Please help us improve our office phone system on the cheap.
August 4, 2009 11:38 AM   Subscribe

I work in a small office with a small budget where the only full-time employees are my assistant and I, and we have separate offices. Our office has two phone lines. When one is busy, the other rings. Line one is our published office number. We each have our own voice mailbox. The problem is that you only get the "Press 1 to speak to [her], press 2 to speak to [me]" when both lines are busy or no one answers. I want to set up things so that people can select who they would like to speak to before the phone rings on our end.

My reason for this is to cut down on the number of distractions my assistant has to deal with, so I'd like for calls to me to come straight to me, so I can handle them for her.

Our phone company is Embarq, and their fees for having them change things around on their end are prohibitively expensive. I'm trying to see if there is some other way to accomplish that we can afford. I'm open to most anything, including forwarding calls to my (Sprint) Blackberry. However, nothing I can think of deals with the matter of my assistant having to deal with so many calls.

I know it is a long shot, but I'm just curious if there are any workarounds we have not considered.

posted by 4ster to Technology (4 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I don't think there is any way to get what you want without involving your phone company, short of ditching them for a voice over IP service. At the very least, you'd want a multi-line answering system with automated attendant capability, and cancel the voicemail from your phone company.
posted by Good Brain at 12:05 PM on August 4, 2009

i'm not 100% sure about where to go with this, so maybe as a starting point for research: you could possibly do this with a PC running Asterisk PBX software and a card to connect to your existing phone lines. the PC would answer first, give the caller the option of who they wanted to speak to, and it'd ring the appropriate phone. this could cause issues with your Embarq-provided voicemail though; although, on the other hand, Asterisk could deal with that and you could stop using the Embarq version. there are self-contained systems that ship with Asterisk on them too that could possibly do this without having a separate PC. i'm not sure if an Asterix box or a PC with expansion cards would necessarily be cheaper than having the telco change things, though.
posted by mrg at 12:11 PM on August 4, 2009

The key search here is "small business PBX" or "small office phone system". PBX stands for "Private Branch eXchange," the telco term for a bit of equipment in a private office that routes calls independently of the phone company. The key feature you're looking for is "auto attendant," which is the term for those automated "press 1 for..." menus that then route calls.

While a PC with Asterisk and line cards for incoming and outgoing analog lines would indeed do the trick, it'd likely be more expensive and more complicated than just buying a small PBX box from someon like Talkswitch. The linked device may be perfect for the use you've mentioned.
posted by eschatfische at 12:19 PM on August 4, 2009 [1 favorite]

As a fact, the term I've seen used the most is IVR (Interactive Voice Response), not "auto attendant". You might look at some Asterisk based solutions. If you are tech savy you can build them yourself, or better yet, find someone who can do it for you. It will be a lot less expensive than the phone company.
posted by orlandop at 1:43 PM on August 4, 2009

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