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Archives: June 2011

Is Your Business Changing? Virtual PBX Can Change With You
June 28th, 2011

Virtual PBX’s hosted phone service is flexible and quickly adapts to the changing needs of your growing business.  Easily scalable and constantly updated with new features, Virtual PBX will keep up with your business no matter how fast you change.

With traditional PBX’s, everything must be installed and maintained by on-site IT staff and for a growing business this can get very expensive, both in terms of dollars and time.

With Virtual PBX you can easily add or remove extensions and ACD Queues, switch plans, add Voip phones and make many other changes whenever you need to – and for a fraction of the price!  Everything is in your control.

Virtual PBX also makes it easy for customers to configure the system to meet their changing needs with a simple user interface.  Add a new phone number for that new ad you’re placing in the new magazine, update your main greeting with your new business hours, or route calls to a new employee, all with the click of a button.

Monitor and train new employees with Virtual PBX’s real-time web monitors and call recording.  Keep an eye on when they are logged in and out of ACD queues, when they are receiving calls, as well as when they are marked unavailable.  Also, ensure they are giving the best phone customer service by using free call recording.  You can also use the call recording feature to train new employees.

Use free conference minutes to communicate with employees and customers virtually anywhere in the world.  For ultimate flexibility, each extension owner can have a conference call going on at the same time.

With Virtual PBX you will always have multiple ways to connect with employees, customers, and vendors whenever and wherever your business takes you.

Telecom Disaster Recovery with PBX Parachute
July 21st, 2010

In previous blogs we covered the importance of telecom disaster recovery and what to look for in a telecom disaster recovery service provider.   The industry has published many studies and surveys about how crippling a telecom disaster can be as well as how unprepared most companies really are when it comes to recovering from a phone system outage of any sort.  Like the 2009 study from the Business Research Institute which revealed that of all the recovery points necessary in the event of a disaster (data loss, employee management, notifications, etc.), 65 percent of businesses surveyed said telecommunications was the weakest link.

The planning behind a telecom disaster recovery service should not just take national or natural disasters into account.  What about the mundane and non-disasters such as planned downtime?  What about simple things like a false fire alarm?  There are multiple reasons why a company’s employees may not be able to answer their own phones in their own office.  Why not be prepared?  This is not a hard process, but it is an important one.

Virtual PBX has made the process very simple with our telecom disaster recovery service PBX Parachute.   Here’s what you get:

Hot-standby PBX with Automatic Failover
PBX Parachute waits in the background until it is needed. When called upon, there is no hardware to boot, no software to run, and no data to move. As a hot standby PBX it is ready to go. Failover can be automatic and almost instantaneous, or you can bypass automatic failover and manage the transition on your own. Calls can be routed to alternate phones in any location, such as cellular phones, phones in branch offices, or home phones.

Scale to Any Level
PBX Parachute is so complete, with so many important features, that it can usually directly mirror your primary PBX. Any size company can use the service, and it can provide phone system business continuity for all workers, or just for the most critical business functions.

Employee Emergency Hotline
Even if your business is prepared for an emergency, that’s not always true of your employees. An emergency hotline that is ready to provide instructions for how they should handle any given situation is a lot easier to remember than how the system is wired to deliver calls outside in the event of a fire in the building.

Complete Architectural Assistance
While the way in which you want calls handled is up to you, building and maintaining your disaster recovery should not cut into your time. When you create a PBX Parachute account, you just let us know how the calls need to get handled and we carry it from there. Need to update your plans or messages? Just send us an email, we’ll get any recordings or routing taken care of for you.

Knowledge research firms like Basex, Inc., have estimated that a standard 500-person company would lose over $90,000/day from loss of phone service.  Says Cheryl Arscott of Reservation Services International, “Had I not completed and signed up for the Virtual PBX Parachute program we would have been out of business for 10 days.  With the PBX Parachute, our company was able to stay in contact with our customers by phone when our normal phone system was down during hurricane Wilma”.

Given the amount at stake and the ease of creating and maintaining an automatic fail-over phone service through Virtual PBX’s PBX Parachute service, we strongly urge any company who has not already prepared for disaster to give us a call. 1-888-825-0800, option 1, and you can acquire phone system readiness for whatever storms may come your way.  As we say here at Virtual PBX — don’t get caught with your phones down!

5 Things to Look for in a Telecom Disaster Recovery Provider
June 24th, 2010

A 2009 study from the Business Research Institute revealed that of all the recovery points necessary in the event of a disaster (data loss, employee management, notifications, etc.), 65 percent of businesses surveyed said telecommunications was the weakest link. Given the importance of phones to a business, this is a surprising statistic. In the event of catastrophic system failure, or because a fire alarm went off and your employees have to exit the building, you’re going to need a backup plan for handling phone calls. This is not a hard process, but it is an important one. For that reason, you need to make sure that the company you’re working with to handle your telecommunications failover can connect all your employees and all your callers as effectively as possible.

In the event of a disaster, a company’s local and toll-free provider can re-route, or forward, the inbound calls to a different location. But where? To another phone system at some dark site? That is an immense amount of capital being spent on something that may never be used. The better way is to have the calls forwarded to a virtual phone system – a phone system in the cloud, if you will. A virtual phone system can have the Fortune 500 sound, features and reliability without any hardware on site. But while there are many virtual phone system providers in the market, not all of them make good telecom disaster recovery providers. Here are four things to look for in a telecom disaster recovery provider:

1.  Highly Reliable

There are a lot of virtual phone system providers that have built their networks on open source software running on standard computers. This is fine for simple call control, but when it comes down to it, having specialized, reliable hardware built specifically for high call traffic is key to reliability. Also, the vendor should be located in a data center that is on the national backbone so it stays up and running even in the event of a natural or national disaster. Also, competent support staff with strong technical expertise is crucial. This cannot be accomplished with an outsourced support center but rather with their own employees who have an in-depth knowledge of their network and capabilities.

2.  Highly Redundant

As a telecom disaster recovery provider faces the same problems as you – fire, hacking, power loss, etc. – they need to have a disaster recovery plan of their own, with redundancies and failovers in place for electrical, inbound, and outbound local and toll-free carriers, as well as network and hardware component redundancies. A reputable telecom DR provider has no planned downtime of their own. They should be able to switch between multiple carriers for your call (in case entire networks of phones go down) and repair and replace components without you ever knowing or needing to know.

3. Full Customization

Whether you want to appear as though nothing’s interrupted your business, or if you need emergency messages and directions only, or just an employee emergency hotline, a reputable telecom disaster recovery provider’s virtual phone system should have the features and customization capabilities as well as the support staff willing to work with you to put a system in place that meets your telecom DR needs. As an example, the service should allow you to create a bank of recorded messages that can be fluidly managed, as well as multiple fallback contact numbers for each of your employees based on what kind of communication is still available to you at the time of the disaster.

4.  Full Control

When disaster strikes, it’s going to be unexpected, it’s going to be complicated, and you’re going to need to respond directly to the type of problem that has occurred. A single generic response or scripted recovery plan may not account for the number of variables in a disaster situation. At times you may not have access to computers. At other times you may not have access to phones. You’ll need a telecom DR system that can be accessed and managed several different ways, such as through a self-managed Web port as well as through the phone. But beyond that, you’ll need to have a system that can provide several options for routing calls to employees, depending on what resources are available to them during the disaster. Ideally, each employee has a phone and Web login to the telecom DR system, with access dependent on the rights given to them by the system administrator.

5. Always On

A common process in the disaster recovery world is when a disaster occurs you need to “declare a disaster” with your DR vendors so they can start working with you during that disaster. However, in the telecom world, there’s no time for that. Calls are going to keep coming in and you need a place to send them. A telecom DR provider should always be on, in hot standby, waiting for calls to come to it. You may need to declare a disaster with your local and toll-free providers so they know to reroute calls to your telecom DR provider. But you can work with them ahead of time to make sure those routes are saved in their switches, ready for when needed.

Virtual PBX is one of the only telecom disaster recovery and business continuity service providers with our PBX Parachute service.  This customizable service can completely mirror your phone system, only cover your inbound call center, act as your employee emergency hotline, and provide a conference bridge for your disaster recovery team — all in the same system, all at the same time.  Give us a call at 888-825-0800, option 1, and ask any of our Sales personnel about this very important service.

Don’t be a part of the 65 percent of companies whose disaster recovery plan does not include your phones. Phone calls mean money, and finding a reputable telecom disaster recovery service provider that uses a hosted phone service is key to making sure you continue to make money with those inbound phone calls, even in the event of a disaster.

TechTip: Password Protecting Your Conference Call
May 21st, 2010

VirtualPBX’s conferencing feature makes it quick and easy for you to host a conference, and now with more free conference minutes, we make it more affordable! You also won’t need any special conference call-in numbers, or long complicated PIN’s. Your participants just call your virtual PBX phone number, select the conferencing option from the auto-attendant, and enter the extension hosting the conference. That’s it!

However, some of you may want a little more security to your conference call. Not to worry, we give you that option as well. To password protect your conference and require your participants to enter a numeric password, simply do the following:

1. Log in to your virtual PBX extension here
2. Click on the “Conference” tab for your extension

3. Click on the “Yes” option for “Entry Password Enabled”

4. Enter your custom 4-10 digit numeric password in the text box

5. Click the “Update” button to save the changes

That’s all there is to it. Your conference room is now password protected.
For more information and FAQ’s, be sure to visit our Support page.
Talk Up a Storm
May 11th, 2010

It’s time to start connecting. Conference calls let you hold meetings, make presentations, perform training, coordinate staff, handle investors, and more. And since conferencing is so useful to businesses as they grow in size or need a more personal touch, Virtual PBX is stepping up to the plate. We’re not just cutting costs, but swinging included conferencing into every account we provide.

If you’re new to conferencing, now’s the time to start finding ways to use it.  You can have your people call in, join the conference, and hold whatever kind of seminar you need. If you’re already using our conferencing, expect a nice reduction off your bills from now on. That’s it. Nothing to sign up for, no need to change plans, just lower costs.

So, brainstorm freely. Talk it up.  The conference bridge is already enabled and configured on your system by default.  But just in case you’re not sure where to get started, here’s everything that you need from top to bottom. Most people only need the first item here.

To enter a conference if conferencing is already set up as an option in your auto-attendant menu (default key is ‘9’):

Conference Moderator:
1. Call into your Virtual PBX number.
2. Press ‘9’ during the auto-attendant to access the conferencing options.
3. Enter ‘#’ followed by your extension.
4. Enter your phone password followed by ‘#’.

Conference Participants:
1. Call into your Virtual PBX number.
2. Press ‘9’ to access conferencing.
3. Enter the extension number of the conference.

If you don’t have conferencing set up in your system, or aren’t sure, here’s how to make it all work:

To setup conferencing on your system:
• Login to vConsole
• Go to the “Admin” tab
• Click “Conferencing” in the left-hand navigation box
• Select “Yes” for Conference Bridge Enabled
• Select the menu number you’d like to use (9 by default)
• Click on “Update” to save your changes
• To enable conferencing for individual extensions, click on “Edit” next to “Set Extensions Conference Privileges, enable as needed, and click “Update”

If conferencing is not enabled on your system or you have more questions, please email support@virtualpbx.com or call 888-825-0800, option 2 for Support, and we’ll help you get your conference bridge configured.  Happy conferencing!

Conferencing Made Easy
March 25th, 2010

You’re in Sydney. Your sales reps are in New York. Your marketing team is in London. Time is money and you need to speak to your teams ASAP. Travelling arrangements aside, there’s really only one efficient way to get your teams together and all on the same page – a conference call!

With a VirtualPBX system, setting up and hosting a conference call is as easy as 1-2-3!

  1. Arrange the time and let the teams know
  2. Have your teams call your VirtualPBX number and enter the conference bridge
  3. Log in as the moderator and host your conference

No long PINs or Access Codes to remember or give out. No special conferencing number needed. Conference calls made nice and easy. But wait! There’s more! With VirtualPBX.com, you can have numbers in Sydney, New York and London ALL accessing the same VirtualPBX system. The calls are local calls for your teams, with no need for them to expense their long distance calls. And don’t forget, they can call from ANY phone – they don’t need to be at a computer to make those cheap PC calls. It’s a local call to them.

But VirtualPBX.com takes it a step further by going beyond the basic features of an audio conference:

  • Each extension in your system can host their own conference call
  • You can password protect the conference with a self-specified PIN
  • It’s easy to monitor conference activity using our web console, seeing who’s hosting and the caller ID of the participants
  • Full conferencing logs are available, summarizing call times and duration

If you’re looking for audio conferencing AND a hosted PBX, your quest is now complete. VirtualPBX.com delivers both, complete with quality and reliability.

The Unsung Hero – Part 2 – The Origins Of Your Hosted PBX
July 6th, 2009

In this second part of our multi-part series on the importance of your phone system, we take a look back at history and see how it’s evolved to become an important cog in your business machine.

To fully appreciate how and why a hosted, virtual, or IP PBX provides benefits to your business we need to take a little trip back in time to the days of the switchboard. You’ve probably seen old pictures, movies or cartoons depicting a group of operators hurriedly connecting calls by manually swapping wires from one place to the next as calls arrive.  Back then, switchboard rooms might be filled, floor-to-ceiling, with the equipment required to patch every call while “runners” were hired to climb the ladders that were attached to those switchboards, simply to connect calls. The equipment was incredibly monolithic; the process was very labor-intensive; and there was no chance a small business owner could conceive of having their own switchboard. It’s hard to even believe that we actually managed to communicate that way.

As time passed, advances in basic telephony, switching enhancements, improvements in signaling, the advent of the PBX (private branch exchange), and the eventual intersection of computing technologies contributed to the rapid disappearance of manual switchboards during the latter half of the 20th century. Phone systems became smaller and more automated, required less space to  install, less people to make them run, and provided much more functionality at the touch of a button. One or two operators could do the job of what had taken dozens just decades before. By the late 20th century, a well-heeled entrepreneur could conceivably purchase and install a PBX with the aid of a consultant and such a PBX system could, quite literally, fit inside of a closet.

For the small business owner, unfortunately, the overhead cost of a phone system living in a telecommunications “closet” still presented a huge cost concern. Adding together the price of the PBX hardware, switching systems, phone lines, configuration and ongoing maintenance costs, as well as the dedicated phone hardware made such a purchase cost-prohibitive. The risks involved with maintaining the hardware on-site also might cause a business owner some nightmares. What happens if there’s a power failure or a major catastrophe? What if the business needed to move? What if local construction “accidentally” cuts the incoming lines?  Enter the Internet Age.

With computing and mass storage centralized to data centers  and even larger dedicated “closets” where power, environmental conditions, and even backup could by maintained by third parties, the ability to take the traditional PBX “out of the closet”, so to speak, became a plainly obvious endeavor. If websites and other business-critical applications could be “hosted” outside the walls of corporate headquarters, so could a phone system. And if a phone system can be hosted, then everyone (including the burgeoning ranks of micro and home-based businesses) could leverage the cost advantages and power of a…wait for it…hosted pbxVirtual PBX was the first to deliver such as system in 1998 and we coined the term ‘virtual pbx‘ to more adequately describe the technology. You’ll also find such systems under the moniker of ‘hosted phone system’, ‘hosted IP pbx’ (we’ll be exploring that one in the future), and most recently,’ VoIP pbx’. These days many of the terms are used interchangeably to describe a phone system that incorporate the following functionality:

  • Have an auto-attendant that acts as a virtual operator or virtual receptionist – Every caller is greeted with a message and options that are unique to the business.
  • Employees have an extension and every extension has voicemail – Just like an enterprise PBX.
  • Forward calls to any phone number – Standard PBXs lock employees down to the phone at their desk. With a hosted pbx, the employee defines what phone is used and multiple numbers can be stored.
  • Have the ability to handle multiple phone numbers – Toll-free numbers for a national presence; local numbers for your local presence.
  • Send any phone number to almost any part of the hosted pbx.
  • Be able to take the entire Caller ID or portions of the Caller ID and automatically route calls as they arrive.
  • Be able to route calls based on caller input.
  • Follow-me calling – A hosted PBX can call each phone number that an employee stores allowing them to take calls wherever they are; this function is also readily enabled or disabled.
  • Provide information about each call including the ability to screen – Also known in the industry as call whisper.
  • Be able to transfer calls – An obvious and critical function.
  • Decipher between normal calls and fax calls and be able to handle those messages accordingly.
  • Convert messages to attachments that can be forwarded in email.
  • Include a call queueing system – An intelligent and automated delivery method that allows small businesses to create virtual “departments” that are able to handle a caller’s needs more specifically.
  • Built-in conferencing.
  • Include a web-based interface – A hosted pbx can be readily configured and maintained through a web browser
  • Include some form of reporting and logging – Allows even the smallest businesses to learn about their phone traffic and how to maximize how the phones get used
  • Include redundancies in the back-end hardware – Technology is useless if it fails. This goes double for your phone system. Building in a high-level of fault tolerance and backup system allows hosted pbx to perform mission-critical tasks.

For small business owners, especially ones that utilize the phone as a critical link in their operations, the advantages of a hosted pbx are hard to ignore:

  • Low cost to implement, low cost to maintain.
  • No hardware-lock in – if you have a phone (land line, cell phone, VoIP line, Sat Phone, etc.) you can make use of a hosted phone system.
  • No pbx hardware to buy, no software to learn and upgrade because you’ll have…
  • Off-site hosting and maintenance – This is especially valuable if you run your business in areas that are routinely impacted by weather or conditions that can affect your phone system.
  • Provide an enterprise-level presence even if the company is run by a single proprietor.
  • For the diversified entrepreneur, a hosted pbx allows multiple businesses to be run under one phone system.
  • Be able to provide actual departments to callers. Businesses look even larger and the customers are handled more appropriately.
  • Instantly discern between your business calls, personal calls, and calls from your VIPs.

With all the capabilites available from hosted pbx technology and the value-add that is inherent to the technology, the most important aspect of the hosted phone system is that it becomes a transperent and intergral part of your day-to-day operations. In fact, your phone system becomes a key enabler of your business; a vital cornerstone that, along with a set of tools, allows you to do business anywhere. By simply adding a customer relationship management solution; dedicated billing software; and any combination of  freely available communications and office productivity tools such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Google Docs, and a multi-IM client such as Trillian or Digsby, you’re ready to work wherever you, your laptop, and your phone are most comfortable.

And what will the future hold for such a key member of your business? That’s what we intend to look at in our final installment. We hope you’ll be back for that one.

The Unsung Hero – Your Phone System
June 30th, 2009

Your phone system. It’s something that you probably don’t think about very much. In fact it’s probably something that you take for granted. A lot. As an entrepreneur, small business owner, or a corporate fugitive just starting out, you’re (almost always) more preoccupied with issues that you’ve deemed more important. You’re accustomed to using your cell phone as your primary business line; and while you’ve put in a dedicated phone line or two in your home office it’s not exactly one of those things that you put that much thought into. Moreover,  if you’ve always worked for someone else that phone (and all the related hardware behind it) has been an item that has “always been there”.

Until it’s not.

After a while, having just a cell phone is no longer the most convenient aspect of your business because being at the instant beck and call of all of your customers isn’t especially conducive to your sanity. That second phone line you put in is now intermittently picked up by your kids, which doesn’t send the greatest image of professionalism. And the idea of rushing to a phone every time it rings simply causes too many interruptions. If you’ve experienced any or all of the above, perhaps even in one day,  you might arrive at the conclusion that you really do need to be  responsible for your own phone system. Unfortunately,  the task of implementing the right solution is just plain daunting and, at best, supremely frustrating.

And why is that? Because telephony is filled with a plethora of acronyms and terminology that can be confounding – even the choice of what kind of phone to purchase is migraine-inducing. POTS, SIP or VoIP? Single-line, multi-line, wireless, or soft phone? Hosted PBX, virtual pbx, or IP PBX? Integrated conferencing or a conferencing service? DID? Queues? Hunt groups? Huh? “… I need a virtual receptionist? Really? I don’t even have a budget for one of those!?!…” “Wait…I thought an asterisk was a punctuation mark?…”

So what if you could allay all of those issues? What if that “industrial strength” phone system that’s a part of almost every major enterprise could be a part of every small business? What if the phone system that you decided to implement for your little empire could actually be a useful part of your business? Oh…and what if it was also relatively inexpensive to implement? That’s not a half-bad idea is it?

Well, it can. It’s called a hosted pbx. And it’s what our next blog entry will hope to set straight, once and for all.

We hope you’ll join us for that little talk. (more…)