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Virtual phone numbers – what, why and how can they benefit customers?

Today, a telephone number is much more than a way through which a customer can contact your business. When you have a telephone line installed, you’re given a number associated with it, often a geographical number, which, when dialled, will ring the phone plugged in at the end of the line. This number actually gives away a lot about the type of business you are running – for example, whether it’s a nationwide or a local business. Mobile phones work in a similar way, except that most start with an ‘07’ number and there is obviously no physical line connecting everything. But you may not wish to have your personal phone number used for business calls.   

Another option to consider is a ‘virtual’ phone number. It doesn’t quite fit into either of these categories, because it doesn’t rely on a traditional telephone line in order to work. Instead, the number itself is used to forward your caller to another chosen line, set up specifically to deal with that customer or client’s needs. 

What is a virtual phone number?

Virtual phone numbers can be used to forward calls to other telephone lines, or a series of lines, depending on how the network is set up. This is also known as ‘direct inward dialling’. It means that one company could have 20 different phone numbers for customers to dial into, but all of them could be set up to ring through to a single phone in a single office. Or, each one could feed to a different, tethered phone line. Alternatively, you can use a mixture of the two. 

Usually, a virtual telephone number can be set to forward calls to different telephone numbers depending on the time of day, or the day of the week. You could, for example, use ‘time-of-day’ routing; for example, between 9am and 5pm on working days incoming calls could be forwarded to an office, but at the weekends they can go through to a mobile telephone number.

How can virtual phone numbers benefit businesses?

There are many ways in which a business can use a virtual phone number. It will depend on what the needs and aims are for your company and your customers. Three common scenarios for using a virtual phone number include:

  • Better customer service – When a customer calls up a company, they will be expecting a quick response and a swift solution to their query. Setting up a dedicated phone line is a great way to direct the call immediately to the right person to deal with the call. Virtual phone numbers can be used to answer more calls during busy periods, plus you can use auto-responders or even a  virtual receptionist to enable you to get back to your customers quickly and efficiently.   
  • Creating extended reach – Businesses can use a telephone number to showcase a national, or even a global presence. For example, a company based in London could choose to have a local phone number for Manchester, or even in China, without having to pay for foreign exchange lines. This is a way to make a business seem larger or more widespread without too many extra cost implications.
  • Tracking a marketing campaign – If you’re running multiple marketing campaigns (either on or offline), then you might be looking for a way to measure their success. Some businesses will assign a different phone number to each form of marketing that they are using, so that they can track the traffic that each campaign or medium generates.
  • Virtual business support – If your company is already using virtual business services (such as a virtual postal address, a virtual receptionist, or a virtual office) it may wish to use a virtual number to tie the various virtual services together into one seamless solution. This could allow your business to have a phone, address and voice presence almost anywhere in the world.

Why would your business need a virtual phone number?

Virtual phone numbers may seem like a small thing, but they can have a huge impact on your business. For one, it means your actual phone number is sheltered – which is perfect if you value privacy. This is particularly great for self-employed people or sole traders who don’t want their personal home or mobile number splashed all over websites and leaflets.

It also allows local businesses to appear bigger, allowing them to use national numbers rather than local ones. The same works in reverse too – bigger businesses can opt for local numbers to have more of a localised presence for customers – as many people prefer to work with their local businesses. You can also set up freephone numbers, which can make you look bigger and encourage customers to get in touch. 

Virtual phone numbers also give you flexibility around the world, and your work. Since virtual phone numbers aren’t directly tied to one specific phone, remote teams can essentially work from anywhere and never miss a phone call.

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