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Give Your Small Business a New Sheen with a Virtual PBX

July 24, 2009
By Patrick Barnard, Group Managing Editor, Virtual PBX

If you’re a small business owner and you want to bring new features and functionality to your phone system, there is perhaps no better alternative than a hosted or virtual PBX (private branch exchange). With these software-based telephone switches, which are hosted in a data center and delivered via the Internet, you can take a single phone line running into your small business and split it into multiple internal lines, or extensions, with one extension for each employee in your organization. This will enable your customers to call each employee in your company directly, without having to go through a live receptionist, being transferred, or being placed on hold, simply by dialing the employee’s extension.


In addition, each extension can be assigned a voicemail box so that your customers can leave messages for specific employees. This is a better alternative than having all of your customers’ messages placed into a single voicemail box or answering machine – as this requires someone to pass those messages along to the intended parties. With a virtual PBX, your employees can dial in to the system and retrieve voicemails at any time, thus they don’t have to wait for them to be passed on by a receptionist. This enables your employees to respond more quickly to customer inquiries, whether they are urgent or routine. As such it can help you greatly improve customer service.

With a virtual PBX, you can get a toll free number that your customers can dial, in order to reach your company. In fact, you can get multiple toll free numbers if you want to provide your customers with the ability to dial different departments within your company, or perhaps for the different services or product lines you might provide. You also have the option of having your existing business number “ported” over to the virtual PBX, thus allowing you to keep your present phone number, which your customers are no doubt already familiar with.

Most virtual PBXs work with both VoIP and traditional phone service – so there is no need to change your existing phone plan or even your existing phones for that matter. The virtual PBX simply layers additional functionality onto your existing phone service. Some virtual PBXs come bundled with VoIP phone service, while others are delivered as a standalone service. They are also “carrier-agnostic,” meaning they work with any telephone service.

Because virtual PBX services are delivered via the Internet using the software-as-a-service model, there’s no need to make a huge up-front capital investment in new equipment or network architecture. All you really need are the phone line, phones, computers and a high speed Internet connection. Most virtual PBX services are offered on a subscription or “pay-as-you-go” basis – either by the minute or for a flat monthly or annual fee. A subscription-based model means the cost of the service can be expressed as a simple recurring line item in your monthly operating budget – which means no surprises in terms of your monthly phone bill.

Getting set up with a new system is fast and easy, as the service is provisioned over the Internet. Usually the system can be deployed and set up in a few hours – often times less. In most cases there’s no need to have a technician come and visit your office. Quick and easy set-up and low start-up cost means you’re not under any great commitment: If, after a trial period, you don’t like the new service you just subscribed to, you can simply shut it off – and then try another one if you wish.

Because a virtual PBX is delivered as a managed service, that means you and your IT staff won’t need to worry about troubleshooting or maintenance -- this is typically handled by the service provider.

But the most important thing a virtual PBX delivers for any small business is full control over the phone system. Using a Web-based control panel, you can configure system to handle calls however you want them handled. You can have calls go direct to your cell phone, your home phone, a phone in your hotel, or all three. You can have it ring one number at a time – or all numbers at the same time. Or you can send calls direct to voicemail, or more specifically to the “department” voice mail boxes you set up.

Nextiva is a business VoIP service provider that also offers a standalone virtual PBX, called Nextiva Connect, designed for small businesses. This advanced system comes with an “auto attendant” or “virtual receptionist” that will field your customers’ phone calls just like a Fortune 500 company phone system. The auto attendant will greet your callers with your own, customized introductory message, which can include additional messaging about your company or your products. From there, the auto attendant will direct your customers’ calls to where they want them to go, automatically, based on which extension they dial. The auto attendant also includes speech recognition capabilities, thus allowing your customers to “dial-by-name,” simply by saying the last name of the person they wish to reach (or they can simply dial by extension using the telephone keypad, by way of the virtual directory the system delivers).

With Nextiva Connect, each employee in your company can have his or her own voicemail box with their own customized greeting. This lets callers know they’ve reached the right person.

Another cool feature is the ability to have the system play different customized messages based on the time of day (play a different message during non-business hours); day of the week (play a different message on the weekends); or time of year (perhaps you want to play a unique message at holiday time). Most virtual PBX systems do not offer this capability.

Other advanced features include call forwarding, find me/follow me, voicemail to email, conferencing features, music on hold and hunt groups.

Nextiva Connect comes in three “packages:” 100 minutes and 10 virtual extensions for $8.95 a month (annually); 500 minutes and 20 virtual extensions for $19.95 a month (annually); and Unlimited, which offers up to 100 extensions and unlimited minutes, for $69.95 a month (annually). Simple per month fees without an annual contract are slightly higher.

Perhaps best of all, Nextiva’s service is backed by the company’s “Amazing Support,” which ensures that customers have their phone systems set up quickly and properly, and that any problems are addressed quickly. The company’s excellent customer service is part of the reason it recently won “Provider of the Month” for July 2009 by WhichVoIP.com, a Website that ranks hosted VoIP services in order to help business owners make an informed decision.

With its advanced features and capabilities, Nextiva Connect can bring new efficiencies and cost savings to your small business – at a very competitive price. To learn more, click here.

Patrick Barnard is a contributing writer for virtual-pbx. To read more of Patrick’s articles, please visit his columnist page.


Key Benefits

  • Unlimited Calling & Faxing
  • Number Portability
  • Auto Attendant
  • Voicemail-to-Email
  • Instant Conference Calls
  • HD Voice Quality
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