Companies all over the world are rapidly changing how they communicate, both internally and externally. Thanks to cloud based phone systems, it’s possible to unify and standardize how your company communicates. However, as this industry grows so quickly, it can be a little confusing to figure out what each cloud phone system can actually do.
Don’t let all the jargon drag you down! Implementing a cloud phone based phone system is easy, and once you go up into the cloud, you’re never coming back down. You’ll kick yourself for not making the switch sooner. Let’s quickly cover the basics of cloud phone systems and then look at some of their more advanced features.
What Is a Cloud Based Telephone System?
If you hear the word “cloud” and look up into the sky, you’re thinking of analog clouds. These are digital clouds, and they have nothing to do with the weather. In computing, a “cloud” is simply a collection of computers that work together to complete tasks.
The original concept was, coincidentally, designed by a meteorologist to help predict the weather. Lewis Fry Richardson imagined hundreds of computers (which were literally human beings back then) calculating and sharing their work to accurately predict weather patterns using data sent in via telegraph. So, in a way, the first cloud was meant to predict the clouds!
But today we use cloud computing for all sorts of tasks, not just weather prediction. Today, cloud based telephone systems use cloud computing to manage calls and provide Voice over Internet Protocol, or VoIP. We know this as a cloud based phone system or cloud voice service.
What Is Cloud Voice Service?
Simply put, it’s a cloud that handles VoIP. You speak into a microphone, the data gets sent into the cloud using your internet connection, and then the cloud delivers the data to where it is needed.
How Do Cloud Based Phone Systems work?
By using a cloud of computers, you can be sure that the service will always work. If your car had 16 tires, you could probably survive a few flats and keep on rolling. That’s essentially what happens in cloud phone systems.
With hundreds or even thousands of computers processing all of your VoIP calls, you never have to worry about the system going down. But why would you use the cloud when there are traditional phone networks that work perfectly fine? Well, once you learn what else the cloud can do for you, you’ll be picking up the phone so that you can put it down for good.
10 Amazing Cloud Phone System Cloud Phone Features
1. Make and Receive Calls on Any Device
Normally, all of your devices are somewhat disconnected from one another. Your friends text you on your mobile number while you use other apps on your PC to make video calls. At work, you dial out using the business number but often get calls straight to your mobile phone number.
It can all get chaotic and unnecessarily complicated. But a cloud phone system doesn’t have this problem. It can connect to any device with an internet connection and send calls to all of those devices at once. Likewise, you can make calls from any of those devices using a single application.
So imagine you’re sitting at your desk and you’re working on a spreadsheet in Excel. Your colleague is calling you. Normally, you’d have to pick up your phone and connect, but with a cloud communications solution, you just click on the notification on your PC and you’re talking to your coworker about their sick Excel skills.
Virtual Phone Number Follows You
The whole reason this works is that VoIP services use virtual phone numbers that are assigned to each user. You can set up a virtual number in seconds and anyone who calls it will have their call routed through the cloud to all of your devices.
So whether you’re sitting at your desk or walking down the hall, you’ll never miss a call! This is one of the biggest advantages of using a cloud based system.
Use the Mobile App on Mobile Devices
While you can configure forwarding so that calls to your virtual phone number will go straight to your actual phone number, it’s a lot easier just to install an app on your mobile devices.
Many business phone system providers, like RingCentral, have mobile apps that seamlessly connect your devices to their cloud network. There’s no limit to how many devices you can add, which means you can feel free to plop down on the couch with your iPad and still get every call.
2. Unified Communications As a Service (UCaaS)
So while a cloud phone system can do a great job of replacing your standard business phone setup, the true power of the cloud comes from all the other things it can do that your traditional phone can’t. Not only can you make and receive calls with a cloud system, but you can also share files and send messages to your colleagues through a unified communications platform.
You just log into the web browser or install the app, and all of your contacts will be added to the program. You can then text anyone on your list, or make custom groups for team collaboration. You’ll even have real-time status updates, so you know when a coworker is in a virtual meeting or busy on the phone.
By using the cloud, you unite all of your communications, whether they’re text, audio, or video. Unified communications make collaboration easier and keep your business humming along.
3. Collaboration Tools for Real-Time Team Collaboration
Okay, you’ve got the most powerful cloud phone system, all of your team members are united, and your business communications are brilliant. Now it’s time to get to work. Since the cloud can do more than handle calls, you get a ton of tools that can help your business run more efficiently.
For example, screen sharing is a great way to show your colleagues exactly what you’re working on. It encourages team members to work together and solve problems as a unit. It’s also a great way to provide customer service, as you can see your client’s screen and give them accurate troubleshooting tips.
Beyond screen sharing, there are also file-sharing options. Cloud data centers can handle files too, since computer data is just data, whether it’s your voice in a VoIP call or that adorable Christmas card you want to send to your team.
4. Software Integration and API Access
We often hear small business owners say that they don’t need a virtual phone system, that their desk phone works just fine. And then they let slip the real reason they avoid improving their business communications: We don’t need yet another app. We get it, we have enough business apps already.
But small businesses can rejoice because when you opt for a cloud phone system, you can connect it to the other apps you use. It’ll be almost like it wasn’t even there. If you don’t want to use your cloud phone app, and just want something to send and receive a call, that’s fine. You’ll never be forced to use an app when you have integration.
So if you don’t need to install the app to send and receive calls, how do you do it? The magic is in browser integration. You can install a simple plugin into your Chrome browser with a single click, and now any phone number you see online will become a link that will place the call immediately using your virtual phone system.
This makes your phone service easy to use. You don’t need to constantly use another app, unless you want to.
Office 365 and G Suite Integration
If you use Office 365 or G Suite, most cloud phone systems will let you import contacts so that you can start making phone calls immediately. But the features don’t stop there! You can also give your cloud phone access to your Google Calendar or Microsoft Outlook. You can use this to schedule video conferencing sessions or set up a business call with a third party.
If you have files in OneDrive or Google Drive, then you can also access these quickly if you are using the virtual phone system app.
Why Does API Access Matter?
Not all cloud phone business features include this option. Sometimes it’s reserved for more expensive plans, as is the case with RingCentral, which requires you to pony up for the Premium Plan to have this feature.
But if your company already has proprietary software, or just wants to customize the VoIP app, having access to the API is crucial. For instance, suppose your business has its own app for managing inventory. You want to automatically call your supplier with a pre-recorded message to place an order for more items whenever the inventory gets low.
Normally this wouldn’t be possible since your inventory app can’t send and receive any calls. But now that you’re a cloud business, you can program your inventory app to use your cloud phone to place that call with the exact messaging you need.
5. Smarter Call Management for Better Business Communications
When people call a typical business phone number, they either get sent to a call center or get a customer service rep on the line. But in either case, the people who pick up the phone have no idea what they’re about to encounter. It could be an irate customer or a potential new client. Wouldn’t it be nice if you had more information about your caller?
With your fully integrated cloud phone service, the system will automatically cross reference the phone number with your business database. If you have a client who matches that number, you’ll get all of their information on screen right away. You can even pull up your business history with that person so you can avoid asking the same questions every time they call.
This is just one example of how using the cloud allows you to have more intelligent conversations and save time. Other features include the ability to automate many aspects of your calling and more efficient call management. Slash wait times and get your callers connected faster than ever before.
Auto Attendant features allow you to automate how call forwarding is handled. You can filter by location, for example, directing people based on their area code to the right branch. You can configure phone menus for customers to be directed to the right department.
Auto-attendant software can do so much more than your DMV, however. You can configure the system so that only certain employees can handle certain types of calls. You can create notifications that let employees know if someone has been on hold for too long.
Best of all, some cloud phone systems even use artificial intelligence to pick up on your patterns and recommend them as automated settings. If the platform notices you performing the same business task over and over, it’ll offer to do it for you. Pretty amazing, isn’t it?
Create Your Own Call Center
One of the perks of using a cloud phone system for small business is that you can make your company seem much larger than it actually is. You give your business an air of credibility when people call in and find themselves directed to a call center.
While personal attention is always welcome, having the ability to automatically handle your callers and route them through a call center is not only going to make your business more efficient, but it also makes it seem more important.
Your business “call center” can be as simple as a short automated message or as complex as the Pentagon’s situation room. Best of all, you don’t even need a physical space for your call center anymore. With everyone connected through the cloud, the calls just go where your employees are. It’s perfect for a business that has to work remotely.
Connect to Your Private Branch Exchange
Private Branch Exchange, or PBX, is how your traditional phone lines connect to the greater public network. A call is “exchanged” between the public network and your private, internal communications. It’s similar to call forwarding.
If you already have a business phone setup with extensions and you want to keep it as it is, don’t worry! You don’t have to redesign your existing phone system. Your cloud phone has cloud PBX features and can give you a hosted PBX in the cloud that does everything your existing setup can do and more.
6. Video Conferencing and Audio Conferencing
Team messaging and business SMS are great for quick chats, but when you need to sit down and have a meeting, it’s nice to be able to hear everyone and see each other’s faces, even if they didn’t shave this morning. That’s where video conferencing and audio conferencing come in. This is where the cloud truly shines.
Whether you’re on your cell phone or you have clients calling in on a toll-free number, everybody can participate in using your cloud phone system. People on their computers can join the same call as people using a traditional phone.
Audio and Video Conferencing Features
When you sign up for a cloud phone system, you’ll also get high-quality audio and video conferencing. Whenever you create a video conference, you’ll automatically be given a number that people can use to call in for audio-only communication. App users can connect too and choose whether they want to put their video on or not.
You can also have a conference where audio is the only option, but you’d be missing out on Becky’s new hairstyle! And you know she’ll hold it against you if you don’t compliment it.
When you’re using video conferencing, you can use screen sharing and file sharing seamlessly within the same app. Call quality will be great as long as everyone’s internet connection is cooperative.
7. Cloud Call Recording
If you’ve ever called into a major business’s contact center, you’ve probably heard this message before: “Your call may be recorded for quality assurance.” When you give your phone system a cloud, you can save the contents of all of your conversations into cloud storage, where it can be accessed by any authorized user.
The ability to record your phone calls is key for any business phone system. You can put this technology to great use, and it works for your standard calls as well as video conferencing. What’s more, cloud phone systems can record the entirety of a call even if it has been routed or put on hold. If your caller gets disconnected, some systems are even smart enough to stitch the recordings together when the client calls back in.
Monitor Inbound and Outbound Call Quality
One of the main reasons to record calls is to provide quality assurance. Many a business has been afraid to use VoIP services because they are worried about sound quality and the effect of a bad internet connection on the call. Most of the people who call you won’t be using VoIP, but since your business phone system is now entirely cloud based, you’re going to need to make sure your devices are working well.
When you’re just starting out with VoIP, it’s a good idea to do many test calls before launching the service to the public. Make sure your calls sound crystal clear by using your recording features.
Improve Customer Support
Call recording is great for troubleshooting and optimizing your phone system from a technical point of view, but it can also be a valuable asset for customer support. Your customer service representatives should be reviewed from time to time, and going over recordings is a great way to coach up your staff.
People are often totally unaware of how they sound on the phone. After all, they never actually hear themselves, they’re the speakers. Listening to your own calling can make you realize what you’ve been doing wrong almost instantly. Cloud based phone systems make it easy to improve customer support.
Combine that with the other call management features we mentioned, and you’ve got an outstanding customer experience. They might even just start calling you to chat when they’re lonely.
8. Enhance Your Desk Phone With an Internet Connection
All of these features sound amazing so far, but what if you have a grizzled veteran of a receptionist who will lop your arm off before giving up her precious physical phone? This soldier of service doesn’t want to switch to a cell phone or team messaging app, no sir. What are you going to do?
Fortunately, cloud communications don’t have to just be digital. There are a bunch of models of smart business phones that can sit on your desk and work just like your standard office phone. These connect via wired connections or Wi-Fi and will be synced up to the cloud so that you can use call routing to send calls straight to the desk of your most valuable employee.
When the phone starts ringing, these phones will even display information about the caller in real-time! Some even feature color screens and touch interfaces. There truly is a cloud phone solution for everyone.
9. All the Traditional Phone Features (But Better!)
For cloud based phone systems to be worth anything at all, they need to at least match the reliability and usefulness of the regular business phone service that your local utility company provides. Reliability used to be the biggest knock on VoIP. What good is a virtual business number if your internet goes out or if your cloud service provider has a catastrophic failure?
Get those old ideas out of your mind! VoIP has come a long way since its early days, and internet connections are now much faster and can carry more data than before. The technology has caught up, and now your VoIP service has all the features of regular phones and so much more.
But if you’re concerned about those standard features, rest assured that you don’t need to worry. Here’s how a cloud phone system handles these routine tasks.
Cloud Based Phone System Call Forwarding and Call Routing
Call forwarding and routing are important features. You need to be able to decide where your calls go and who is going to answer them. Fortunately, most cloud based phone systems make this super easy to use. Some even have drag and drop interfaces.
Since each user will have their own virtual number, they can control how this number handles their calls. For example, if they prefer to use a mobile phone for all their calls, they can simply configure any calls sent their way to be forwarded to their mobile number. Perhaps you want all of your toll-free callers to be sent to a specific call center; well, you can do that too!
But where old traditional phones required complicated button press combos or calls to the phone company to set up these advanced features, with a cloud phone system all you do is log in and configure it. Imagine no more disgruntled phone company workers picking up when you need to make a change.
Extensions are a vital part of any organization and are one of the main reasons you might need the cloud PBX feature. Amazingly, your cloud based phone system will give you essentially unlimited extension control. You can create extensions of up to 8 digits on most services, which means you can reduce the number of phone numbers used at your office.
Just like a regular business number, you can also configure extensions so that they forward calls or route them to the right department. You could even create an extension that guarantees your call reaches someone’s mobile device if they use the mobile app.
Voicemail might be on its deathbed, but that doesn’t mean you should abandon it entirely. But wouldn’t it be nice if you didn’t have to slog through clunky voicemail menus? VoIP does away with those atrocities and makes voicemail a pleasure to experience.
You can just log into your cloud phone system and see the voicemails waiting for you. Listen with a single click. No more pressing the pound key or whatever number combination your mobile service provider decided was best.
And if that still seems like too much work, you can even have your voicemails transcribed in real-time and sent to you as an email. No, you didn’t fall into a coma and wake up in the year 2070; this is happening right now. How does such wizardry work? Let’s talk about the last, and possibly the most important feature of all.
Just like your phone company can give you a toll-free number, so can your VoIP communications solution. You’ll get a set number of minutes that your callers can use for free. It’s a very professional business feature that your customers will appreciate.
10. Artificial Intelligence and Analytics
We’ve hinted at how artificial intelligence, or AI, works to make your call management easier. It can automate certain tasks, pick up on your patterns, and even transcribe your voicemails. But that’s just the beginning. Cloud based phone systems are investing heavily in AI to improve their products even more, and soon you’ll be seeing all kinds of magic.
All of those data centers in the cloud do more than just move data around. They actively analyze and process it. This enhances the AI’s ability to do tasks correctly since it learns a little bit with every call. This machine learning model is what drives the AI behind a cloud based phone system.
How AI Improves Your Calls and Texts
AI can do more than just transcribe a voicemail. A cloud phone system can use AI to handle incoming calls with an automated answering bot. Today’s speech recognition software has gotten quite good, and since a cloud based phone system has literally thousands of hours of audio at its disposal, their AI’s learn quickly.
The AI can even give you feedback on how you’re talking to customers. They’ve gotten to the point where they can detect human emotion based on the tone of voice and word choice. So, if the bot knows that the caller is angry, it can be told to quickly route that caller to a live person who can handle the situation. You don’t want the bot getting yelled at, that’s how Terminator happens.
AI does even better with text messages. For internal team messaging, it can identify plans and references to files, meaning it can schedule an appointment for you automatically as you discuss it. For clients, you can use an automated chatbot to interpret the clients’ requests and direct them to the appropriate page on your site or get in touch with a representative.
Up in the cloud, the AI is crunching the numbers and preparing reports to send to you. These reports can give you a ton of information about how your company is operating. With a cloud phone service, you’ll be able to break down every aspect of your communications.
For instance, imagine being able to know exactly how many minutes each of your workers has spent on business calls. As long as they are using their VoIP number, you’ll be able to track every second of their activity. This can be a great way to reward employees who have fielded more calls. See who’s logged the most and drop a bonus check.
On the other hand, if you’re trying to cut down on talking time, you can monitor the average length of calls. You can even compare the statistics according to department or area, so you can set specific goals for each section of your business. Can your traditional phone system do that?
The Last Word
We know we’ve covered a lot here, and it can be a lot to process. VoIP is still developing and will continue to evolve. But it is the future. If you want your business to stay competitive and really be ready for the future, make the switch to a cloud phone system.
There are many companies out there that provide virtual numbers and claim to offer a full VoIP service. But for best results, don’t settle for anything less than a full UCaaS experience. The best cloud based phone systems have a mobile app, strong integration with other programs, and all the other features we’ve described here. RingCentral is one such service. Nextiva and 8×8 also make for a good holistic phone solution. These are the cloud phone pros, so start with them when you go VoIP shopping.