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Could Your Business Benefit from a Phone System Mobile App?

Could Your Business Benefit from a Phone System Mobile App?
Credit: s4svisuals/Shutterstock

In an increasingly mobile world, many business owners and employees can't afford to be either out of touch or tethered to a wired desk phone. At the same time, they don't want to be required to pack both personal and business smartphones. Business phone system smartphone apps offer business owners a solution that keeps mobile workers in touch anytime, anywhere, so workers don't have to carry more than one device or risk commingling business and personal communications.

By downloading and installing a simple, low-cost app on an Android or iOS device, users can receive communications on their personal smart devices from any location. Callers, meanwhile, will have a way to reach you outside of the office that doesn't involve your personal number.

"Instead of having a landline in your office, you can have a phone [number] that works on any device or any network," said Doug Brackbill, CEO of Line2. "The idea is that the phone number is no longer attached to a specific device."

While anyone can use a personal device to make a business call or send a business text, apps turn employees' smartphones into powerful mobile business communications tools.

"Phone system apps offer a broader range of features, beyond the ability to make calls and send text messages," said Chris Bohlin, a product line director at Citrix. "Call routing, extensions, simple automated call distribution and call blasting are a few examples of these more advanced features."

Editor's Note: Looking for a phone system for your business? Use the questionnaire below to have our sister site, BuyerZone, provide you with information for free:

 

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Call routing is perhaps the most widely used feature. The business phone system app can be set up to forward calls to one or several different numbers, but the caller only has to dial one number. Someone working from home using his or her personal phone may answer a call to a business's published phone number. From the caller's perspective, it will be as though he or she were talking to someone on the business's premises.

In terms of why users love phone system apps, Niel Levonius, director of product marketing for RingCentral, said the company's customers are very excited about having a single application that provides a unified business identity with the capability to call, text, video, conference and fax. [See Related Story: RingCentral Review: Best Virtual Phone System]

Business phone system apps typically use Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) technology to carry calls over cellular networks and Wi-Fi connections to the internet. Other businesses use the older public switched telephone network (PSTN) for its reliability and call quality. The apps operate as extensions of cloud-hosted private branch exchange (PBX) systems to provide the features traditionally provided by the hardwired PBX business phone systems of the past.

One important benefit of smartphone business phone system apps for business owners and employees is the ability of users to purchase and use a single device for both business and personal communications.

"People are more and more moving to their mobile devices for not only personal communication but business communication," said Brian Ferguson, product marketing manager at Digium.

Business phone system apps enable that shift to occur while giving users the ability to maintain separation between business and personal communications. For instance, when an employee uses a personal device to call a customer, that customer's Caller ID can display the business's phone number, which allows a business to maintain a consistent image.   

Business phone system apps have features that are similar to a traditional PBX system. For example, callers to a business's main line may get a recording directing them to press, for instance, "1" for sales, "2" for accounting or "3" for shipping. But instead of being directed to a wired desk phone on the premises, the caller will be connected to an employee's smartphone in any location. Other features of such systems include such familiar functions as voicemail, conferencing, auto attendants, employee name directories, call recording, messaging, faxing and videoconferencing.

Smartphone business phone apps also offer some features that most wired desk phones don't. For instance, some will transcribe voicemails and deliver them to an email address. Apps also may facilitate reporting, so businesses can track, analyze and manage employees' communications activities.

Some smartphone apps only require users to download and install it on their phone. Others, such as RingCentral's, are part of more complex, cloud-based business phone systems that can include wired Internet Protocol desk phones. While they are well-suited to small and solo entrepreneurs, the apps are scalable and can also be used by businesses with hundreds of lines.

Smartphone, app-based business telephony is readily affordable. RingCentral and Digium include their mobile apps without additional charge to customers of their cloud business communications solutions, which start as low as $12.99 per line per month. Among app-only solutions, Line2 has monthly subscription plans for as little as $10 per line per month. Grasshopper charges $12 per line per month for its least expensive plan.

For apps at the low end of monthly subscription fee plans, providers may also impose per-minute fees. And the provider might also charge other fees, including one for setup. Features and support levels will also vary, depending on the plan, so it pays to compare offerings in detail before making a choice.

In the future, business phone system mobile apps will be likely to offer more advanced text messaging features such as group messaging, photo messaging and video messaging. Line2 said its Multimedia Messaging Service capability is popular with its users, and competitors such as RingCentral are planning similar offerings.

Other features that are coming or available from some apps are texting-enabled, toll-free numbers, and integration with customer relationship management systems such as Salesforce. Voice control and text-by-voice are also improvements that have just been introduced or are soon to arrive with many apps.

The growing popularity of business phone system mobile apps could be a harbinger of the eventual passing of conventional hardwired business phones.

"I think business phone service is moving away from the desktop phone and into these devices," said Line2's Brackbill. "It is all about the app."

Editor's Note: Looking for a phone system for your business? Use the questionnaire below to have our sister site, BuyerZone, provide you with information for free:

 

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Mark Henricks

Mark Henricks writes about business, personal finance, health, fitness and other topics from Austin, Texas. A graduate of the University of Texas School of Journalism, he has worked as a reporter, editor, author and freelance writer for many leading publishers. Reach him by email, on Twitter (@markhenricks) or visit his website, The Article Authority.