthermore, its video conferencing tools it can support up to 50 participants make it ideal for meetings, remote presentations and interviews. Additionally Skype now also has the desktop sharing tool, which makes it great for remote training and distance learning.
Skype comes in two versions for download; Skype for Desktop for Windows, MACs and Linux and Skype for Mobiles, which available for Android and iOS. But other versions are available for Xbox, Alexa and web browsers.
You can choose a Skype telephone number come from a catalogue of over 26 countries and you simply buy a number, advertise it via your marketing and then prepare to receive calls. The beauty is that you can get numbers in any of the countries available and calls are charged at local rates to customers calling from those countries. This makes it a great way to establish a virtual presence in other regions of the world.
However, if you think Skype is not up to the task of a business telephone service you can easily upgrade by subscribing to Skype’s companion products such as; Meet Now – a video conferencing app; Skype for Content Creators; or Skype Manager, which is a product for easing the burden of managing many Skype accounts.
One final recommendation is that Skype can work really well with Grasshopper, as Skype is primarily an outbound service and Grasshopper an incoming call service they complement each other beautifully.