Now that internet connections are much more powerful than ever before, your rusty old landline phone connection is looking less and less appealing with each passing day. Voice over Internet Protocol, or VoIP, is quickly usurping the traditional phone line and giving businesses a boost. With a virtual phone number, your possibilities are endless.
But what exactly is a virtual phone number? What are the pros and cons of using a virtual number? And most importantly, how can you get a virtual phone number? We’ll cover all that and more.
What Are Virtual Phone Numbers?
Virtual phone numbers work just like regular phone numbers do. The only difference is that instead of using a copper-based phone system, they transmit voice data over the internet using whatever connection you have available. If you decide to get a virtual phone number, you can choose your area code and local number, just like you would when buying a new line from the local phone company.
Virtual numbers are rapidly growing in popularity. They’re excellent alternatives for businesses and can even be helpful for personal use. VoIP allows us to access features made possible only by the internet. It’s easy to use and, dare we say it, exciting!
You can also get a toll free number or international number when you use a VoIP service. You can do almost anything you want with a virtual phone number. VoIP offers possibilities that no other technology does right now. Let’s look at a few.
What Can a Virtual Phone Number Do?
A virtual phone number can do literally anything that regular local phone number can. You can make and receive calls, use call forwarding and text messaging, and take unlimited incoming calls. Many services even give you unlimited outgoing calls as well. Caller ID is also standard for most VoIP phone numbers.
Of course, if virtual phone numbers were just carbon copy clones of your everyday telephone number, there wouldn’t be much of a reason to switch to a virtual phone system. Fortunately, a virtual phone number brings a lot more to the table. For example, you can use your virtual number anywhere on any device, including your cell phone or other mobile device.
Instead of having to call the local phone company, you just go online to manage your account. You can tell the system how you want to route calls or set extensions for your workers. Some virtual phone systems even have advanced call management features like voicemail to email, while others improve customer support by giving you access to artificial intelligence features.
Is There Anything a Virtual Number Can’t Do?
There are a couple of limitations to virtual phone numbers that we should mention. First of all, a virtual number is meant to replace a landline, not a mobile line. This is why most virtual phone numbers are marketed as replacements for your business phone number. Why does this matter?
If you were thinking about using a virtual phone number to replace your personal phone number, you might want to pump the brakes. Your mobile number, since it’s tied directly to your SIM or your device’s IMEI, can be used to identify you using 2-factor authentication. In contrast, most virtual phone numbers are based on landline numbers and therefore won’t be accepted by 2FA apps or online banking apps, even if your virtual number is routed to your mobile device.
The virtual number’s greatest strength is also its Achilles’ heel. A virtual number requires an internet connection in order to function. If you don’t have an active internet connection, you’ll be out of luck unless you opt for a service that has a backup connection to a physical phone line. The typical use case is to have a mobile phone number with cellular data, in case the Wi-Fi goes out.
Advantages Over Traditional Phone Numbers
Aside from those minor limitations, using a virtual number is a massive upgrade in almost every other way. Business phone services regularly cost upwards of $50 per month in the United States. And that’s only if you have one line and minimal features! But a virtual business phone number could set you back less than $20 a month.
In addition to the remarkable cost savings, virtual phone numbers are far more flexible. If you need to add another phone number to your business, all you have to do is go online and buy another line. With your local phone company, you’ve got to schedule an appointment for a technician to come out and make sure your equipment can handle another line and then determine how to route it.
When you consider all the technological advantages of using a virtual phone number, the choice becomes quite clear. Let’s consider some of the other ways virtual phone numbers can give small businesses a boost.
What Can a Virtual Phone System Do for Businesses?
It’s clear that switching to a virtual phone number offers you a lot of advantages, but how can these benefits help your business? Many virtual phone number providers have designed a complete business phone system that will put unlimited power in the palm of your hand. You can manage your business number and take your call management to new heights.
Whether you only have one business number or you’ve got 20, you can manage them all right from your mobile phone using the provider’s app, or you can simply sit down at your computer and log in to your account. You’ll never need to beg your telephone company for service again, and since virtual phone numbers rely on cloud networks, they rarely ever go down.
In short, you can save money and speed up your operations. But a virtual phone system also unlocks new possibilities that you might not have even considered before. Consider just a few of these new opportunities that a virtual number provides.
Grow Your Business With International Numbers
We live in a globalized world, which means you need to be ready to do business anywhere on the globe. If you’re tied to a landline, however, it’s like being a dog on a chain in the backyard. You simply can’t go very far. Fortunately, almost every VoIP service provides international numbers, albeit often at an extra cost.
Getting an international phone number is one of the best ways to expand your company’s presence. You’ll get the same unlimited calling within the country your number is based out of, so if you opt for a +51 number that’s based in Peru, you’ll be able to make and receive calls to and from other numbers in Peru at no extra charge. This is a much more affordable alternative to paying per-minute rates.
Since many people don’t even know how to dial an international number, getting a local phone number in their country makes your business more accessible. Some services even have toll-free numbers in other countries if you want to give your customers more peace of mind.
Connect Small Business Employees
Working at home is here to stay. Even after it becomes safe to go back to the office, many people are going to want to work from home and offices will likely have greater flexibility going forward. However, that presents a problem for businesses that still use a traditional phone system: your phone calls have to be handled at your office.
With a virtual phone number, you can use call forwarding to send your calls to employees’ mobile numbers while they’re at home. Or, you can simply have your employees log in to their accounts and use your business phone number from the comfort of their couch. Whether you use extensions on a single number, or you assign each employee their own business phone number, the end result is unparalleled flexibility.
You’ll never miss your business calls with a virtual phone number. That leads us to another huge benefit for small business customers: better customer service.
Improve Customer Service
The longer a customer has to wait for you to pick up their call, the less they like your business. Getting a real person on the other line as fast as possible has a massive impact on how customers perceive your company. With a virtual business number, you can configure call handling rules to make sure that someone always receives your business calls.
If someone dials your phone number, their call will go to whoever you designate as the first responder. This could be a particular desk phone, or an individual’s account, or any other device you want to forward the call to. If nobody picks up, the call can then be rerouted to someone else, and on and on until the call is picked up. Try doing that with traditional telephone service!
If you really want to step up your customer service game, look for a virtual phone provider that offers call monitoring and AI. You can let supervisors listen in on virtual calls to provide feedback to your customer service reps, or you can use AI to automatically tell if your reps’ tone of voice needs to improve.
Make and Receive Calls Anywhere
VoIP provides freedom. As we mentioned, you can route your virtual calls to anywhere you please, and your employees can handle calls anywhere they want. As long as you have an internet connection, you can use your virtual phone number.
This is extremely helpful for the frequent flier and traveling businesspeople of the world. You can bring your German business number with you when you travel to Canada and still make calls as if you were in Germany! No local phone service provides anything like that.
And even if your only travel is from your bed to the bathroom, you can use your virtual telephone number on any device. So, whether you’re sitting at the computer or on the porcelain throne, you can take that important call. All connected devices can ring simultaneously so that you stay connected regardless of where you are.
How to Get a Virtual Phone Number
If you want to get a virtual phone number or get a virtual phone system for your whole business, where should you look? There are now dozens, if not hundreds of providers out there. Each one provides more or less the same basic service, however, some have extra features that you might want to consider. The question ultimately comes down to what you need, and how much you’re willing to pay.
So, with that in mind, let’s take a look at some of our favorite virtual phone number providers. Each of these services allows you to make and receive unlimited calls and send text messages, which is our baseline for acceptable virtual phone service.
Get a Free Virtual Phone Number: Google Voice
Who wouldn’t love to get a free virtual phone number? If you’re a US customer with a mobile phone number, then you can get a free phone number from Google Voice. This free phone service grants you one virtual number tied to your Google account and mobile device. You can use it to call as much as you want.
You can also send text messages and receive voicemails, but that’s about where the fun stops. It’s a very simple service. But can you really complain if it’s free?
Google Voice is ideal for a solopreneur or simply as a replacement for your personal number. Many people use it when they travel abroad since you can take incoming calls from the US without paying any roaming fees or international calling fees. For personal use, it’s hard to beat Google Voice. For business use, however, it’s lacking in features.
One of the Best Providers: RingCentral
If you’re a big boy business and you want to progress on your quest towards world domination, you’ll probably want a more robust virtual phone system. That’s exactly what RingCentral provides. With each paid account you’ll get one virtual phone number in the local area code of your choice. They don’t all have to use the same area code either.
Call all you want and never miss a call with RingCentral’s wide array of apps. They have mobile apps for Android and iOS, as well as a desktop app for every platform, including Linux! Text messaging through these apps is super easy, and you can even text people who aren’t paid RingCentral users if they also have the app installed.
If you pony up for more expensive plans, RingCentral provides additional features like voicemail to email, additional toll-free numbers, call recording using RingCentral’s cloud storage, and much more. You can even get access to their API so you can integrate their services with your business software.
A Small Business Hero: Grasshopper
Grasshopper puts a fresh coat of paint on your small business. You’ll make an excellent first impression when you use this virtual phone system. They designed everything from the ground up to focus on small business customers and what they need. With the base plan, you get one virtual phone number and three extensions that you can assign to different users.
You can also configure an auto attendant to read out the extension options for your callers. If you want an even better sound, Grasshopper has a crew of professional voice actors who can record your message for you.
Grasshopper made their phone system extremely easy to use. Everything is controlled via their app, which is silky smooth and very intuitive. If you need additional numbers, including toll-free numbers, they’ve got them in spades. You can even ask for a vanity number using specific letters and they’ll try to get it for you.
Pricey But Powerful: Nextiva
No other virtual phone system is quite as advanced as Nextiva. You get some of the best artificial intelligence features in the market when you opt for one of their higher-level plans. This AI will listen to your calls and report the mood it sensed based on word choice and tone of voice. If it notices your agents are routinely grumpy, it’ll notify you. Likewise, if customers are disgruntled, you’ll be the first to know.
However, this comes at a cost. Nextiva’s best prices are usually higher than the competition, and that’s after they make you sign a 3-year contract! So be prepared to shell out quite a few shekels.
An Easy Addition: Zoom Phone
Since everybody’s using Zoom these days to make video calls, it only makes sense to mention that they also have a virtual phone system! It’s less than $10 more per month if you already pay for Zoom’s video conferencing services. However, Zoom is clearly not a phone company first, so the interface is a bit clunky.
In addition, you cannot use your business phone number without extensions. Even if you purchase a toll-free number from Zoom, you’ll still have to configure extensions for each user. This makes Zoom phone less than ideal for a sales line, but it could be a good solution for internal communications or for customer support.
The Affordable Option: UniTel Voice
UniTel is one of the best cheap options on the market right now. They have a “start-up” plan that’s only $9.99 a month. You get one virtual phone number, which can be a toll free number if you choose. Although you only get 500 minutes, you do get all the usual calling features like caller ID and call forwarding.
There are tons of other virtual phone number providers out there, and we’re trying to cover them all. So check out some of our other reviews and comparisons to learn more about the dozens of virtual phone services available today.