When I was a geek kid growing up my friends and I would experiment with VoIP phones like the early PingTels and program them to do all sorts of things we would now take for granted as standard PBX features. There was a lot invested by the telco industry in making replacements for PBX phones with “smart desk phones” that would have touch screens and video cameras. It was thought back then that cell phone use would be for personal reasons and business calls would take place on a desktop phone.
But the exact opposite happened.
Businesses have given employees smart phones, the mobile kind, and as it turns out – people prefer to use the same phone whether the calls are business or personal. Which, in hindsight, makes sense. The cell phone can do email, text messaging (whose usage back then was skyrocketing as an overall percentage of the younger population) and voice calls. Besides, it had the rolodex of contacts right in it.
So why did we bet against the mobile smart phone for business in favor of the desktop phone?
In truth, VoIP-based phones and PBX’s based on “soft switches” and not traditional hardware have been slowly but surely replacing older systems, especially in newer buildings. But the SOHO component of the market – those small businesses who have 4 extensions or less – are still under-served and out-priced in the marketplace for higher end VoIP-based desktop business phones.
As it turns out, any small venture now is so mobile and on-the-go that most of the founders prefer to conduct business from their smart-phones. And while iPhone and Android devices can do a lot, here are 3 things every start-up setting up shop needs that can’t be had out of the smart-phone box (but can be found in traditional or VoIP-based phone systems/services).
1) Local DID numbers for remote co-workers
While the majority of new start-ups have people from diverse locations, sometimes it’s unnerving to a customer to not have a unified body or sense of ‘being’ an organization with a core physical presence. Nothing says “we all totally work from our homes in our pajamas!” than having everyone display different area codes in their email address signatures. Sales folks, support people or the person from accounts receivable (who probably is also the CFO) should all have phone numbers from the same area code.
It’s easy to get local, low-cost DIDs from Halloo and have say, 4 different 415 are code numbers for a sense of unified presence.
2) Auto Attendant
As a start-up entrepreneur wearing multiple hats, you can’t always answer the phone (nor should you). An auto attendant “in the Cloud” allows your friend with the classiest radio voice to announce –
“Welcome to _______.com, the company that ________.”
“Press 1 to reach John in Sales, 2 to reach Melinda and Dave in Support, or 3 for Bill in accounting. Dial 0 for a live operator at any time.”
Each of the extensions can forward to either the 415 numbers or the individual cell phone numbers for any of the co-workers. It can even do a hunt group so that every call has a minimum chance of going to voicemail. And, as we’ve stated on this blog numerous times before, most callers now don’t leave a voicemail anyway.
Auto attendants are old hat technology, but cloud-based business telephony services now allow these features to be had on-demand, near instantly for pennies a day. In the end, auto attendant greetings and hunt groups tell customers you care, that you care about the details.
3) Live On-Demand Receptionist
Scott Weiss of IronPort Networks (a start-up which was acquired by Cisco for $830 Million) has a great story about how Goldman Sachs called their support line in the middle of the night, and how impressed they were at getting a live person at the end of the line with such a a quick response.
As a start-up, every customer call – whether it be sales, investors or support, is critical.
Halloo offers the ability to allow a customer’s call to transfer to a live 24/7/365 receptionist whose received tele-training in how to best answer phones for your company. At $1.90 per minute per answered call with no commits and no minimums, Halloo is trying to break the barrier of entry by competing with medium to large call centers who offer higher rates with term and volume contracts that are beyond the scope of start-ups.
These 3 steps aren’t a secret, but most often overlooked. The smart, soon-to-be-successful start-ups tend to be pay attention to details and customer service with a zealous attitude. Last but not least, they’re easy and cheap to implement, we’re talking 60 minutes tops.