One Call Does It All

When missing a call could mean losing a customer, a unified communications system may be the answer.

August 1, 2004

Do you ever worry that buyers or sellers who are trying to call you might not get through?

Advances in communications technology have given your clients and prospects a variety of ways to reach you. But while e-mail is increasingly popular, most people still pick up the phone first when they have questions about a property or want to learn about your services.

The promise of easy access inherent in today’s communications options also has raised the bar in what callers expect from you. If they don’t get through on their first call, your failure to respond to or to promptly acknowledge a message can reflect poorly on your service, and even may lead callers to seek out a competing real estate professional.

Take Control of Your Calls

If that concerns you, investigate your options in unified communications packages. These bundles of services allow you to publish and promote a single phone number for all incoming calls and faxes. Callers can use it to reach you anywhere, anytime with the confidence that if they can’t reach you, you will get their message.

On your end, subscribing to these services gives you centralized control over incoming and outgoing messages. And it guarantees that anyone who wants to reach you will. When you want to set features, check who called, or update your messages, you can manage your account from any phone handset or on the Internet.

Unified communications programs are sold on a subscription basis. For a monthly fee, you’re assigned your own toll-free or local phone number that you can promote as your only number. Incoming calls are routed to a communications hub that serves as your personal electronic switchboard.

One Stop for Phone, Fax, E-mail

Using a unified service, you can specify for some or all incoming calls to be automatically forwarded to any phone you’ll be near. Built-in caller ID and voice-recording capabilities let you screen the call or hear the caller before accepting it. If you aren’t available or don’t want to take the call, calls can be forwarded to predetermined voice mailboxes.

Most plans include several voice mailboxes so you can tailor each message to a specific type of caller—and even assign special access codes to route calls to recorded messages that describe particular listings. For instance, you could promote a listing by featuring a special code that prospective buyers could dial to hear a message that gives more details about the property.

And since the Web is such an important communications link, unified communications services also include e-mail options and Web-based features for managing your account. In addition to alerting you to messages and callers via e-mail, the unified communications service will receive incoming faxes and include the documents as attachments in a message forwarded to your e-mail account. Depending on the plan, you may be able to respond to e-mail with an audio attachment to an outgoing message made from your phone.

Find Plan That Fits Your Needs

Some, but not all of these services, may already be available through your present cellular service provider. Before you start shopping for unified communications plans, identify the ways the mix of services can benefit you and your clients.

All you may need are additional voice mailboxes or e-mail alerts that messages are waiting in your inbox. If your voice message management needs are limited, start by investigating what’s offered by companies that already have your business.

If you decide you need a more diverse, specialized unified communications plan, compare plans based on price and features. Most require a monthly subscription fee and, possibly, a set-up fee. There may also be pay-as-you-go fees based on minutes of usage or number of messages received on top of these.

Try Before You Buy

Thoroughly investigate the costs of service, what the basic fee covers, any additional fees, and how they’re incurred. As with cellular services, try before buying into the plan. Ask if the vendor offers a no-commitment trial period or a short-term subscription.

To get you started, here are several unified communications vendors who say they’ve built their programs to be responsive to the specialized needs of real estate professionals:

  • CommuniKate from Kate Solutions. Subscribers receive a national toll-free phone number callers can use to contact you. Package includes voice/e-mail/fax management and outgoing call features, such as voice-activated dialing and conference calling. $34.95 per month, with additional charges per minute for long-distance and conference calls.
  • eGIX Subscription includes toll-free phone number and integrated voice/e-mail/fax management via phone or e-mail. Offers custom and one-number-follow-me plans, with fees based on minutes of usage. Access charges vary by market.
  • Prosodie Interactive Includes national toll-free number for incoming calls. Offers suites of integrated unified communications solutions for the individual or office. Pricing determined by plan.
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