3 Tools Make Phone the Center of Small Biz Universe

By Jamie Bsales | Posted December 17, 2009

Looking to make the most of your IT expenditures? Don’t forget the phone. While it may seem like quaint turn-of-the-last-century technology, it is still the primary means of communication between a small business and its clients or customers. And making the most of today’s phone-centered applications and services can help boost productivity while letting you spend more time in the field — or with the family. New offerings from Cbeyond, Protus and SurePayroll put the phone front and center.

Cbeyond

This week Cbeyond, which offers managed Internet and phone services to businesses in 13 major U.S. markets, rolled out the Cbeyond Virtual Receptionist. This cloud-based service helps small businesses project a professional image to incoming callers, routing calls efficiently and automatically without the hassle or expense of deploying an on-site automated attendant.

“A lot of time and effort are spent on Web sites and other avenues, but one of the main ways customers get in touch is via the phone,” said John Harmer, senior product manager at Cbeyond. “Their first impression is when they call that number on a business card.”

As with an on-premise auto-attendant product, Cbeyond Virtual Receptionist intelligently routes incoming calls to the person or department callers needs to reach, or provides them with pre-recorded information, based on a schedule and routing that you control via the Web interface. An online wizard walks you through setting up the main greeting, voice prompts and call routing and other features.

The solution’s text-to-speech engine converts typed phrases into professionally recorded voice messages, so you don’t have to fumble through take after take to get a message right (unless you want to: you can also call into the service and record a message the old fashioned way).

Harmer claims you can set up a system in about 10 minutes, with no hardware to buy or upgrade. He also claims the system is easy enough to use that business owners can change greetings often, to advise callers of special deals, for example; and to schedule different greetings based on the time of day or day of the week. Cbeyond Virtual Receptionist is priced at $35 per month.

Protus

SaaS (software-as-a-service) communications specialist Protus is touting its my1voice service as a way to help business owners achieve work/life balance during the holiday season. My1voice comprises virtual phone service, a virtual receptionist, smart call forwarding, enhanced voicemail and call screening in a cloud-based solution.

“During the holiday season, a small business owner is always challenged to meet the end-of-year sales rush while still taking time for family,” said Steve Adams, vice president of marketing for Protus. “The my1voice virtual phone service includes access to features such as a virtual receptionist and smart call forwarding, which allow a small business owner full control over how calls are handled during the holidays. This means that customer service can continue uninterrupted while the owner schedules in downtime.”

My1voice includes a virtual-receptionist feature that lets owners set up professional greetings for callers that direct them to dial an extension or select from the dial-by-name directory. The call-scheduling feature provides each extension owner with the capability to schedule when an incoming call rings to a phone, or goes directly to voicemail. For employees that are out of the office, calls can be forwarded to another extension.

My1voice also delivers enhanced voicemail features such as voicemail-to-e-mail conversion and text message voicemail notifications, ensuring that you know when you have a voicemail even while away from the office. Entrepreneurs can also set up smart call-forwarding to send office calls to any phone so important calls don’t go unanswered. The my1voice service plans start at $10 per month, with additional plans based on how many minutes per month the small business expects to use.

SurePayroll

Business owners can also rely on mobile phone technology to make sure critical chores get done while they are out of the office during the holidays. One of the newest is the SurePayroll App for the Apple iPhone and iPod Touch.

Similar to the company’s existing BlackBerry offering, this free download lets subscribers to SurePayroll’s online payroll service enter payroll information, preview totals, approve and run payroll and more while on the go. Transactions entered through iPhone or iPod touch will be automatically reflected in the customer’s SurePayroll account, providing up-to-date payroll information and accurate records.

“Small business owners are seamlessly moving from one device to another throughout the day,” notes Michael Alter, president of SurePayroll. “With the new mobile applet, owners don’t have to be at their PC to enter employees’ hours and approve and run payroll.”

The main SurePayroll offering is online alternative to services such as ADP and Paychex and handles all aspects of payroll management, including paying payroll taxes and filing returns on your behalf. Alter claims the service tends to cost about half of the price of ADP or Paychex. 

Jamie Bsales is an award-winning technology writer and editor with nearly 14 years of experience covering the latest hardware, software and Internet products and services.

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