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Virtual Phone Numbers: What Are They & How Do They Work?

Your legacy phone system no longer cuts it these days. With the surge of people working remotely, traditional landlines just can’t keep up with the needs of your business. Virtual Phone Numbers: What Are They & How Do They Work?

There must be a better way to manage your business communications, right? There is!

There’s a new wave of office phone systems that are flexible enough to meet the needs of a remote team, even while working from home.

But what about your phone numbers? Are they difficult to use? Why should you care about them?

We’ll explain all the ins of outs of virtual phone numbers for your company and what you should know about how they work.

What is a virtual phone number?

A virtual phone number is a telephone number that isn’t bound to a fixed location. Virtual numbers can be used to make or receive calls on any phone, such as VoIP desk phones, cell phones, or softphones. It’s perfect for employees in the office, or those who work at home.

You can select which devices receive calls from the virtual number, and change them when needed. This flexibility is why they’re sometimes called “secondary” numbers. Virtual phone numbers also provide increased anonymity over your landlines, which people can find in online directories.

Virtual phone numbers have grown in popularity. Businesses use them to accept calls from customers all over the world, regardless of where their offices are located. It gives them seamless lines of communication with their customers. They can’t distinguish between a virtual and standard telephone number.

How does a virtual number work?

Virtual phone numbers do not require a SIM card or a physical address. It uses secure internet technology to place real telephone calls between people.

Instead, virtual numbers accept calls through Voice Over Internet Protocol (VoIP). Fundamentally, it’s the same proven technology used to make calls and text messages through iMessage, WhatsApp, or Google Voice.

VoIP has flourished because it can provide real-time communication using existing broadband connections. With a cloud communications provider, your phone calls are digitized and connected over the internet and across traditional phone networks. Over the years, more VoIP codecs provide rich call quality without eating up too much data.

Phone numbers in the United States are portable, so you don’t even have to switch. The process is known as number porting, and it ensures you can take your business phone number with you regardless of your VoIP provider.

As a result, you don’t need a wired Ethernet connection to take calls through a VoIP phone number. So long as you have a fast and reliable data connection — 4G LTE or Wi-Fi — you can place calls. This is how virtual phone numbers allow you to take calls from your mobile phone.

Differences between virtual and regular phone numbers

There are millions of phone numbers you can select. They fall into two categories: virtual and regular phone numbers. So, what’s the difference between the two? And how do you decide which is best for your company?

Let’s start with regular phone numbers. Traditional phone numbers usually are installed and provided by the local telephone company. Most people don’t know that they own the number, not the telephone company. Telephone companies typically assign phone lines to the street address of where it’s installed.

Traditional phone lines require phone lines to run throughout the building to each desk phone. Installing telecom lines isn’t always easy nor feasible in every office.

A virtual phone number, however, can is location-agnostic, and it’s not bound to one location. It works for employees in and out of the office because they share the same cloud PBX.

That means your in-house or virtual team can pick-up calls from the virtual number in the office, at home, or on their cell phone. And, you can choose who receives incoming calls from the virtual phone number depending on your staff availability.

Benefits of a virtual number

Now that you have a better idea about these types of phone numbers, it’s time to decide if your business needs one.

Here are a few useful benefits you should know about virtual phone numbers.

1) Eliminate expensive add-ons and fees with local phone numbers

People can use your virtual phone system from anywhere in the world without paying expensive calling charges. You can offer a toll-free phone number or a discounted local phone number that global callers may appreciate.

Let’s put that into practice and say you’re running marketing campaigns across the United States. You can ask customers to call your toll free number — a virtual phone number that doesn’t cost them extra for making the call.

Direct Inward Dialing (DID) will point them to the specific person they need to speak with by calling the virtual number you’ve created for their city or country. They’ll be directed to your sales team, regardless of whether they’re in different countries. And, the best part: your leads won’t notice any difference.

Pro-tip: If you’re calling leads in a major metro area like Washington, D.C., Phoenix, Los Angeles, or Seattle, you might want to pick up a local virtual number.

2) Improve caller satisfaction with auto attendants

Cloud phone service providers include auto attendants. An auto attendant greets callers and provides a straightforward menu to reach the right person. This feature ensures that callers don’t waste time explaining their issue to the wrong person.

For example, if someone calls your virtual number to get help with a billing question, their call will be directed to an agent on your finance team. They won’t need to pass through several people to reach the agent best-equipped to help them.

Traditional phone systems don’t include these powerful call routing features. With legacy phone systems, you might need a costly on-prem PBX, an IT manager, and a lot of legwork just to bounce customers around. It’s not fun for anyone.

A Cloud PBX, along with virtual phone numbers, are the way to go.

3) Break free from the office plus a modern voicemail

A traditional telephone number connects to one desk phone. What happens when the person at that desk is out of the office? You have no choice but to send them to voicemail. Some research suggests that customers won’t call you back if they reach your voicemail.

Virtual numbers solve that problem. You can turn their desk phone connection off and have other agents answer calls on their mobile phones, or forward to another available agent. This capability reduces the odds of those callers falling victim to voicemail and never being heard from again.

But if they still land on a voicemail box, there’s still hope. A virtual phone system transcribes the message and emails it to you within seconds. Is that a robocaller or your child’s school calling? With voicemail to email, you’ll know.

4) Employees can separate business from their personal phone

It’s not just incoming calls that a virtual phone number comes in handy. You can use the same number to make outgoing calls—be that to your customers or coworkers. And, it conceals your caller ID when you do so.

This novel feature makes virtual phone numbers ideal for remote workers. More than 38% of companies have team members who work remotely; there’s a steady shift away from the office working.

Remote work statistics

Remote staff don’t need to install a desk phone in their home office, nor use their cell phone to take business calls. The virtual phone number masks their caller ID, which gives them greater control and peace of mind when calling contacts.

They don’t need to be concerned that customers know your private number. You can select business hours for the virtual phone number to accept inbound calls or divert them to a voicemail.

Protect yourself from virtual phone scams

It’s no secret that phone scams are on the rise. Uncertainty and financial anxiety only increase their effectiveness. Even as a business owner, you are a prime target for phone scams.

Virtual numbers carry with it a responsibility to not deceive others. However, not everyone plays by the rules. It’s the real world. You might get receive a phone calls with a fake caller ID claiming to be your bank or a government office.

The bottom line is that you can’t necessarily trust the numbers that call you. Robocallers have been hammering millions of Americans with “neighbor spoofing,” where calls appear to be from your same prefix. For while it worked, we answered, then we learned to screen incoming calls.

If you receive an intimidating call from your bank, do not give them any information. Hang up and contact the bank directly by calling the number posted on their official website.

As far as your virtual phone numbers are concerned, you’ve got to protect them from abuse. Make sure you use secure, complex passwords for your virtual phone system. Whitelist your VoIP provider’s email into your inbox, so you receive alerts immediately if there is any suspicious activity.

Since all calls traverse over the internet, network security and practicing good cybersecurity habits are vital.

  • Ensure that phones and computers receive operating system updates
  • Install antivirus software to detect malware and rootkits
  • Use complex, secure passwords to access your virtual phone system and don’t reuse them
  • If you use public Wi-Fi, use a professional VPN

How to get a virtual phone number

There’s no doubt that virtual phone numbers are more beneficial than traditional landline numbers. They work for small businesses with remote staff as well as larger companies who need to manage communication in their call centers.

Virtual phone numbers come in a few flavors:

  • Local phone numbers – These numbers are based in certain geographic areas, also known as rate centers or area codes.
  • Toll-free numbers – These are special numbers that start with 800, 888, 866, and others that allow people to call it without any tolls or fees.
  • Vanity numbers – These numbers are the catchy, memorable numbers like 1-800-FLOWERS. You would want to purchase these and port them in.

Remember, you can keep your existing phone number and take it with you to a virtual phone system. As your company expands, you can pick out new numbers or swap out others whenever you want.

Once you install your virtual phone system, you’ll wish you had it sooner. Your team will enjoy the freedom, flexibility, and savings a virtual phone number provides.

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