Ideas for the small business without a receptionist

With the slow economy, ever increasing role of e-mail in business , and customers who often choose to call cell phones over main numbers, many small businesses no longer employ a full time receptionist.  In fact, many are highly mobile groups that may have no one in the office for long stretches during business hours.  Here are a few ideas on how to maintain a professional image and be as accessible as possible to your customers and prospects.

You have staff in the office, you would like an automated attendant to direct calls, but if a caller hits "0" or other options you want to make sure these calls are answered live.  Instead of having phones ring, consider having a distinctive bell or chime that goes off for these calls.  This creates a sense of urgency that lets your staff know these calls are important and need to be answered live. This can also be impressive to visitors when they hear the bell go off and see your businesses commitment to answering calls and serving your customers!

You don't always have staff in the office, but want to have the best chance possible to answer key calls.  Consider integrating cell phones into automated attendant options.  Many telephone systems offer capabilities that will route callers who make an automated attendant selection to a cell phone, group of cell phones or combination of desk phones and cell phones.  Features that allow this might be; virtual extensions, twinning, dual ring, find me/follow me, or group extensions.  Hosted telephone systems may be best suited to provide this type of integration.

Consider office VoIP phones at home.  The use of a small business IP phone system or a hosted IP telephone system may allow for IP telephones to be deployed at the homes of staff members or even a home based part time receptionist.  These phones can function the same as phones in your office.  They can ring when your main number is dialed, DSS buttons can show when other phones on the system are in use, calls can be transferred to other phones on the system or to voice mail.

When planning your solution, keep in mind; telephone system, type and number of telephone lines, cell phone plans, and even your Internet connection are all factors in what is possible.  I recommend working with a professional who understands whats available and being careful about bundled telephone company offerings.  Being locked into to the wrong plan will limit your options.  Most small businesses are very dynamic, as your needs change your communications solutions need to be flexible to change with you.

Richard Hill has worked in the telecommunications field for over 20 years, 15 of those as the President and owner of SafeCall, a Charlotte, NC based company offering business telephone systems, VoIP telephone service, carrier consulting, and voice/data cabling.