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Quickview: Upgrade Your Outdated Phone System

A more sophisticated phone system can position you to be more accessible to clients and better meet their needs.

Bill Winterberg, 08/16/2012

If you own a laptop, smartphone, or tablet computer, you know how these devices support your ability to do business from nearly any location. But the traditional phone system installed in your office likely no longer meets your goal of being a mobile worker.
 
For example, if you're not in the office when a client calls, she will leave a voicemail message for you. Only after you return to the office will you see the flashing voicemail indicator on the phone, call in to the system, and learn of your client's need or question. Should you want to make yourself more accessible to clients and be in a better position to address their needs, you need a more sophisticated phone system.
 
Google Voice is one virtual phone service I wrote about last year that offers a number of useful features, including call forwarding, voicemail transcription, and call screening. Chuck Hammond, President of RRG Inc. and co-founder of the 401k Study Group, told me about Grasshopper, the virtual phone system he and his colleagues have been using since 2007 (when it was originally called GotVMail).
 
Hammond uses a toll-free number provided by Grasshopper for the main office and configures multiple extensions for various advisors, employees, and departments in the firm. If Hammond is not in the office to take a phone call, Grasshopper performs automatic call forwarding and routes calls to his cell, home office, or any other phone number configured to receive calls.
 
"I rarely give my cell phone number out [to clients], and I never give out my home number. But Grasshopper lets me give clients a direct dial number, and I can answer it from any phone I want," said Hammond.
 
Hammond also uses Grasshopper's "Read Your Voicemail" feature, where a transcript of a voicemail is delivered to his email inbox along with an .MP3 audio file of the message.
 
"Voicemail transcripts really help with workflow because I can forward the transcript and recording to my partner's email. I don't have to spend time recreating the client's question or potentially misstate some of the details of the call," he added.
 
Google Voice is a free service and works well for solo practitioners, but isn't as flexible for multiple advisors working in the same office. Grasshopper is a low-cost service that bundles all of its features into several plans that are priced according to how many minutes are needed each month. Plans start at $12 per month without any included minutes (talk time is priced at $0.06 per minute) or $24 per month with 500 minutes included. The Read Your Voicemail feature can be added to any plan for $10 per month.
 
Grasshopper and other virtual phone services like it offer much more functionality than the traditional business phone systems so prevalent in advisor offices today. See how you can apply these systems to your workplace to better manage phone calls and be more accessible for your clients.

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Bill Winterberg, CFP, is a technology and operations consultant to independent financial advisors. His comments on technology have been featured in a variety of financial industry publications. You can view more information about Bill and see his schedule of upcoming speaking engagements at his Web site, FPPad.com. The author is a freelance contributor to MorningstarAdvisor.com. The views expressed in this article may or may not reflect the views of Morningstar.
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