11/02/2015

By Steve Smith, Founding Director, Virtual Landline


Mobile telecoms and technology have come a long way since the first ever UK mobile phone call was made on 1 January 1985. Mobile is now undeniably a lynchpin of business productivity, efficiency and customer service - no new business owner would consider setting up operations without a smartphone. Yet mobile still has some flaws. Mobile usage is expensive, especially for those travelling outside the UK, and there is still a stigma attached to a mobile-only business.

The result? Most businesses, however small, still feel the need to have both landline and mobile, despite the lack of flexibility and additional cost. Yet in an era of virtual numbers that are cross-device and Apps that enable an individual to make and receive calls from anywhere in the world as if on a UK landline – at a fraction of the usual costs – isn’t it time to think again?

In this article, I explain the value of a virtual number that delivers the essential business agility and flexibility required by the smartphone user with none of downsides of cost or customer perception.

Smartphone First
Over the past few years the number of sole traders in the UK has grown dramatically, fuelled by a combination of recession driven redundancy and new Internet enabled business models that have reduced start-up costs. And despite the need for cost containment, no new business owner would consider operating without a smartphone. Few, however, would consider a mobile only business model - the ‘one man band’ stigma still applies, even 30 years on in a mobile dominated world, prompting most companies to invest in both mobile and landline services.

Yet why? In addition to the cost of two contracts, companies pay through the nose to have calls diverted from landline to mobile. Even worse, should there be a need to relocate, porting a landline number can be slow and painful and in some cases – where people may move out of the local area code - not even an option. In this case, businesses will then have to go through the painful and time consuming process of updating websites, brochures and business cards and contacting each and every customer and supplier with the new number.

So how can a small business achieve that essential agility and flexibility without incurring these unnecessary communications costs? How about a dedicated virtual business phone number that provides a consistent contact point from any location - not only from landline to mobile, but as and when the business relocates? A cloud based service that can be used when the user has access to the Internet - via Wi-Fi or 3G/4G network – and where this is not available the service can be diverted to their mobile on GSM or to a landline. A virtual business phone number offers companies the option of a local number to reflect business location or an 03 national number, whatever suits the business model. That number is owned by that business as long as required – however many times the company location changes.

App Model
The great thing about this approach is that a company can use an App to present the same number to customers and suppliers from any location. Running on either PC or smartphone and whether connected via Wi-Fi in the home office or using the mobile 3G/4G network connection anywhere in the world, the same number applies – both inbound and outbound. Calls to a customer will not only flag up the same number irrespective of location – or device – but, using VoIP, will also be charged as if in the UK, delivering both essential business continuity and a lower cost model.

To make it really efficient, calls can simply be forwarded to the mobile using a simple ‘follow me’ service set up online; and if there is no one available to take a call, a voice mail will be saved as an MP3 file and sent via email, providing that anytime, anywhere access – wherever the business is located today, or next month.

Indeed, if the business takes off, it is a simple step to move office, add staff, and upgrade to a full VoIP service, with all the advantages of call transfer, conferencing and call recording – all with the same number. And if the business just wants to keep it small, a virtual number provides all of the flexibility required day to day.

One of the great benefits of the smartphone is the ability to take control and improve the quality of interactions with customers and suppliers at any time. Yet most small companies continue with a two phone number strategy – despite the cost and inefficiency and the long term constraints. Thirty years since the first mobile call – isn’t it time to look for a far more flexible and affordable approach?