Virtual Phone & Virtual Office FAQ

Frequently Asked Questions about Virtual Phone & Virtual Office

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What does a virtual phone service allow me to do?

At its most fundamental, a virtual phone service forwards calls from a virtual number to the phone number (or numbers) of your choice, without the need for additional lines or equipment. For instance, you can have a toll-free number that forwards calls first to your cell phone, then your home phone, and then your voicemail. It also allows you to set up an auto-attendant which acts as a virtual phone operator, allowing your customers to reach different individuals, or departments, with the touch of a button.

What is the difference between virtual phone service and a traditional VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) service?

While they both use the same basic technology, routing voice calls over the Internet, virtual phone service is primarily meant to route incoming calls to multiple phones, individuals, and/or departments inside an organization. While traditional VoIP service can offer you basic calling features, virtual phone services give your small business a professional feel by offering multiple message centers, a virtual PBX, and various features such as faxing, conference calling, and employee call management.

How am I billed for calls?

Every plan includes a certain amount of free domestic minutes per month. You're charged for the time a call goes your virtual phone service. If you run over your free allotment, you'll be charged a low per-minute fee. Each provider we reviewed offers multiple upgrade plans to match your level of calling activity.

Can I use my virtual phone service to make outbound calls?

All of these services, with the exception of Nextiva, allow you to call out. How they do it can vary from service to service. Since virtual phone services don't require you to install a new phone line, you have to place calls using either a virtual calling card, or a smart phone application. A virtual calling card requires that you dial a number and enter your own personalized calling card number; it can seem laborious at first, but you can program the autodialer on your phone to cut down on the steps.

So, what is meant by "virtual PBX" and "auto attendant?"

A virtual PBX is simply a piece of call-forwarding software that's run by your virtual phone service. It allows for calls to be switched or forwarded to the phone number of your choice. An auto attendant is a recorded greeting that you set up, that lets you tell callers how their calls can be routed. You can make the recordings conditional based on your business hours too, so your customers will know when you're receiving calls. Best of all, you won't be bothered after work hours.

Do I have to use an auto attendant? What if I want calls forwarded directly to my number?

You can choose. Some people like the professional feel of an auto attendant, and some people find them annoying. You can decide whether you want a computerized voice to answer, or to record the greeting yourself.

Why not use my personal phone for all my business?

Using a virtual phone means you have a number that's used only for business calls. This helps protect your privacy and offers you the added convenience of knowing when a call is business, and when it's personal. Also, you get great features such as multiple mailboxes, the ability to set business hours, and advanced call-forwarding.

How is the call quality?

We tested each service here, making multiple calls between desk phones, and between desk phones and cell phones. Calls using our desk phones were clear and audible. Calls between landlines and cell phones were degraded when the signal was weak (two bars or less), something owing more to the cell phone than the virtual phone service. Services that offer dedicated iPhone apps for calls often exhibited clearer call quality, particularly when using Wi-Fi.

How is a virtual phone service better than Google voice?

Google voice is great for personal calls, but it doesn't have the features that small businesses need. With Google voice you won't get a virtual PBX, multiple lines, or the ability to set different forwarding and message behaviors based on your business hours. You also won't be able to manage company-wide calling activity from one central place.

What about international calls?

International calls are not covered with the included minutes, and are charged at a different rate. You should check with the individual services if you anticipate receiving calls from other countries.

How did NextAdvisor develop these virtual phone reviews?

We tested every single virtual phone service we reviewed here. This involved signing up for the services, receiving calls, configuring the options, and using any special features such as faxing and conference calling. We wrote these reviews with an eye towards usability so that you can find the virtual phone service that's right for you.

Top Virtual Phone & Virtual Office

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Bottom line: Extra minutes, capable with iPhone apps, and simple interface & setup makes Phone.com a top choice
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Bottom line: Integrated faxing and mobile apps make this a good choice, but it's a bit complex
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Bottom line: Good interface and a great value, includes teleconferencing, but only 2 extensions and somewhat pricey
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Bottom line: Best for businesses who don't use a lot of minutes, this comprehensive service boasts unlimited extensions, integrated faxing, and a multitude of other features
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Bottom line: Service designed for 10 employees or less, includes faxing; it's not a beauty, but it's easy to use and offers unlimited mailboxes on all its plans.
Rating:

Bottom line: Best for small businesses with multiple offices, but service has some annoyances

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