The Ultimate Guide to Virtual Phone Numbers in 2021
A primer on what a virtual number is, how it works, how it can help your business, and how to get one in 2021.
The cloud market grew over 6.3% in 2020 to a total size of nearly USD 258 billion, finds Gartner. Especially in response to the pressures of the pandemic, businesses are rapidly adopting cloud, digital, mobile, big data, and artificial intelligence technologies. But what about communication?
If you’re still using on-prem legacy systems for your contact centre and other telephony needs, you might be missing out on a lot of potential.
Modern internet-based alternatives to the bulky PBX setups can empower your business with speed, agility, visibility, and control. In this article, we’ll answer:
- What is a virtual phone number?
- How does a virtual number work?
- How is it different from a regular number?
- What kinds of virtual numbers are available?
- How can a business use a virtual number?
- What are the advantages of using a virtual number?
- How to get a virtual number for your business?
What is a virtual phone number?
A virtual phone number is a telephone number that is not connected to any physical network and is capable of handling unlimited concurrent calls. The calls that land on a virtual phone number can be tracked and monitored for performance.
You no longer need a physical telephone line in your office for communication. You can use a virtual number in the same way you would the regular telephone — to make and receive calls. Your inbound teams, as well as remote/field agents, can use the same number to interact with customers/prospects.
How does a virtual number work?
Virtual numbers are not tied to EPABX systems, SIM cards, or wired networks. They can be hosted on a cloud platform, which routes calls between two or more parties based on pre-set conditions.
In case of inbound calling, a customer can call the virtual number, including toll-free numbers, just like they would call any traditional phone line. They can be automatically routed, based on conditions like location, time of call, etc., or can be redirected to an IVR, which can route the call based on their specific query.
For outbound calls, your field sales agents can dial securely to the customer, from your CRM application, which is then placed through the virtual number.
- Your employees can use their own devices — landlines or personal mobile phones, from wherever they are, to make or receive secure calls.
- You can define call flows based on your business needs.
- You can choose the devices on which you want to operationalize calls.
- You can enable parallel ringing, call-recording, analytics, etc.
How is a virtual number different from a regular number?
A regular number is tied to a phone line or SIM card provided by a local or national phone service provider. For office systems, this means installing telephone lines throughout the building to connect each phone, which is expensive and needs regular maintenance.
Virtual numbers, on the other hand, allow you to access the phone through multiple devices and locations. The infrastructure needed for a virtual number, such as data backup and software, is usually hosted by the service provider, leaving minimal maintenance at your end.
What are the different types of virtual numbers?
There are four kinds of virtual numbers available in India — mobile number, landline number, toll-free number, and the local number.
1. Mobile number: A virtual mobile number is a ten-digit number, that looks like a standard mobile number, typically assigned to field agents to make secure calls to customers. Agents can make calls from their existing mobile devices while differentiating easily between personal and work calls.
They are still cloud-based and not associated with the field agent’s mobile device or SIM. Therefore, this number needs to be integrated with a CRM or similar app to work, and may not support SMS.
2. Landline number: Virtual landline numbers are those in the format of a local landline number — typically with STD code and an 8-digit number. This is especially useful for intra-organization communication and to channel calls to other devices to ensure continuity in remote work. Many sales organizations and small businesses also prefer to have virtual landline numbers as their office number.
3. Toll-free number: A toll-free number is typically free for the caller to call, the charges are incurred by the business. Organizations make toll-free numbers available for situations when they need customers to call them. For instance, the sales line might be toll-free, so can the number to call to report fraudulent activity or contact emergency services.
One virtual toll-free number can be attached to multiple channels so that an available agent can attend the call, without making the customer wait in the queue.
4. Local number: A virtual local number is one that’s modified to resemble phone numbers from the locality. This improves pick-up rates as customers might be wary of answering calls from unrecognizable numbers.
For instance, a call using a local number might have the STD code of wherever the receiver is, making it seem like the call is being made locally. Or a call center based in India can serve customers in the US more effectively with a US-style phone number.
These are only the four main kinds of virtual numbers. Also, virtual numbers aren’t static and can be customized according to the channel or purpose and modified to boost engagement.
How can a business use a virtual number?
Most businesses begin by using a virtual number to make or receive calls. But they can do a lot more. Some of the other possibilities of using virtual numbers are:
1. Remote work
Recently, many businesses, both SMBs, and enterprises are using virtual numbers to enable remote work. With a virtual number, remote employees can access the business phone system the same way they would while they are in the office.
In fact, intelligent call routing with virtual numbers can merge field staff seamlessly with office teams and assign calls appropriately. You don’t need to redirect a customer to a different number, you can connect their existing call effortlessly to a remote agent, when available.
2. Lead engagement
Virtual numbers not only help to identify the source of leads but helps to convert them by locating them within an appropriate call flow. You can set up prioritization based on the lead score. You can also set up notification triggers to ensure that agents follow up faster.
You can assign a different virtual number to each advertising campaign, channel, location, language, etc. to get an accurate idea of the leads generated by each. It also helps track the RoI of offline campaigns.
4. Customer disputes
Using a virtual number through a cloud platform that automatically records all incoming and outgoing calls can help maintain records to resolve customer disputes.
5. Employee training
If your sales and customer engagement is done entirely, or even largely, through the telephone, you can use the virtual number-based system as a training resource too! You can use call analytics to measure KPIs and identify training opportunities. You can also use call recordings of the top performers as samples during the onboarding process and to help other agents perform better.
What kind of business are virtual numbers right for?
There is a common misconception that virtual numbers are only useful for large enterprises. But, that’s not true. For everyone from large-scale enterprises operating in multiple countries, government agencies using toll-free numbers for services, bootstrapping startups looking for innovative solutions, and small businesses struggling with legacy systems, virtual numbers come in handy.
In fact, virtual numbers can be especially suitable for startups, small businesses, and solopreneurs owing to the low set-up and maintenance costs, ease of use, and on-demand scalability.
What are the advantages of using a virtual number?
1. Easy set up: Setting up a virtual number is quick and inexpensive.
2. Advanced features: It comes feature-packed, often including call queueing, call tracking, automatic call distribution, etc. out of the box.
3. Analytics for visibility: It offers granular visibility into contact centre operations — no. of calls made, duration of each call, the time each call was placed, who made how many calls, and so on.
4. Automatic call recording: It enables a detailed and accurate record of calls within a secure environment.
5. On-demand scalability: It can scale up and down easily by adding more channels and agents.
It is important to note that TRAI places certain limitations on the use of virtual numbers. Speak to an Exotel consultant to see how it applies to you.
How to get a virtual number for your business?
Getting a virtual number is easier than getting a new phone line installed.
Step 1: Choose a cloud telephony service provider.
Step 2: Customise your calling plans according to call volume and workflow or choose from existing plans.
Step 3: Install and integrate the telephony service within your communication infrastructure with minimal downtime. You can choose what your virtual number will look like too!
Step 4: Use the virtual number as you please. Scale up or down as you wish by adding or removing numbers or agents.