Small-to-medium-sized businesses discovered that they could compete on a more equal playing field in the early days of the Internet. Having a website was no longer the exclusive realm of large corporations with generous budgets. Even individuals could use ready-made website themes and have them hosted for little cost.
The same disruption is happening in business communications today. Previously, private branch exchange (PBX) systems were only available to companies who could justify the high capital investment required to support their global operations. Small businesses can now set up a virtual private telephone network in minutes!
As a business owner, you're constantly searching for ways to improve productivity and customer service. A virtual PBX may help you in lowering expenses and increasing efficiency while maintaining the same quality of service. This guide will explain what a virtual PBX is and how to choose the best solution for your needs.
What is a virtual PBX?
A virtual PBX is a cloud communications solution that allows you to make and receive phone calls from your home, business or any remote location. It works by delivering digital audio signals over the Internet through IP (Internet Protocol) rather than the conventional wire-based public switched telephone network (PSTN).
Detaching your business from wired networks means that your teams can make and receive calls from anywhere, regardless of their physical location. A virtual PBX works by routing inbound calls to teams, while simultaneously providing outbound calling functionality to enable agents to contact customers or other external parties.
Why use a virtual PBX solution?
More efficient. A virtual PBX is an effective way to streamline your telecommunications needs while lowering operational expenses. You can replace many physical phone lines with one or two VoIP lines that provide the same functions as conventional landlines (and more) by using cloud communications software and a virtual PBX service provider.
Digital benefits. Since virtual PBXs are not limited by the hardware constraints of traditional wired networks, they can provide digital services that on-premise PBXs cannot, such as the ability to seamlessly switch between audio and video calls on demand, screen and file sharing for better collaboration, and call audio recording with transcription.
Lower cost. Small businesses and startups that do not have large budgets for physical equipment such as a telephone system can also benefit from virtual PBX solutions. While there are a few steps involved, the level of complexity is low when compared to purchasing expensive hardware such as exchanges, gateways and handsets.
Greater flexibility. Virtual PBX services also provide you more control over how many employees you need to staff at any time or place. This may be beneficial for hybrid workers who work both remotely and in the office since it enables them to stay in touch with their colleagues without having to travel between sites.
Components of a virtual PBX
What should you look for in a business communications solution? A virtual PBX contains a set of crucial telecommunication components that allows you to establish and manage your own PBX on demand. Generally, most virtual PBX platforms contain the following main features and functionality:
• Contact centre software, such as CINNOX, that manages the flow of incoming and outgoing calls and customer interactions.
• Distribution system or an automatic call distributor (ACD) that works to answer and distribute incoming calls based on rules such as the time.
• Call routing directs incoming calls that leave the queue, routing the calls to agents based on pre-defined rules such as time zone or language.
• Call recording turns voice conversations from telephone calls or conference calls into digital files that can be automatically converted into text.
• Centralised call control means the ability to manage calls, call routing and reporting from a central workspace.
• User management is the ability to set user roles and permissions so that employees only see information they need to carry out their job.
How to choose a cloud communications service
Now that you know what makes up a virtual PBX system, here are some tips on how to pick a cloud communications provider, including questions you should ask them when you are comparing features and capabilities.
1. Pick the features that you need
Businesses come in all shapes and sizes. And so does cloud communications software. Have a good hard think about what features and functions you really need to run your operations and grow your business. And don't be swayed by sales pitches or limited-time promotions that don't really benefit you in the long run.
To sort the hype from reality in business communications marketing, here are some questions you should be asking the solutions provider:
• Do you support multiple channels like voice, video and live chat?
• Do you have other ways to contact agents, such as through a web widget?
• Do you offer toll-free and local virtual numbers?
• Are there audio and video conferencing capabilities?
• Is there built-in file and screen sharing for better collaboration?
• Do you have relationship mapping technology to route incoming calls?
• Is it easy to transfer enquiries to another agent best-suited to handle the matter?
• Can agents attach labels to enquiries for easier referencing and sorting?
• Can voice conversations be recorded for audit and training purposes?
2. Find a plan at the right price
Next, after determining the features that you need, look at the price plans offered by the cloud communications provider. Remember, you enjoy the most savings when you commit to an annual plan that is billed monthly. Most providers charge a monthly fee per "seat" or per employee who will actually use the solution.
If you need something like IVR, for example, are you forced to upgrade to an expensive plan just to use it? Look at the fine print to see what is really included in each plan:
• Is an alphanumeric sender ID included in the price?
• Do you offer integration with social chat such as WhatsApp Business?
• Is an AI-powered chatbot available?
• Do you handle SMS campaigns as well?
• Is an IVR system available as an upgrade?
• How long can I keep my conversation and report history for?
3. Make sure it is easy to use
It would be helpful if the cloud communications software has a free, no obligation trial period to put the solution through its paces. You will no doubt be comparing a few solutions at the same time. By interacting with a real solution rather than a demo sandbox, you can quickly grasp if the virtual PBX is going to fulfil your needs.
Any cloud communications platform will need to complement your workflow. Think about these questions as you evaluate different virtual PBX solutions:
• Are you able to unify conversations from different channels into a single chatroom?
• Can I get a single view of the customer without switching between different apps?
• Can I see the entire customer journey and customer interactions in one place?
• Can you switch between digital and telephony calls on demand?
• Do you support cross-channel engagement using web links and QR codes?
• Can I easily customise user roles and permissions?
• Do you offer integration via no-code tools or an open API?
4. Built-in insights and analytics
How do you know how far you have come and how do you get a clearer picture of what lies ahead? Any virtual PBX solution should have built-in analytics and insights to help you answer this question and more. Even better, future upgrades to the cloud platform should include the use of AI and machine learning to unlock your data!
To get clarity on this, ask the solutions provider the following questions:
• Are you able to converge various data points and solve data silos?
• Can I view and analyse data on a single web dashboard?
• Can I get a real-time view into internal and external interactions?
• Am I able to monitor and takeover live chat sessions?
• Can I generate necessary reports and records that I need?
5. Check the reliability of service
Does the cloud communications provider own or lease its network? A private network means quicker troubleshooting and reaction times if anything goes wrong. For uptime, 99.5% is more realistic than a claimed 100% uptime, which is unrealistic. Make certain that it is also guaranteed by a Service Level Agreement (SLA).
Assess the reputation and reliability of a solutions provider by asking these questions:
• Do you own a globally-distributed IP network?
• How many strategically located points-of-presence do you have?
• Do you offer 24/7 customer support when I need it?
• What is your uptime and SLA like?
• Are your networks monitored in real-time, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and 365 days a year?
• Is my data protected by industry-leading encryption, backup and recovery practices?
• What kind of ISO certifications do you have? The more the merrier!
Start asking questions now
When it comes to shopping for a virtual PBX, small and medium-sized businesses are spoilt for options. Because of the low entry barriers, there are many business communications providers to choose from, but they are not all the same! Choose one that provides a free trial and is supported by a proven telephone and digital infrastructure.