No More Phone Tag

New technologies are putting an end to phone tag.

February 1, 2010

Internet-based telephone services make it easy for callers to find your salespeople anywhere.

In the Internet age, there’s not a lot of tolerance for phone tag. With so much information about real estate and everything else under the sun available with a few mouse clicks, clients—and just as important, prospective clients—expect to connect immediately with you and your sales associates when they actually dial an office number.

But reaching a specific salesperson at your brokerage may still be akin to a roll of the dice. When the typical practitioner’s business card or Web site lists an office number, cell number, and sometimes a home number next to his or her smiling photo, callers are left to guess which number to try first. In the meantime, busy managers and salespeople have to remember to check different voice mail systems to keep up with missed calls.

Not exactly the most efficient way to run a business. And yet that is the way many brokerages still function. But what if everyone had a single number that could ring anywhere—at an office landline, a cell phone, and even home? That’s the promise of Internet-based calling services like RingCentral, which provide customizable call management options for often less than half the cost of traditional systems. 

"It’s the perfect solution for real estate brokerages, which can benefit from having the same sort of sophistication as a much larger company," says Praful Shah, vice president of strategy for San Mateo, Calif.-based RingCentral Inc. "It makes sense for people who don’t spend the bulk of their time sitting in an office."

RingCentral targets a range of small businesses—from sole proprietors to offices with 50 users or more. Some packages include the phones themselves as well as the service starting at $49.99 per month for a single user with unlimited minutes (a four-line system with unlimited extensions and minutes costs $99.99 per month). Users also have the option of keeping their landline phones in their office and integrating those lines with their mobile phones. Or the system can work as a strictly mobile operation for those running virtual offices.

"The real beauty is the power to manage it however you want," Shah says. Users can receive and forward faxes through their smartphones and receive voice mail from their computers.

It’s also easy to change the scope of your service as your business grows or shrinks. Matt Farrell started with two lines when he opened his brokerage Urban Real Estate in Chicago in 2006, becoming one of RingCentral’s first customers. Now that his company has expanded to 19 sales associates and five employees, he has acquired 80 lines. The numbers not assigned to an associate or employee have other functions. They can track the success of a marketing campaign or the responses to a specific listing by assigning them a dedicated number. "The system is extremely scalable and flexible," he says.

And it helps with paring expenses. Chris Coard, managing partner at Buyer’s Capital, a real estate company in Stratford, Conn., shifted two of his brokerage’s four offices to RingCentral phones last year and says he’s overjoyed at the savings. "We’re paying $370 for 16 phone lines in two offices with unlimited minutes, which is less than what we were spending on phones in just one office. The decision to switch was a no-brainer."

While RingCentral is not the only player in the Internet phone arena, its features for small businesses are extremely comprehensive. Other service providers include My1Voice and Google Voice, the latter currently focusing more on the consumer market. But clearly the world is shifting when it comes to phone connectivity. 

Maintaining costly landline extensions used infrequently by associates on the go—and who rely on entirely different cell phone lines—is getting harder to justify.

"Besides the fact that the initial purchase costs [with an Internet system] are lower than traditional phone systems, the indirect cost to brokers of not making the shift are incalculable. If an agent is not available on the spot, a consumer will just move on to the next Web site," says Farrell.

And chances are it will belong to your competitor.

Wendy Cole

Wendy Cole is the former managing editor of REALTOR® Magazine.