Virtual Phone Numbers 101

I imagine your thoughts right now are “how are they going to make virtual phone numbers interesting?”. Well, it’s difficult, so we’re going to make this as quick and painless as we can, don’t worry.

On the other hand, if you have any questions about virtual phone numbers in the cloud comms world from the simplest query to a complex conundrum, you’ll find the answer here. So let’s dive in.

What are Phone Numbers?

Let’s start off with a simple one. What exactly are phone numbers? Well, I’m sure unless you’re some kind of new-age generation alpha that was brought up in a sheltered Amish existence you’ve probably typed in a phone number before.

Essentially a phone number is a bunch of numbers assigned to something connected to a phone line that allows data to be transferred over the Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN).

Phone Numbers of the Past

Here’s a bit of telecoms history for you. The first telephone numbers were used in the US in 1879 in Lowell, Massachusetts. Before telephone numbers, you would simply ask the switchboard operator for the person you wanted to speak to (ah the good old days). But as more and more people were added to the network, it became increasingly difficult and time-consuming to do this. So, each connection was assigned a number to make it easier. And so the telephone number was born.

What is a Virtual Phone Number?

A virtual number is a telephone number that doesn’t have a physical telephone line connected to it. Instead, they usually act as a gateway between the PSTN and a VoIP telephone system.

Virtual phone numbers are also known as ‘Direct Inward Dial’ numbers or DIDs. They’re pretty much one and the same. Remember that when you go to buy some. Here’s how they work for a business.

A comms company like Voxbone provides you and your PBX with digital or physical access to both their network and the PSTN using a SIP trunk. Once you’re up and running, you’re given some numbers that anyone can call. That call is then directed to your PBX and then your VoIP phones on your desks. This is what’s called an inbound service.

In the same way that your virtual numbers are used for inbound calling, they can also be used for outbound as direct outward dialing (DOD). Basically, when one of your team calls a customer, their virtual number is displayed on the customer’s phone.

Local Phone Numbers

So what’s the business benefit of this? Well, it’s pretty straightforward. Because you can get (depending on your choice of carrier) any kind of number and coverage for your VoIP system to use when you call someone in a different area. So if you’re calling someone in London, they’ll see a 020 number, or if you’re calling someone in New York they’ll see a 212 number.

Why is that a business benefit? Well, in one of our studies, we found that consumers are more trusting of local phone calls than those coming from out-of-state numbers. What’s more, they are 3x more likely to answer a local call than one coming from an international number.

So if you have customers in any location other than your office, you’re going to want to use DIDs in your outbound calling in order to maximize your chance of talking to them.

Toll-Free Numbers

You’ve probably encountered this as a customer before. You ring to complain about a service or speak to a support team member and you hear the awful words “your call will be charged at xxx rate per minute”. Not a great first impression on the road to decent customer service.

If you’re in a position where you’re having your customers pay for the pleasure of speaking to a support team, for example, it can only amplify their complaints and make them less likely to enjoy your service.

With a toll-free number, you pay for the call yourself rather than the customer, making them a bit more appreciative. Previously thought of as a novelty, they’re fast becoming an industry standard for businesses with larger customer bases.

Mobile Numbers

Mobile communications can make a significant impact on your business, both internally and externally. On the one hand, the ability to provide mobile numbers for your staff creates a cost-saving benefit but you also get the ability to implement SMS communications for your customers to create alerts, offers, and account info.

By using virtual numbers and a cloud comms provider you can do both in a short time frame and with minimal investment vs going through a traditional carrier.

Vanity Numbers

Vanity numbers are used by businesses and professionals in a couple of ways. The most obvious as the name suggests is the status symbol element that comes with having a desirable phone number. As an example of just how crazy this can get, the most expensive phone number to date is 666-6666, auctioned off for charity in Qatar for $2.7 million dollars.

Another use is their convenience in providing a simple way for customers to remember your business phone number when they might need it. I’m sure a few of us could roll off a few catchy numbers from listening to enough TV or radio adverts.

While vanity numbers are available, providers don’t typically ‘sell’ phone numbers as, in truth, they don’t own them since they’re allocated to providers by Ofcom. You can, however, ask providers if they have vanity numbers in their inventory that you might have but sometimes you can pay a premium for sourcing particular numbers.

Business Phone Numbers

Business phone numbers can seem like a vital part of your marketing and external presence and there can be pressure around getting it right. Some of the ideas above might come to mind; do you go toll-free? Get a vanity number that customers can remember?

The good thing about cloud comms and, to an extent, the use of virtual numbers, is that you don’t have to go with a number you don’t particularly like. Unlike your branding, your comms can expand, contract and adjust with your business needs. You might only need one number now but need 10 later, or need a number to use on an ad that links to the sales team in your office. With cloud comms that becomes easy.

Number Porting

This is an important one if you’ve already got a pretty complex setup and you’re looking to simplify or even expand your comms capabilities. With number porting, you won’t lose the existing numbers that your customers contact you on, allowing for a seamless transition to the cloud.

How To Get A Phone Number For Your Business

Step 1

Make sure your business is the right fit for a cloud comms offering. If you’re already using a comms platform or have plans to expand in the future, you’re probably in this bucket.

Step 2

Find a cloud comms provider that has a decent inventory, coverage, and number porting capabilities.

You’ll also want to check that whatever platform your using has the coverage you need and provides the right amount of flexibility for your plans.

Step 3

Set up your account with your provider and either use their API or platform to set up your VoIP and SIP trunking capabilities.

Step 4

Start making and receiving calls!

If you’re interested in using Voxbone for your cloud communications, get in touch with one of our team here.