Business Phone Service on a Budget

Every once in a while I run into a real gem on the internet.  A service that simply reevaluates the way business gets done.  For example, in the past, if you wanted to use a multi-line phone system that supported different extensions, and auto attendant, and voicemail, it meant spending thousands of dollars on phone system hardware and contracting a specialist to assemble and maintain the system.

With the internet revolution, voice over IP became a central technology.  And when that happened, businesses found new ways to work existing technologies.  Once powerful example is RingCentral.com.  RingCentral takes a new approach to complicated business phone systems and offers a service that puts the power of those multi-thousand dollar phone systems in the hands of small business owners and telecommuters.

RingCentral’s service is difficult to describe.  In fact, I suggest taking a look at the video tutorials on their site in order to really grok everything the service can accomplish.  I’ve been using the service for about a year now and I am very impressed.  Its not a one trick pony either.  It is flexible and it can fill a wide range of needs.

In my case, I run a small business.  The company has 4 main phone lines, and people either work out of the office, or from their homes.  RingCentral hosts our 800 number.  Using the RingCentral web site, I can configure the entire phone system.  I can set up the greetings, after hours message, and extension voicemail messages.  Conventional phone systems require all of the extensions to be wired into the central phone board.  In the case of RingCentral, that implementation is simply done away with.  In its place, we simply use the standard phone number associated with each phone.

For example, each of the 4 lines in our office has a real local phone number associated with it.  So, in the RingCentral admin pages, I just go in and configure each extension to simply redirect the call to a certain phone number (or numbers).  This way when a customer calls the toll free number and they selects 2 for the customer service department at the prompt, the call is redirected to the ring the phone number link to that extension.  It can be one phone or several.  I can even select whether I want all of the customer service phones to ring all at once, or if I want to rotate through them.

Each extension can have its own voicemail.  And all voicemail messages can either be retrieved conventionally over the phone, through the web browser, or emailed to the user.

The auto attendant can be scheduled to play different messages on set days or times.  This makes it very easy to have holiday message automatically play when the office is closed, or have a message that states business hours after hours and on weekends.

Calls can be transferred from one extension to the next as in a conventional office environment with one important exception.  Since the phone system in non-centralized, those extensions don’t need to be located in the same building.  For example, my accountant could work from her home.  When a customer needs to contact accounting, or I need to transfer the call I’m on to accounting, I have the ability to direct the call to off site numbers as easily as I do the office down the hall.  The customer has no idea that the call was transferred across town rather than down the hall.

The service is powerful but it can be a little tough to wrap your head around.  Simply put, RingCentral offers a full line of powerful phone system features and can be a great alternative to an expensive phone system.  Particularly for the small business.

So, speaking of small business, can a service like this actually save money?  In my case, it saved a lot.  The toll free number alone was costing my company between $100 and $200 a month.  That just covered the minutes used on the 800 number from AT&T.  And all that did was redirect the toll free number to a single POTS number of my choosing.  When we moved to RingCentral, we were able to port our existing 800 number over putting RingCentral in control of it and eliminating AT&T as well as gaining all of the RingCentral features, and receive 1000 minutes of phone service for $50 a month.  So, on average, RingCentral is saving my company about $100-$150 per month.  Add to that the power and flexibility of a professional phone system that far exceeded what we had prior.

Of course none of that matters if the service isn’t reliable.  And to be honest, when we first started testing, it wasn’t.  There were times when a voicemail email would come in and the phone had never rang (rung?  ringged?).  I contacted tech support only to be transferred to India (an educated guess as I was never told where I was sent but the support made it fairly obvious).  I got the run around from support and then no one followed up with me.

Sadly, that went on for far too long.  The service worked reliably much of the time, but we never had confidence it in.  Finally I raised enough hell over at RingCentral and ended up speaking to one of the vice presidents.  After that, I made it very clear what was happening and how I had been treated.  I provided all of the info i could to troubleshoot the issue.  Shortly after that, the service was back on track and has been reliable ever since.  And, in fairness, we have been trouble free for at least the last 9 months.  I’m guessing that whatever implementation issues they had have been properly resolved at this point.

This might be a somewhat scattered review of the service.  In summary, I think these are the take away points.
1. the service can save a small business a considerable amount of money.
2. the service can offer advanced features that are simply out of the reach of small business.
3. the service has not been without its issues, but the problems have been addressed and service has become very reliable as a result.

Check out RingCentral.com for demos and FAQ info.  I was cautiously optimistic when I tried the service out and have been throughly impressed with what it has done for my company since deployment.

RingCentral has a referral program.  If you would like a referral, please click the contact link at the top of the page and send a quick message asking for a referral.  I would be happy to send the invitation.  The referral bonus changes frequently, so its hard to say what they are offering as a referral bonus, but it might be worth checking out.  Depending on the current deal, it might save you money, or it might get you rollover minutes.  They seem to like mixing it up.  Either way, the service is worth checking out.

RingCentral offers a free trial
.  Its a great way to get a look at what the system can really do.  All in all, I am very impressed.


Steve

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