Ensuring your office phone system has the features and functions most beneficial to your business needs can have a huge impact on both the efficiency of your organization’s output and the the effectiveness of your overall communications process.
Not only do advanced office phone features improve external communication channels necessary to build and maintain client and customer relationships but the modern business phone system functions can also enhance internal comms as well. This allows your teams to collaborate more effectively and to build better relationships that can only benefit the overall success of your organization.
The size of your business and the everyday tasks that are carried out within your enterprise that could be enhanced by modern office phone functions will impact the features that will be of most benefit to your business. Modern phone systems often come feature packed but some brands and brands and models still differ in the services offered meaning finding the right choice for your organization can have a huge impact on the productivity of your workforce.
This guide will run through some of the necessary phone system features that our team of experts believe are most important for any modern business. We explore each function in detail, explaining exactly what the feature offers and why it benefits certain types of businesses.
Call forwarding is now considered a popular feature among almost all modern business phone systems. The concept is similar to call forwarding performed by a receptionist, although the process is completely automated.
How Does Call Forwarding Work?
When a call is received at a designated number – your business’s main line, for example – the system can be configured to automatically forward the call to other pre-set numbers, such as your cell or home line if you happen to be working remotely or from home.
This system is referred to as Find Me / Follow Me and the alternate numbers can be programmed to ring simultaneously, or in a user-defined order based on your scheduled locations for added convenience.
If no one answers on any of these lines, the system will automatically direct the call to voicemail.
What are the benefits of call forwarding to a business?
Fewer missed calls – With call forwarding, you greatly reduce the risk of missing important calls.
The feature gives you the flexibility to work from whatever location is most beneficial for your business because you no longer have to stay physically close to a desk handset.
Whether you’re at home, on the go, or just within another location within the office, you’ll receive every call – every time.
Unite a remote workforce – It’s not uncommon for a company to have a dispersed workforce.A small business may operate without a centralized office; an enterprise corporation could have remote employees who telecommute.
No matter your location, call forwarding keeps everyone connected. Calls to your main office line – or to an employee’s office extension – can instantly be routed to a particular person wherever their location.
Mobility – Keeping up with communications in a timely manner can be hard if you travel.
However as call forwarding directs calls to an employee’s cell phone, you never have to worry about missing out, whether you’re traveling abroad or just stepping out of the office for lunch.
Professionalism – Call forwarding can bolster your company’s professionalism by giving users a simple, direct way to reach your business.
Rather than offering them your office, cell and home line, they can dial one central number. Conversely, you can provide different local or toll-free numbers to customers spread out over multiple areas, increasing your local presence.
Constant configurations – If you frequently move locations from day to day, or have an unexpected change of plans, you may have to reconfigure your call-forwarding list – if you remember to do it.
For example, forgetting to turn off your cell phone connection could mean you get flooded with work calls during off hours.
Although changing the settings is relatively easy, you can typically only do it from your main phone.
As a result, your calls may continue to route to the wrong place if your schedule changes suddenly or you don’t have access to the primary phone.
Service interruption – While some VoIP services default to emergency backup technology in case of a service interruption, others do not.
If the internet connection for the main phone line goes down, customers’ calls can’t be answered or forwarded. Even if you’re in a remote location with a functioning network, you won’t be able to receive any calls.
Auto Dialer Software
Auto dialer is an electronic device or software that automatically dials telephone numbers through the internet. Typically this feature is included or can be added to a business’ IVR (interactive voice response) system.
It can be configured to deliver pre-recorded messages and collect information via touch-tones and speech.
It’s not uncommon for certain marketers to use auto dialer as an important part of their sales strategy, given its potential reach, and ability to be customized.
Indeed, most auto dial software includes templates that can be configured to address each call recipient, as well as match time and day information, making calls feel more personalized than the traditional cold call.
Uses For Business
Sales staff – Rather than dialing every single number by hand, most auto dialer features allow sales staff to place calls with the click of a button.
Because it comes included as part of an internet-based IVR plan, you can manage it through a simple web interface.
Most services allow you to set up pre-recorded messages, upload your call list, and schedule and place calls on behalf of your sales team.
Telemarketing campaigns – When used for telemarketing campaigns, auto dialer can place up to thousands of calls at once, depending on the particular service.
Additionally, most providers offer scaling, which caters the system to the needs of one agent, or many.
If desired, you can also design the automation to switch over to a live person if a customer indicates he’s interested in speaking to an operator.
If no one answers, or if the call receives a busy signal, the system can be optimized to either try again, or move on to the next call.
Meanwhile, you can record the calls, and analyze the performance of specific call agents, or the team as a whole.
Service Pickup / Delivery – Some companies use auto dialer as part of their larger customer service outreach. Through a management portal, certain providers will let your business notify customers of a service pickup or scheduled delivery of an item.
Once the call is automatically placed, the recipient simply listens to a pre-recorded message. The process saves the company time, and delivers convenience to the customer.
Benefits of Auto Dialer
Employee productivity – Auto dial dramatically reduces the amount of time that employees spend on handling phone calls.
Many services feature click-to-call technology, which allows agents to make a call with the click of a mouse. With the time saved on manual operation, your employees can re-direct their efforts to other more important tasks.
Call volume – By nature, auto dial works fast and efficiently. It wastes no time on trying to operate a keypad or misdialing.
With its increased speed and self-sufficiency, the technology can be left alone to reach a vast number of people during the average workday.
The call volume simply can’t be matched through manual operation.
Lead generation – Whether you’re running a telemarketing campaign based on volume or on a specific, targeted list, auto dialer can help generate leads.
The feature can quickly call large quantities of people to spread campaign awareness, and therefore produce potential customers.
Or it can focus on people you’ve already identified, and call them with a more personalized, enticing offer. If it doesn’t get through the first time, it can be configured to keep trying.
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Predictive dialer is a feature of IP telephony systems used to automatically call telephone numbers in a particular sequence.
Its technology can identify no-answers, answering machines, disconnected lines and busy signals, while predicting when a live operator will be ready to connect with the next recipient.
The service is most commonly used in telemarketing campaigns, surveys, appointment setting, and payment-collection calls.
If you’ve ever answered a call only to be met with a moment of silence before being greeted by a telemarketer, this was probably a predictive dialer call in which a human operator wasn’t yet available.
Difference Between Predictive Dialer and Automatic Dialer?
Live agent vs. automated message – Although both predictive and auto dialers use similar technology to dial large numbers of people, they differ in how each agent receives a call.
With auto dialer, a recipient typically hears an automated message when he answers the phone, and can then choose to switch to a live operator by pressing a button.
Predictive dialing, on the other hand, connects the recipient with a live agent upon answering – ideally.
Because the contact is meant to be instant, agents must sit by their computers while on the phone, as their predictive dialer system will notify them when they have a recipient on the line.
But if the agent doesn’t answer quickly, the person may very well hang up.
With auto dialer, recipients are asked to hold for an agent by the automated system while it connects them.
Agents don’t necessarily need to be confined to their computers, but they also risk the caller hanging up during the transfer.
Constant answering vs. “dead time” – Another big difference between predictive and auto dialers is that the former is more dynamic.
Using a sophisticated algorithm, predictive dialers can be pre-configured with standardized information, such as the average number of calls answered in a window of time, amount of time spent on each call, and other criteria.
They can also adjust their call queues on the fly based on the real-time pace of the agent, and perhaps most importantly, always have another call ready before the current one is finished.
As a result, agents experience less “dead time”, or lag time in between calls.
By contrast, auto dialers make one call at a time per agent, and their parameters aren’t as customizable as those of predictive dialers.
Benefits of Predictive Dialer
Productivity – With predictive dialing, agents can dramatically increase their productivity.
The service eliminates the time wasted on busy signals and no-answer, dead-end calls. Instead, agents can focus on calls of value.
It also augments the overall productivity of call centers as a whole. Rather than spending time on managing lists of telephone numbers, call center managers can analyze agent performance.
By monitoring them in real-time or assessing call reports, managers and agents can work together to improve customer interaction and overall phone experience.
Reduced costs – Many call centers are now completely cloud-based. By running the phone system through the internet rather than through a tangible PBX and multiple lines, call centers can save money in a few significant ways.
With hosted cloud systems, there’s no hardware to install. This eliminates the need for businesses to invest in costly telephony infrastructure for their call center.
Another way cloud-hosted predictive dialers reduce costs is through scalability. Adding or reducing the number of call center agents can be done in a few clicks from a web-based management portal.
Additionally, businesses can always count on reliable predictive dialing, as cloud systems often have emergency back up plans built into their technology, in case of a service interruption.
Increased revenue – With predictive dialers, agents can work more effectively and call centers can increase revenue. Their dynamic features allow for improved quantity and quality of calls.
The speed with which they operate can reach more people in a given amount of time, and their intelligent algorithms weed out unqualified recipients.
Many systems can remove numbers from your call queue that overlap with do-not-call lists. The result is more targeted leads.
Additionally, the predictive dialer software can track and organize lead data as well as sales and customer information, and provide it all to call agents automatically.
The dialer’s algorithms use this data to identify ideal call times and probable leads.
Quality of Service
QoS refers to the process of prioritizing certain VoIP features, such as call quality, over others to ensure uninterrupted service.
Because VoIP services rely on the Internet, they’re subject to sluggishness during peak usage. If you’ve ever experienced slow download or website-loading speeds while surfing the web, this was likely due to large volumes of data being transferred over your network at the same time.
For VoIP users, this can translate to distorted or garbled call quality. However, with QoS, you can help prevent dropped or hard-to-hear calls without expanding or enhancing the network.
For example, if company phone calls and video conferencing have to compete for bandwidth, you can program the QoS settings to defer to voice over video services.
What Factors Affect Call Quality?
Data Loss – Data is sent over the Internet in the form of packets. These packets depart from your server and hit multiple routers, taking different paths to their destination.
Although they arrive out of order, your computer re-arranges them so that the phone call, download, video stream, etc. functions as it should.
However, if the network is slow due to congested routers, you’ll experience what’s known as data or packet loss. As a result, you may miss words or entire sentences in a phone conversation.
Latency – Latency, or delay, is defined as the time it takes for a voice packet to travel between source and destination. Measured in milliseconds (ms), Latency is hardly noticeable under good conditions.
But a congested network can contribute to Latency. If it reaches 150ms or higher, it will have a noticeable effect on your voice service.
The conversation between points can become frustrating, and in extreme circumstances, will make talking impossible.
Jitter – Jitter is characterized by degraded or distorted voice quality. The term describes the varied arrival times of individual data packets traveling over the Internet.
Because the itinerary of those packets must contend with route changes, traffic congestion, and timing drift, they may not all show up to their destination at once.
Like Latency, Jitter is measured in milliseconds, or thousandths of a second. If Jitter exceeds 50ms, you’ll most likely experience a service interruption.
How can QoS be improved?
Improve your Internet connection – VoIP functions best on a fast, reliable Internet service.
If call quality becomes a problem, the easiest course of action is to call your Internet Service Provider (ISP) and ask about upgrading your connection speed.
Some ISPs will wave the fee to keep your business. Otherwise, you might consider paying for a faster connection or even changing ISPs.
Switch to Ethernet – Unfortunately, upgrading your high-speed Internet doesn’t always do the trick.
Even the best possible performance form your WiFi service may not be sufficient enough to maintain reliable voice communications.
Additionally, if you run the network from an area surrounded by concrete or among abundant electrical devices, you may experience a weak signal.
As an alternative, consider switching to Ethernet. A wired Ethernet connection dramatically reduces environmental interference, and can more capably support data-intensive calls.
Prioritize voice or data – When improving your QoS, determine what’s more important to your business: voice or data. Then program your QoS settings accordingly.
Small to mid size businesses that use VoIP but don’t have a dedicated IT staff should research routers or switches with automatic or customizable QoS settings.
This way, when voice and data are fighting for stability, the router will default to your preferences.
Don’t download large files while on the phone – The main cause of poor call quality is the simultaneous use of data over the network.
A simple solution is to avoid or pause big downloads during peak call times. This will free up some bandwidth to ensure clarity. And of course, you can always resume the download after you’re done.
QoS & VoIP
QoS is essential to any VoIP customer with a busy network.
To prioritize voice over other types of data, QoS relies on 2 primary functions when analyzing Internet traffic:
Classification – Classification is used to identify and mark different types of traffic.
The process breaks traffic down into 3 broad categories. In order of importance: Sensitive (VoIP, web browsing, video conferencing, or anything that’s particularly time-sensitive); Best-Effort (email applications); and Undesired (spam).
Queuing – Queuing describes the process of stacking different types of traffic based on classification.
It sends more important traffic to the top of the queue, and organizes the other types by order of significance and urgency, as well as available bandwidth.
So in times of congestion, the router will queue traffic to ensure that you’re able to make phone calls or participate in a video conference without interference.
A Conference Bridge is a feature of IP PBX systems, and allows multiple callers to participate in a phone call.
No matter your location or phone (traditional landline, cell phone, IP softphone, etc.), you can join a meeting by simply dialing in to the group.
Conference Bridge essentially provides a virtual conference room. A room is assigned a common DID or PIN number, which each participant can select after calling in to the meeting.
The DID numbers are determined and assigned by an administrator, and callers are automatically notified of conference information several hours or days in advance.
Enhanced conference calls – Traditional 3-way calling limits the number of participants in a meeting, and requires more effort by each caller.
Conference bridging, on the other hand, is equipped to handle a large group, and eliminates the need to dial through a central operator to access the call.
Using a simple web-based interface, an administrator can manage users by entering their name and email information. The system then automatically updates them.
Multi-room / user support – Depending on your telephony system provider, many Conference Bridge features can host dozens, hundreds or even an unlimited number of callers.
Many providers allow for multiple meetings at once. In the event of simultaneous conferences, the system assigns different PIN numbers to each separate virtual conference room.
Callers join the call either with the room’s PIN, or their own individual PIN.
Graphic interface – Advanced Conference Bridge systems include features such as a graphic interface. This is a simple way to visualize presence, as the graphics appear based on who is talking, and who has joined or left the conference.
For many providers, graphic interface can be controlled (or turned off) by an administrator.
Video conferencing – If your telephony provider offers unified communications solutions, you may be able to use video as part of your conference bridging.
With video, you can turn a conference call into a virtual face-to-face meeting. It allows employees to share presentations, and provides a more personalized calling experience.
Reduced travel costs – With its ability to connect people from any place on any device, Conference Bridge allows businesses to save on travel costs.
Participants can attend a meeting from their office or preferred location, rather than racking up expensive airfare or gas bills.
Additionally, less travel means more time spent on other important tasks.
Increased collaboration – While Conference Bridge can replace destination meetings, it also benefits your internal workforce.
Management can use the feature to train sales teams on a more flexible schedule. Rather than forcing everyone to be in the same place, team members can call in remotely, giving them more time in the field.
Also, the feature allows employees to maintain their preferred work schedule.
Whether you work from home or travel often, you don’t have to compromise your regimen to participate in an important call with other colleagues.
Automatic updates – For cloud-based telephony providers, Conference Bridge always stays current with the latest system updates.
Traditional systems require manual care, but hosted solutions mean that your teleconference is already up to date when you initiate the call. You never have to worry about call problems due to outdated technology.
Consistent audio quality – Even with hundreds of participants on a call, Conference Bridge allows for consistently superior audio.
Quality sound is key to a virtual meeting, and a digital bridge ensures that each individual participant can hear just as well as if attending the meeting in person.
What do you need to set up a conference bridge?
VoIP-hosted PBX – Conference Bridge depends on the internet to work properly. As a result, it can only be used in conjunction with a VoIP-hosted PBX system.
Many systems offer the feature as part of their standard packages for businesses, while others require an additional upgrade.
High-speed internet connection – Because Conference Bridge relies in part on your data plan, your business needs a strong, high-speed internet connection.
Otherwise, a standard or sluggish connection can cause service interruptions during important virtual meetings.
Software – Every provider’s Conference Bridge feature differs depending on the overall power of the service.
Companies that cater to small businesses may offer software with fewer options, allowing up to, say, 10 participants per call, and no advanced features such as graphic interface.
Contrast this to software aimed at enterprise corporations that can handle hundreds of callers at once.
Unified Communications (or UC) describes the integration of multiple communication channels into one centralized access point.
Rather than using separate networks and devices, a UC system combines phone, email, chat, mobility, video, and call center capabilities, and allows a business to control them from a desktop interface.
- Improved customer service
- Increased collaboration
- A more unified workforce
Improved customer service
A Unified Communications service lets customers communicate through their preferred channel.
For example, if they’re visiting your website, and are more comfortable over IM than on the phone, the system can accommodate the need.
Additionally, because the system lets agents collaborate with each other while they’re communicating with customers, they can ask for help if they get stuck, or re-direct the customer to a more knowledgeable colleague.
A UC service lets employees work more efficiently.
In addition to consolidating customer information into one place, it allows workers to easily shift communications from one channel to another, depending on need.
For instance, if an agent makes a deal over the phone, but has to send a follow-up email to formalize, it can be done in a couple quick clicks.
With Unified Communications, employees save time because they don’t have to update customer information in dispersed databases.
As a result, they have more time to reach new customers, or maintain relationships with previous ones.
In addition, UC interfaces can be accessed on mobile devices, so agents can work from any location.
Workers can easily collaborate with each other with UC.
Whether they’re adding notes in a customer profile, helping each other in real time, or perhaps sharing a product video with partners or vendors, the service improves total productivity, and unites the team.
A more unified workforce
Whether you’re a small business or enterprise-level corporation, it’s not uncommon for employees to be dispersed across many locations.
Unified Communications vs. Unified Messaging
Unified Communications and Unified Messaging (UM) are often used interchangeably, but there’s an important distinction between them.
UC refers to the real-time access and ability to message people, while UM is a term used to describe the storage of messages in one place.
A UM service retrieves your voicemails and faxes, and stores them in your email inbox. But the user can’t access them instantly (there’s usually a short delay), nor can she respond to other users’ voicemail through chat, or other forms of instant messaging.
UC includes both real-time and non-real-time delivery and access of communications.
Our team of experts have outlined the six phone system features covered above as the most beneficial to businesses in 2017. Be incorporating these features into your business phone system you can be sure that your internal collaboration will be positively affected while external communications can also be sure to improve as well.