Thursday, January 28, 2010

New Advances In Office Telephone Systems

For the last ten years we have relied upon a solid Nortel Networks phone system in our office. Multiple lines, voice mail, etc., etc. A solid system that continues to work well for us. And given the thousands of dollars that it costs us, I am in no hurry to replace it. That does not me that I get starry eyed when I learn of the great telephony technologies that continue to emerge.

Jay Fleischman has written a great article given his overview of telephone technologies, and his committing to a product called Grasshopper. Here is what he has to say:
When attempting to create a location-independent law firm, the first thing that’s important to handle is how telephones are used. Though we live in a digital world, for most the telephone is still the primary means of connecting. Courts need to get through to the office, clients call with a myriad of questions and issues, and we as attorneys are required to be available.

I thought initially of having a voice mail system that used the 4-Hour Workweek system of, “I’m not here, I’ll call you back at 2:00pm, leave a number and buzz off,” approach but quickly discarded it as unworkable for all but a few people in the office.

The old telephone system was unworkable, cumbersome and costly to maintain. 14 lines into the office just to be sure that callers never got a busy signal, proprietary handsets that could not be easily swapped out for replacements in the event of breakage, and lots of wires holding us to our desks.

If you’ve got a wired phone that lives on your hard-wired phone system, you’re hard-wired to your desk. Definitely NOT location-independent.

I tried RingCentral, a virtual phone system that lets you create multiple mailboxes and forward them to a variety of places, but ultimately ditched it. Though a great system and one that I think you should look into, RingCentral fell short in a variety of ways. For example:

RingCentral is a VOIP (Internet-based) phone system, which means that if their central servers go down then so does your phone system; and

RingCentral’s mailboxes don’t offer a huge degree of customization in the way phones are answered and calls handled.

So in the end I went back to Grasshopper, a phone system I’ve been using for my own virtual law firm for a number of years. The idea behind Grasshopper is simple – it takes what would otherwise be an expensive and full-featured phone system and turns it into a web-based service.

Here’s how it works: your caller dials your number and is met with an auto-attendant greeting (“Welcome to blah blah blah, if you know your party’s extension dial it at any time. For a dial-by-name directory dial 8, for the operator dial 0, etc.”) You choose your extension and dial it. The recipient’s extension dials and they pick up or send it to voice mail.

Simple, right?

There are a few things going on under the hood that make it spectacular:

The extension can ring to any phone – a cell phone, a desk phone, a Skype phone … any kind of phone you want. This means I can program Grasshopper to ring my extension (which happens to be 704) in my office, on my home phone line, my cell phone … anywhere I choose. So when someone calls me and connects with me, it doesn’t matter where I am physically.

You can choose when your extension rings to which phone. I can set it up that my extension rings to my office phone Mondays from 9:00am to 1:00pm, my cell phone on Tuesdays, my home phone on Thursdays, and on and on.

You can shut down your phone entirely. If my paralegal is out to lunch from 12:00pm-1:00pm each day, I can tell Grasshopper to stop sending calls to her during that time and send them instead directly to voice mail. If I know I like to get “real work” done each day from 3:00pm-5:00pm then I can tell Grasshopper to send all calls to voice mail during that time. My receptionist, who handles all new client calls, goes to lunch at 12:30pm-1:30pm each day; during that time, I tell Grasshopper to send her calls to a virtual assistant. No more lost calls for us!

Grasshopper sends all voice mail messages to the recipient’s email account in mp3 format. When I miss a call I don’t have to dial in and listen to messages – they come to me. But more important than that, I can save those mp3 files to the client’s folder in our computer system. Record-keeping becomes a breeze!

With Grasshopper, there’s never a busy signal. Though the system is POTS (plain old telephone system) lines rather than Internet-based, when someone calls my firm’s main phone line they never get a busy signal – period. So now instead of having to pay for 14 phone lines (at $50 per month, that adds up fast) for 6 people, I can just have 6 office phone lines going to their desks. That saves us $400 per month right there. Cha-ching!

Of course, we needed to keep our “main” phone line and set up call forwarding to the phone number provided by Grasshopper. But our new business cards will have the Grasshopper-provided phone number on them, so eventually that old number will be a relic. We will eventually decide whether to keep it or mothball it, but I suspect it will remain on the books for a number of years at least (it’s a good number).

Once I signed the firm up for Grasshopper we hired a voiceover artist on Elance for $125 to do a series of outgoing messages for us – the main one (“Thank you for calling Shaev & Fleischman …”), the transfer messages (what people hear when they’re on hold), and a few other main ones such as the one for directions and such.

Each month we’re looking at a significant cost savings over a “regular” phone system. More important, though, is the fact that the entire firm is now location-independent … at least, as far as the phone system is concerned.

Disclosure: The links to Grasshopper contained in this post are affiliate links. If you click on those links and ultimately become a customer of Grasshopper I will get a commission. That commission does not increase your cost for the Grasshopper service at all. Quite frankly, it’s not a ton of money in my pocket but it does help defray the overhead costs of this site. You can also find Grasshopper service online by doing a quick Google search.
Please click here for the original article.

Please be sure to visit www.hardinglaw.com, the website for the law firm of Harding & Associates, for more information on California family law.

1 comment:

Brett Owens said...

We use Grasshopper, and love it. We use it to power the 1-800 number on our website.

Great service, great company.

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