Gone are the days of just having the desk phone. Today’s client expects to reach you wherever you are, and simply being available when you’re at your desk is a last millennium concept. While by now, you have surely upgraded to having a cell phone, even a smart phone, you are probably not taking advantage of all of the available means of communications your telephone can provide.
The Phone Number
If you are still giving out an office number and a cell number, all you are doing is causing confusion for the other party, and ultimately, for yourself. All of your calls should go through one central portal, which clearly logs all incoming and outgoing calls. Your caller ID information should also be consistent through all of your phones. This can be accomplished in a few different ways.
One free one, for any solo with a Gmail account (which is also free), is Google Voice. Using Google Voice (or any number of competing products), you can port in your “main” number. Then, add in all of the numbers you want that phone ringing to. You can easily toggle which ones are active at any time, and set up schedules for when each number is active. For outgoing calls, Google Voice integrates with your smart phone and when you’re in the office, you dial from the Google Voice interface on your PC (or Mac), and can either have the phone conversation right through the PC or have Google Voice call your office phone and then bridge you to your destination. This allows your firm to receive text messages (on the smart phone and the computer) and voicemails (on the smart phone and the computer) and maintains a permanent log of all such messages, independent of your device. Using such a service allows a solo to be reachable anywhere, on the schedule that he or she designates, on all of the telephones and computes they have access to.
If you have a staff however, Google Voice and similar individual products just won’t do the trick. You’re going to need a phone system. There are two ways of accomplishing this. One is the old way. Buy a PBX system that you put in your IT room. Pay a service to configure each extension and run wires through your office. Have call forwarding send the calls to your cell phone when you’re away from your extension. The new way is a bit more cloud-based.
A Virtual PBX System
Cloud-based solutions (like Vonage Business, VirtualPBX, and many others) offer a small firm the appearance and functionality of a complex automated phone system. Managed completely over the web, extensions can be added at will. Physical phones can be placed on desks with nothing but power and an internet connection required. Those phones would then get associated with one or more extensions and act just like traditional office phones. However, behind the scenes, a web interface allows you to decide where each extension rings to, and on what schedule. Have your extension call you at the office from 9-5, on your cell phone from 9-9 and on your home phone from 5-9. Not a problem. A Virtual PBX system also allows for countless other functions, from integration with practice management, timekeeping and billing systems, to the functionality of a conference room and fax capabilities, these systems can take care of all of your telephonic communication needs. In fact, even solos using a free personal system to manage their phones can often benefit from cross integrating a simple Virtual PBX system into their telecommunications suite. They can be used in conjunction with Google Voice for conference calling, fax sending/receiving, and other integration benefits.
The Human Touch
The only problem you might have with a Virtual PBX system is that it is after all, an automated phone system. While efficient and high tech, some of your potential clients might get turned off by the idea of an automated system greeting them when they call in. There are two solutions to this, based on your firm’s call volume and resources. If you constantly receive calls, or have a front-desk staff that also answers incoming calls, you can simply designate a receptionist extension so that instead of an automated greeting, all calls coming into your phone system would start out going to that extension. That person could then greet the callers, forwarding them to the extension of their target.
But not every firm has a front-desk staff and a solo or small firm will often find it cost-prohibitive, or at least wasteful, to have a receptionist. Having other office staff picking up calls can also be a burden, distracting them from their assigned tasks. In comes the virtual receptionist. Services like Ruby Receptionist can act as your receptionist extension (or, if you’re not using a Virtual PBX system, just as your receptionist). Your primary phone number routes to them, and they will cheerfully answer each of your calls with a pre-defined script, will provide basic information about your firm that your first provide to them (hours, location, practice areas, etc.), and will then connect the caller. They will also take messages and email them to you. In fact, if you’re trying to hide from your calls and finally get around to drafting that agreement, well, you can tell them to hold your calls. The instructions can be pretty specific and you can have them filter for solicitation calls, forward to different numbers at different times of day, and provide caller specific responses or info. You can even ask them to do outbound calls, taking care of various tasks on your behalf. Services like Ruby generally have smart phone apps, so you can manage your call routing status and other functions on the go.
With today’s technology, you can be as reachable as you want to.