How to Slash Your Phone Bill and Telecom Costs

Even if none of your friends have a land line anymore, chances are your office can't partake in that same forward-looking trend. Like it or not, you're gonna need to transfer calls, put people on hold and do who-knows-what -- the basic-to-day functions and features your average desk phone will offer. So, you might as well not be beholden to paying exorbitant fees to the phone companies.

Without trying to sound like a commercial, there are plenty of services that let you set up office phones with special services, but many of them have contracts that lock you in if you want to switch. RingCentral isn't one of those services. It's a cloud-based phone service for small- to mid-level businesses that lets employees sync it with their smartphones, tablets and also receive faxes from the same numbers. In other words, it's a way for smaller companies to grow bigger and keep pace with corporations. To find out more about it, I gave a call to Chris Massa, the IT guy for Chicago Freight Rail Services -- a family-owned business that's been around in one form or another since 1928. He elected to switch the company over to the service, and here he shares why and what it involved.

How did you happen across RingCentral?

Chris Massa: Being in IT I was tasked with combining and reducing the cost of telecom and then services for our rail services company. Basically, from there we did some research and my wife's business -- she's an animal hospital veterinarian -- we used RingCentral for that. So I had a little bit of experience with the company. So then we just went from there.

What is the service like?

Chris Massa: It's very easy to use. The whole signing up and contract thing is very easy, as far as invoicing, so, if tomorrow we decided on another choice we could simply cancel. Obviously that's kind of difficult because once you set into motion 8,000 numbers and things like that, but it's not impossible. [Laughs.] And that was nice, because their competitors all had contracts, kind of like when you want to buy a new cell phone and then it's so much money for this, so much money for that? They don't have any of that.

What are entrepreneurs in for if they choose to adopt this for their company?

Chris Massa: I think there would be a little bit of a workflow education, for example for a receptionist's point of view and how to transfer the calls. Just that kind of logistics, if they were used to using a sidecar, as we call it, which would be a piece that would have all the buttons. At the moment RingCentral doesn't have any hardware that does that kind of thing.

Is it better that way?

Chris Massa: It's just different. I don't think it's any bit different or better. A person may not be able to look over and see if one person is on the phone or not. So, from that standpoint, if they look for Mr. Smith, vice president of whatever, they can't see if he's on the line or not. There is a way to do it but it's through the web, through the Internet. There is an actual web interface, which is very handy.

What costs are associated with this?

Chris Massa: Initially you set up, you have to buy your phones and you need to have a good Internet connection. And once that's done they send you all phones and you start plugging them in. They're totally, then, configurable. As an example, CF Rail Services has about 33 or 34 phones right now across the United States in different repair shops and facilities. So, once we set up each phone and set up the account, then all the phones are accessible through that account. As to whether they're online, as to the mechanical features, "Hi, welcome to this company… press 1 for this, press 1 for that" -- what's kinda nice is that number also, for each phone, doubles as a fax number. And any voicemail can be sent to an email account as a notification.

That is pretty handy.

Chris Massa: Yeah, and fax works the same way. So, you set it up to have the inbound fax turned into a PDF and then sent to an email account.

Do you have any other thoughts or advice for people thinking of using a service like this?

Chris Massa: It's fairly cost-effective. The two main facilities that we turned over to this service had different flavors of their own hardware. As they age, you can't get them repaired to a point where then you're faced with just replacing them. Having multiple lines in is expensive. We're talking, business lines, a couple thousand a dollars per location on a monthly situation. RingCentral is no where near there. Just simply add up what they offer you on the website times how many phones you want and that's what your monthly bill is.

David Wolinsky is a freelance writer and a lifelong Chicagoan. In addition to currently serving as an interviewer-writer for Adult Swim, he's also a columnist for EGM. He was the Chicago city editor for The Onion A.V. Club where he provided in-depth daily coverage of this city's bustling arts/entertainment scene for half a decade. When not playing video games for work he's thinking of dashing out to Chicago Diner, Pizano's, or Yummy Yummy. His first career aspirations were to be a game-show host.

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