The telephone has come a long way since its inventor, Alexander Graham Bell, called his assistant. That historic call in 1876 then launched billions of calls throughout decades, making the world a smaller place. It’s unimaginable how life would be without the telephone—it’s that important.
Now, phone calls have become complicated; having a telephone isn’t enough anymore. Features such as voicemail, call waiting, and caller ID have turned Bell’s invention into a versatile medium of communication. With every new technology the humble telephone receives, also comes ways to harness it.
This much is true in business, wherein every phone call involves a slew of platforms centered around the telephone. There’s more than just a human on the receiving end; there’s also computer software that tracks calls, puts calls on the waitlist, or plays a recording while callers wait. Can you imagine Bell calling his assistant in 1876 only to have a recording tell him: “Your call is important to us?”
That call waiting prompt is by no means an exaggeration. According to a 2019 national consumer survey, 60% of customers still contact businesses on the phone; of them, 50% said they were less inclined to transact with companies with outdated contact details. Worse, if businesses don’t keep up with the latest technology, it can end up costing them in more ways than just losing customers.
Companies are encouraged to upgrade their phone systems and do it often. Connectivity issues will arise if outdated phone systems even try taking calls made with state-of-the-art telephones or smartphones. Here’s a list of some of the most widely used solutions:
- Private Branch Exchange (PBX)
The PBX is the successor to the manual switchboards that defined the telephone’s pre-digital years. Instead of human operators, the PBX uses automation to manage incoming and outgoing calls. The system enables businesses to handle volumes of calls with ease, from placing them on the waiting list to transferring them between lines.
There are two possible ways to set up a PBX system: premise-based or hosted. The premise-based PBX is set up within the business’s premises, allowing them to monitor its functions closely. Since the company has to allocate space within its property to house the system, this setup is expensive and suitable for large enterprises.
Small and medium enterprises use the more affordable hosted or virtual PBX system. In this setup, the service provider uses and maintains the PBX through voice over Internet protocol (VoIP). The user business tracks call data using apps or software usually developed by the same PBX provider.
- Auto Dialers
With having to handle so many calls at a time, call centers have to streamline some processes. For instance, the auto-dialer eliminates dialing a client’s number manually by allowing users to contact them at the press of a button. On average, auto-dialers help save up to three hours of a user’s time, translating to more calls entertained and more revenue.
Agents typically employ the software. However, mobile apps from services such as Call Cowboy have recently given user businesses as much control. Aside from dialing clients with ease, the apps also allow making notes about sales leads and review call data.
- Interactive Voice Response (IVR)
Most businesses greet callers with an IVR system, which plays prerecorded messages that provide them the necessary information. One typical example of these messages involves prompting callers to press the corresponding number if they wish to file a complaint or speak to an agent. Later IVR systems feature natural speech recognition, making connecting to an agent faster.
IVR systems save time and energy by providing information regarding frequently asked questions or instructions. The agent won’t have to deliver these details every time they get a call, freeing them to entertain callers with more explicit concerns. While criticized for feeling impersonal, IVR is a necessity for businesses receiving tons of calls every day.
- Virtual Phone Number
A virtual phone number works much like an actual number, save for a few differences. First, there’s no physical phone linked to it; second, it’s usually connected to the business’s contact number.
Virtual phone numbers route incoming calls to businesses with or without the aid of PBX software, making them a cost-effective solution for small and medium enterprises. The user business can purchase a number from the service provider and manage incoming calls via computer software. The numbers can either be a local business number or a toll-free vanity one, like 1-800-NUMBERS.
Virtual phone numbers provide a slew of benefits, including:
- A customized phone number, like 1-800-NUMBERS, is easier to remember than a generic one, like 555-123-4567, lessening the risk of misdialing.
- Businesses can keep using their actual numbers; a virtual phone number only serves to route calls and other media. It can even be tied to a mobile number.
- Numerous studies show that customers trust businesses with these numbers more as they appear more professional and credible.
- As the term implies, toll-free numbers don’t charge callers for making calls to them, adding to a business’s reputation (although the cost is passed on to the business).
- Because these numbers have no physical phones, they can’t store calls and other messages, adding to a business’s peace of mind and security.
- The numbers make an ideal marketing platform, promoting brands through vanity numbers.
- Project Management Tools
Businesses regularly initiate marketing campaigns to promote their brands and grow their customer base. Sales calls are among the plethora of platforms they use, but starting one via phone requires tools to manage every step of the process. For this, agents use a wide array of project management tools as they make the calls. Some of these tools include, but not limited to:
- Customer Management – It formulates strategies to improve relationships with customers. By integrating necessary information into one accessible place, agents can be quick on their feet in answering customers’ inquiries or addressing their concerns.
- Team Collaboration – This keeps an agent in touch with the rest of their team to handle complex issues. It features a private chat system that agents can use to communicate with fellow members or even the team leader.
- Task Boards – These categorize tasks based on priority and other factors. These tools help teams focus their resources on tasks that must be done pronto, especially in a fast-paced business environment.
- Accounting Tools – These collate a marketing campaign’s financial data and generates a report for evaluation. The information helps project managers in making sound decisions moving forward, resulting in improved future campaigns.
- Remote Agents
Perhaps, the most interesting of the solutions mentioned is one that allows agents to work from the comfort of their homes. The current pandemic has made going to the office untenable and unsafe, so service providers have adopted work-from-home setups for the meantime. As long as the agent’s computer is powerful enough to run the necessary software, services can continue unimpeded.
Since the agent will be working from home (or a workspace), the office won’t have to fire up their hardware, saving on operational costs. It also reduces the office’s carbon footprint while achieving periodic business goals. However, a remote setup means the office won’t be able to monitor agents personally, which can be a problem if one call suddenly goes awry.
Some remote setups involve agents working at a shared workspace, which is also cost-effective in terms of overhead. There’s also the added benefit of the agent saving on electricity and other uses as their work uses the workspace’s utilities.
From A Business’s Perspective
A business might not see these technologies in action behind a simple phone call, but rest assured they’re in use. Every time a customer contacts a toll-free vanity number, the PBX lines up the call to either an available agent or the waiting list. The IVR plays instructions for the caller so that the PBX knows where to send it based on the caller’s input.
The agent, probably working at home or in a workspace, soon entertains the call. They use the tools at their disposal to ensure a positive experience for the customer, while staying within an ear’s reach of their team. If they need to contact the customer for a follow-up, the auto dialer will make it easy to reach the latter.
It’s as complicated as it seems, but this is just the tip of the iceberg. There are plenty of other tools that further enhance calls to benefit both customer and business—computer telephony integration, predictive dialing, and time-division multiplexing, to name a few. It begs the question, “Does your business need such a service?”
Given today’s myriad of opportunities to grow, it probably needs one and needs it fast.
A run-of-the-mill mom-and-pop business may see little to no need as it doesn’t get as many calls. Eventually, word of the shop and its fantastic service will spread like wildfire, which translates to a growing customer base. The lone phone it has on the counter won’t be able to handle the volume of calls coming its way. You don’t want your phone to respond to customers with a busy dial tone.
With business call technology, you can dedicate more time to managing your business. How you respond to those calls is entirely up to you.