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Small business smoke and mirrors-- phones

Hi All,
My small business needs to appear larger. We need some kind of smoke and mirrors for our phone system, which is currently a bunch of mobile phones with voicemail attached. When someone calls us it sounds like a home answering machine.

Our customers are Very Large companies that only deal with us small dweebs because they have to. I want to trick them into thinking we have a fancy office with a receptionist: I would like a phone number that forwards to an answering service when our phones are off. A nice person would answer with our company name and take the callers message.

Something like www.yac.com but in the USA.

Have any of your other entrepreneurial folks figured this out?

Much Obliged!

Matt (Not yet profitable but very happy anyways)
Monday, September 22, 2003

There should be answering services that you can outsource your reception to. We have them in Europe, so I take it they are available in the US as well.

You just give them a message to repeat and forward your phones when you cant handle the phones yourselves.

Another option to consider,  if at all possible would be to move into one of those office parks that offers a shared receptionist service for multiple companies.

The major drawback with an answering service is that it normally is painfully obvious that its an outsourced service. I mean they can take messages, thats it. They cant do normal reception duties like forwarding calls to others in the company, and such.

Patrik
Monday, September 22, 2003

Have you considered buying a PBX?

Steve H
Monday, September 22, 2003

Aren't PBX's expensive?

There are three of us. We've looked at the office parks, but they charge so much more than normal office space that we can't justify it.

Matt (Not yet profitable but very happy anyways)
Monday, September 22, 2003

Well, if you want to look like a larger company, you are going to have to spend money.  Either get a PBX and a receptionist, or move into an office park with a shared receptionist, or something like that.  The reason why it's a status symbol to have a receptionist is because you've gotta have the cash to pay for a receptionist to have one.

That being said, many many companies have direct extensions with mere voice mail.  Same as an answering machine, just better sounding audio.  Generally part of a good PBX, which is generally the cheapest option you will have.

Flamebait Sr.
Monday, September 22, 2003

You can get something like a little Panasonic 308 for about $500. That's cheap enough that we used to use them for test switches.

Clutch Cargo
Monday, September 22, 2003

We ran across one of these before.  They had several levels of options, but they were essentially a receptionist.  Additionally you could get a timeshare of sorts on conference rooms and offices (for those times when you need to have an office/conference room to show off). 

I can't place the name, but I'll sort through our files later to see if I can't locate it.

Lou
Monday, September 22, 2003

Chalk this one up to a good filing system.  American Executive Centers.  The PA/NJ site is http://www.aecphilly.com/

They advertise the service as a Virtual Office.  They claim they have offices nationwide.  For a phone answered by a receptionist 8-5:30 and voicemail after that the service runs 125/month.

145/month is where temporary use of offices and conference rooms starts.  You can even get your mail sent to their "prestigious addresses". 

Lou
Monday, September 22, 2003

Check out WEBLEY
I tried it 3 years ago and it was pretty cool. IT answered your phone with a nice british voice and found out what you wanted, and used speech recogn. to forward the call appropriately. Inexpensive back then too.

Not sure how it is today, but it's still around.

http://www.webley.com/

ANOTHER OPTION...
A more conventional option is a Centrex service from your local phone company. Think of it as pbx-service.  Telco maintains the equipment and sells you a service (like voicemail, but with pbx features).

Yes, pbxs can be very expensive. PC-based ones were getting cheaper 8 years ago when I got out of telecom and started a sw company.  But it's a pain to maintain your own equipment unless you need to fiddle with it or buying is more expensive than leasing a service. (IMHO).

Entrepreneur
Monday, September 22, 2003

If you want an answering service, such things exist. They predate answering machines! They even advertise in google now days, search for "answering service".

Other than that, you can probably get some sort of phone switch off ebay. But you're probably best off with someplace which can answer calls and is willing to forward them on to your cell.

mb
Monday, September 22, 2003

search for automated attendant on google...

here's one of the results:
http://www.stok.com/po.html

I've never used their service, don't work for them, blah blah

GiorgioG
Monday, September 22, 2003

Everyone, thank you so much for your help.

I will look for a combination of centrex/virtual pbx/automated attendant and an answering service.

Indeed, with google, words are powerful.

Matt (Not yet profitable but very happy anyways)
Monday, September 22, 2003

We use Virtual PBX, and we're very happy with it. It's much less expensive than a traditional PBX, and let's us all work from home (which we already do anyway). It includes "follow me" calling, phone queues, voicemail, fax queues, and a web based interface for each user to administer their settings (for example, adding or removing themselves from a queue, setting default phone #s).

http://www.virtualpbx.com/

Brad Wilson (dotnetguy.techieswithcats.com)
Monday, September 22, 2003

We faced exactly the same problem, and solved it by putting in a traditional PABX. We bought ours secondhand; it cost AU$1200 installed. That was for a current model digital PABX. We've currently just got a couple of analog lines running into it, but we can get an ISDN line card for it when we move to a location with an ISDN enabled exchange.

It's worked out great. Being able to put people on hold and have hold music while they're waiting is much more professional than clunking the phone down on the desk or holding your hand over the mouthpiece!

It's also good being able to say "Hold on, I'll transfer you to xyz", put someone on hold, buzz someone else's handset and have them pick up the held call.

Oh, and the data capture recorder we had fitted pours a list of call events out to our *nix box that we pick up and feed into our billing process. No more scribbled post-it notes about support calls that need to be billed for.

Andrew Lighten
Tuesday, September 23, 2003

Outsource it to India.


Tuesday, September 23, 2003

I'm in pretty much the same situation and use the automated attendant service mentioned above:
http://www.stok.com/po.html

Works well for me (read: it works fine and the price is right)- about $20/month plus $.06/minute.  The automated attendant answers the phone and gives the caller the options, routes the call to whatever number (which you can change anytime yourself), and then can store the voice mail if you don't answer.

My big complaint is that it's all phone-based (no online interface to change your profile, check voice mail, etc).  In this day and age, I am used to such features but didn't find them for this price when I went looking (about 1.5 years ago).

Jon
Tuesday, September 23, 2003

Merge with a company who is big enough to have a receptionist.

Seriously, say you have a friend who runs a company that does web design and has about a dozen employees.  Well, how do they talk to their clients?

anony127
Tuesday, September 23, 2003

Unfortunately I would probably say that making more money (and saving more) than your competition is among the best way to appear larger.

Li-fan Chen
Tuesday, September 23, 2003

There are companies that go by the name "My New York Office" and things like this that will provide you with a prestigious 5th Avenue / Park Avenue street address, and answer the phones for you based on scripts you provide. Typically telling the person you're out of the office, and even providing a work reference "Yes John Doe worked here in 1995, but I'm not allowed to reveal any details about his employment" type stuff.

These usually run a couple hundred dollars a month. Has nobody created a computer program that works with a handful of modems that will simulate a PBX?

Just record the Audix outgoing message. "Your call is being answered by Audix. ______ is not available. To record a message, wait for the tone. (beep) Record your message." Of course you have to get the voice just right...

Mark T A W .com
Tuesday, September 23, 2003

I just read an article in one of the free computer mags here (Minneapolis) about Voice over IP. It seems that managed or hosted solutions are offered by various companies that do exactly what you want.

I don't think this was the article, but it was similar.

http://www.computeruser.com/articles/2102,1,3,1,0201,02.html

Tom Mack
Tuesday, September 23, 2003

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