When you see any VoIP provider's web site, they all promise some high number of calling features. Some promise 40, others 50, some over 80. For the most part, many of the features are the same, and you've no doubt used them throughout your working life. Some, like Caller ID, call transfer, and hold, are expected, and hardly merit a boast. Others, like the auto-attendant, are an expected part of business calling, and you're familiar with them. But then we come to the business VoIP Phone system features that are “under the fold.” You might not notice them in the large list, or not know what they mean. Some of these features are rare or even unique to just a few companies.
If you've never used a hosted PBX before, you might not know about some of the great features of VoIP, and some of them can be easily overlooked. You can be too busy focusing on other aspects of running your business to learn about these features. Sometimes the same feature will go by different names depending on the provider, so you might not even realize that you already have a feature that looked appealing when you were choosing your provider. This is a list of some of the great ways you can squeeze the most out of the VoIP service you probably already have.
1. Busy Lamp Field/Presence: Yes, it's just a light.
At first glance, Busy Lamp Field doesn't sound all that sexy; it's a light that appears on other people's VoIP phones when you're on a call. The more advanced versions will tell them who you are on the phone with, or who you're texting, and so on. So why is this great? You have to think about the value of your time.
Let's say you have something you want to discuss. If you want to see if someone's busy, think of the different ways you can determine this: You can send them a text, or an IM, you can give them a call, or you might be able to walk down the hall. This means a few minutes of either waiting for a response (or starting a project that gets interrupted within two minutes), or walking down the hall. Or if you call, you risk disrupting an important phone call. If you knew the whole time that the person was on the phone, you'd know to take up the issue later on in the day. If you're the boss, and you save two employees three minutes each of wasting their time trying unsuccessfully to contact each other, you have just saved yourself the equivalent of paying those workers for a half an hour every week.
And one more thing: If you're on a call, and you realize Bob From Accounting is better suited to handle the customer, you can check to see if Bob is already on a call without having to put the customer on hold. That way, you can transfer the call instead to Haley in Marketing. You save your time, the customers' time, and give Liz the satisfaction of knowing she's just as important as Bob.
2. Call Park: Not a Place on the Monopoly Board.
To understand the benefits of Call Park, think about what you do when you place a customer on hold. You need to transfer the call to Haley from Marketing, since she did such a good job with the last customer. You could put the call on hold, get in touch with Haley, talk to the customer to tell them you'll be transferring the call, and transfer the call. Or, you could skip a step and park the call, get in touch with Haley, and Haley dials the parked extension and takes care of the customer. You just saved the customer and yourself a little time.
Another way to use the call park feature is that if anyone in marketing could have taken that call, as an alternative to a hunt group, you can put the call on hold, and use the pager to make an announcement that the marketing department will hear. And here's one more way: You can park the call and transfer to yourself. You're on a call with a customer, and you realize that you left a file in the conference room. When you get to the conference room, you can continue the call from there.
3. Hoteling: Also Not a Monopoly Property
No, this feature isn't about how you can save money by using your VoIP app instead of a hotel room's phone. You already know that. This feature is different than call park, and also different from shared call appearance. But it is sometimes called “Hot Desking.”
With hoteling, you can switch all the properties of one IP phone to another. That means all calls going to that number or extension go to that phone, the voicemail and other speed dials come with them, and the outbound caller ID is the same. Both different workers can share the same phone (but not at the same time), and one worker can use many different phones.
In today's environment, it's often the case that a single worker can work from anywhere. A doctor might travel to multiple hospitals in different cities. A law firm might have several offices around the world. A regional manager of a chain may cycle through different locations every week. Hoteling makes it easy to bring your phone number or extension with you without actually bringing your phone with you.
4. Custom Hold Music: Every Minute Counts
Have you ever heard the slogan, “Get sold on hold”? It's a catchy slogan, and more than a few marketing companies use it. The idea is that any company can use music on hold, but you have a captive audience, and you can use that time to tell your customers more about your companies. Now to be sure, there are tacky and annoying ways to do this, which you should avoid. But in my own experience, I've been entertained by swing songs extolling the virtues of a new car, been reminded to have my card ready, and have taken the suggestion that I use the web site instead.
I'm not going to endorse a specific company, or even suggest you can't do it yourself. But what I am telling you is that you have to engage your customers even when they are on hold. Instead of treating it like dead time, use it as an opportunity to tell your customers more about you.
I just want to add a personal pet peeve of mine: When the music stops, or if the “please hold, thank you for your patience” message pauses, I snap to attention, because I think the wait is over. One of the worst experiences I had on hold was waiting for an hour for a certain agency that not only paused the music to have a waiting message, but then interrupted that message to give me another one. Please, as a personal favor to your humble narrator, Do. Not. Do. This. Make your music and message flow seamlessly and only be stopped when the line is available.
5. Escape From Queue: Yes, You Can Hit the Escape Key on a Call!
This is one of the less common features, but definitely should go on your wish list. No one likes waiting on hold. We all have some better way to spend our time. The escape from queue lets you stop waiting on hold without abandoning the call fully. After a minute or so on hold, the caller is informed that she can leave a message and someone will get back to her by the next business day, or give a number to be called back when the line clears up. This will definitely be a relief to anyone staring down the barrel of a long hold time. If you think about it, your agents will be able to help more customers not only because they won't be worn down by a long hold time, but they won't have to spend valuable time apologizing to an angry customer for a long hold time. Everyone is happier with this system.
6. 3-way calling/N-Way calling: Welcome to the Party!
Many VoIP service providers have 3-way calling, or even more than three. The most I've heard of is thirteen. This is a different service than a conference bridge, which is a phone number you dial in to. With this method, use your IP phone's Conference button, and call the second party, which puts the caller on hold. Then press it again to have the first caller rejoin the call. It sounds simple, and it really is.
It isn't the technical aspects of this call that are so great, it's the social proof you get from the third party. Lots of marketing gurus and networking experts recognize the value of 3-way calling. The TL;DR version of why it works is, the trust you have built up with the caller validates the third party, and the knowledge and experience of the third party validates the message.
And while we're on the subject: Don't make the mistake of unintentionally leaving a voicemail message if the person you want to reach is unavailable. Familiarize yourself with how your phone works so you know when the third line is open and when the call is back to two people. (For more options, see below)
7. Virtual Extension: The Best Dead End You'll Ever Take
A virtual extension is, for the most part, a voicemail box not associated with any one person. There are two ways to use a voicemail box: important messages going in, and important messages going out. When you have a business or other organization, you eventually realize that you find yourself answering the same questions over and over (e.g., hours and directions, holidays or weather-related closings). You can set up a mailbox to leave a message to answer these common questions. The other is for important inbound messages. You can, for example, leave a message that the entire sales department can check, and whoever calls back first gets the lead.
And remember: The voicemail box comes with every other feature associated with a regular mailbox. That means email notification & voice-to-email, the ability to check email from any computer or the app, and possibly transcription. You can screen out less important calls and better handle interruptions.
8. International Virtual Numbers: Be There When You're Actually Here
A virtual number, not to be confused with a virtual extension, is a second (or third, or more) phone number that also connects you to your main office. You can use a virtual number to have your choice of a local number or a toll free number, and you can even have virtual international numbers.
The days of paying more for a long distance call than a local call are long behind us. But, people, as strange as it sounds, sometimes have an emotional connection with an area code. So having an area code associated with the area you want to service may be worth it.
Virtual international numbers are more than cosmetic. International rates are very expensive, and few people will make international calls unless they have to. But if your service goes beyond borders, the money it takes for an international number makes you much more available.
9. Integrate With Microsoft Office/Hands-Free Dialing: Look Ma, No...err, Dialing!
How important is one icon on your computer screen? Well, with this feature, it can save you from scrolling through your phone's address book, or from needing to remember numbers. If you are looking through your address, and you want to call the person who emailed you, you've got a button right at the top of the email that will call them, and ring your own phone; you don't even have to press the dial pad.
As another option, you can set up a video conference call. Now you get all the features of a conference call, like chat, desktop sharing, etc.
This feature isn't so much of a time saver as it is a convenience. Like many modern business communication methods, you'll get used to it really fast, and it'll make your work flow a lot easier. Once you take the time to set up this feature, you'll wonder how you lived without it.
10.Distinctive Ring: your cute little ringtones have all grown up.
Distinctive ring is a more work-friendly version of personalized ringtones on your phone. You set up distinctive ring when you configure each DID and extension. Depending on how you set it up, it can give a different ring for different inbound numbers called that route to the same phone, or who calls. The distinctive ring is a different pattern than normal calls, so while a regular call may go ring-pause-ring-pause-ring, the distinctive ring may go ring-ring-ring-pause-ring-ring-ring-ring
There are a few advantages to having a distinctive ring: First, you might want to have a custom ring for VIP callers so you don't even have to look at the phone to know who's calling; second, there might be an office or other room with many workers, and the distinctive ring will let you know who the call is for; third, you might be in an organization where workers have to wear many hats, and you'll know which number the inbound caller dialed so you know how to answer the phone.
11. Click To Call: Possibly The Most Important Feature of any Website
I am, and have always been, a huge proponent of click-to-call. The click-to-call is a widget that you add to the code of your website so that visitors to your site can call you by clicking a button on your web site. They enter their number into a dialog box, and you can call them right away. You get to talk to your customer when they are most interested in your product or service. There is a similar feature that lets you text your customer.
Mobile web has been a game-changer. This feature takes full advantage of a smartphone by letting you call a customer who already has their phone in their hand and is ready to talk. You can get all the information you need for a “warmer” experience.
12. HD Voice: It's Like Talking to the Future
HD Voice comes standard with every business VoIP service, so how can it be undervalued? My answer is that it works so well, you don't even realize it. The sound quality of your calls affects everything in the user experience from answering the IVR to picking up subtleties in tone of voice. You will reduce the number of misunderstandings and reduce the need to repeat yourself.
According to the latest figures, there are over 100 million Americans over the age of 50. Along with that, the buying power of seniors is strong, with the Baby Boomers controlling an estimated 70% of disposable income, with $7 billion up for grabs in online spending per year. If you haven't guessed already, being older comes with hearing loss. One of the early signs of hearing loss is the impression that people around you are mumbling, and that makes talking on a lousy phone frustrating. HD Voice is a good counter to that. But callers of any age will enjoy the clarity and larger sound spectrum of wideband audio.
It is easy to get overwhelmed when you see a list of over 80 hosted PBX features when you first look for VoIP providers. Then, when you get started, it's easy to overlook a feature that looks too complicated at first. This list proves that you will do yourself and your contacts a big favor by taking a second look at all those features you just added and take the time to learn how to use them. Some of the benefits can be specifically measured, like increased sales. Others are a little more of guessing at an opportunity cost that you would have missed. And still others are an overall experience that has less to do with making money as being worth the investment for how easy it makes a task. My advice is to set aside some time to look at what features you aren't taking advantage of and set them up. Any time you can squeeze more out of your VoIP service is a win for everyone.
- Here's another article that covers cloud phone system features.
- Wondering if you have the bandwidth for VoIP? Try our free VoIP speed test.