VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) allows extra flexibility through applications that standard phone companies don’t offer, and its providers are offering more and more ways to tailor these services to the needs of business owners. Andy Abramson, founder of Comunicano, a communications, public relations and marketing strategy consultancy based in Del Mar, Calif., uses it in overseeing his staff of 30.
“No one has to go to an office,” he says. “The entire team is virtual.” A host of VoIP features help them remain accessible to clients around the globe, giving them the appearance of a bigger company. (See VoIP: What is it and What Can it Do for You?)
Here’s a rundown of the seven hottest VoIP features, some of which won’t cost you a dime:
1. Conference Calling: Because VoIP allows you to call a whole list of people at once, you avoid the time-consuming setup process that standard conference calls entail. Many VoIP services have conference calling features, but Calliflower (www.calliflower.com) and HiDefConferencing (www.hidefconferencing.com/teleconferencing) both offer it for free. ?
2. Find Me/Follow Me: When you’re on the road, VoIP lets you take calls from just about anywhere so you’re less likely to miss a call. “For free, I have Google Voice direct the call to me on my cell phone, my Truphone number when I'm traveling internationally, as well as to my Skype number,” says Abramson, who also pens the industry blog VoIP Watch.
3. VoiceMail Transcription: When you wear many hats, it’s tough staying on top of every message that comes in, making it easy for calls to slip through the cracks. Consider services such as PhoneTag (www.phonetag.com), which quickly records, transcribes and then delivers voice mail by email, creating an instant history of all your messages.
4. Trackable Phone Numbers: Some companies will instantly activate a toll-free service for you, as well as automatically tracking data related to incoming calls. This comes in handy if you want to track analytics for ad campaigns, infomercials, and the like. Hint: Signing up for an 800 number is cheap and could make your business more accessible to different markets.
5. Customer management: A company called Ringio (www.ringio.com) has a customer relationship management service, commonly known as CRM, that automatically edits customer profiles during calls as they come in. This helps to provide continuity because whoever answers the call has access to the caller’s history.
6. Chat sessions: Pinning down a busy client can be tricky. CounterPath (www.counterpath.com) and Skype (www.skype.com) let you participate in voice calls and chat sessions simultaneously. “We find that chat sessions (or “IM”), provide a way to cut down on phone tag,” Abramson says. “First you IM, then you have a back and forth, and then the call can begin.”
7. Dual ring: People who need to be mobile often use multiple phones, depending on their location. Companies such as Vonage have incoming calls simultaneously ring your cell phone and a cordless plugged into the VoIP box, so you don’t have to deal with forwarding settings.