Many orthodontic offices have made the switch to Voice over IP (VOIP) phone systems, where calls are transferred over an internet connection as opposed to traditional phone lines (public switch telephone networks – PSTNs). When I first switched to a Voice over IP Phone system, I mainly considered it a cheaper phone option that could better handle multiple office locations. However, here are a few other advantages I have found to these phone systems:
1st: Phone numbers are not tied to a physical phone line at a certain location. This is probably the largest benefit of Voice over IP, but it can be a challenging change when people are used to traditional phone lines. This means that a call to your main office number can ring at any or all of your office locations at the same time (or a totally separate call center!). It means that once a call is answered, additional incoming calls are still shown as calls to the main number – they do not roll over to another line. It means that while multiple calls are being handled, someone else can still place an outgoing call using the main office number. We still keep a separate phone number for each office location for advertising, but it greatly simplifies how many phone numbers are utilized. One other great benefit is that cell phones can support Voice over IP calling, so they can become an integrated part of your phone system. On my phone, I can either dial normally using my cell number or dial using my Voice over IP app that will show up as a call from my office. This means you can have staff easily forward calls from a dentist or you can return emergency calls without anyone realizing you are calling from a cell phone.
2nd: Phones can be integrated with your computer. This can include things like click to dial from internet browsers or your practice management software, and pop up notifications on your screen of who is calling. Please note that the integration with practice management software definitely depends on the practice management company and the Voice over IP provider. One tip is that some companies use TAPI (Telephony Application Program Interface) for integrating the phone and computer, which will typically work with on-premise systems but not always with cloud-based systems.
3rd: Scalable. This along with the lower initial costs are why I would absolutely recommend new practices to look at Voice over IP as a phone system. There are no large initial costs with many Voice over IP systems if you look at a cloud-based option and there are no large costs to update the system as you grow. Also, adding a satellite office to the system is as easy as adding additional phones/users and adjusting a couple settings.
4th: Cloud Based management. Have to close the office for a snow day (yes, I’m from Wisconsin)? Add a message from home. Forget a holiday message when the office is closed for a long weekend? Add it from home. Staff doing recalls on a non-patient day? Track the number of outgoing calls from your house. Current Voice over IP systems typically make it very easy to switch call-flow, change messages, and view reports online. While these often can all be done with a traditional phone system, I never utilized them because they were difficult to find. Now I will look back at call volume and missed calls at different times and different days of the week to ensure we have the staffing to answer calls well.
5th: Handling call flow. This is part of cloud based management but important enough to mention separately. This type of system is very flexible, so carefully think through how you would want calls answered in an ideal world and you can likely adjust the system to make it happen. For instance, if you want team members responsible for checking in and out patients to only answer the phone if someone else is not free, have their phone ring only if it’s not answered after 2-3 rings. When our satellite office is open, we find it better to have that number ring only at that location first, but we still open it up to all phones in our main office before it goes to voicemail because we want the call answered if anyone is free!
Some final benefits are how easy it is to upload new hold music or marketing messages to the phone, to record calls, and to email a voicemail transcript or audio file. Regarding cost, most companies advertise around a 40% reduction in overhead by switching – we found slightly less than that but it did reduce cost.
The only negative to Voice over IP is reliability. It is dramatically better than it was 5-10 years ago, but due to its inherent nature of NOT being a dedicated phone line, it is typically not quite the equal of traditional phone lines. Insufficient internet bandwidth may still lead to dropped calls or poor call quality. Overall, though, our Voice over IP system has allowed our office to more effectively manage calls at our office locations.