What a company that customers take seriously sounds like

How products like Allstream’s IP Voice can change the way people perceive a small and medium-sized business

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In early September, Inc. Magazine published a story called “Six Ways to Make Your Small Business Look Big.” There was some wonderful advice in there, like having a great Web site (and selling through it), partnering with bigger firms occasionally and paying attention to small details like the packaging of products. There was just one major item the article left out: Making sure customers never wonder why they can’t reach you.

Big businesses don’t miss calls. Big businesses don’t leave you with busy signals. Big businesses have someone to not only answer the phone and also route you to someone ready to help. Though plenty of people still get frustrated with large companies that put them on hold, they initially choose them because there’s an assumption that there are enough resources to be available and responsive. Voice-over-IP (VoIP) is the technology small and medium-sized businesses are increasingly using to level that playing field.

A recent report from a company called Software Advice says that more than half of the 350-odd SMBs it surveyed, or 57 percent, are investing in VoIP services for the first time. Not surprisingly, one of top business drivers was a lower price, but it was closely followed by a desire for more functionality. In its analysis of the report, Telecoms Tech noted one feature in particular:

After the basic need for extensions and directories, an auto attendant was easily the most in-demand application among the buyers surveyed. The popularity of the auto attendant stems from its ability to lend the air of an enterprise to even a small business, such as a local florist. For instance, one business owner noted that she wants an auto attendant to give the appearance that hers is a larger company than it really is.

These kinds of VoIP services, such as the IP Voice offering Allstream is launching today,   meet this need directly. IP Voice not only includes an optional auto-attendant package that provides a big company-style receptionist experience but free long-distance calling, local phone numbers across Canada and the ability to send voice mail messages to e-mail.

In the long run, of course, VoIP is not really about SMBs keeping up appearances. It’s about using technology to remove a competitive barrier and instead amplify what they’re often best at: creating personal, long-term relationships with their customers. As more SMBs deploy business VoIP, it could not only change customer perceptions but increase expectations on how accessible business owners and their teams should be. That could bring add new pressure for SMBs, of course, but it’s a better problem to have than being considered a rinky dink operation. Think of VoIP as Step One in shattering the perception that “small business” means “small time.”

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