I've noticed that a lot of software start-up companies do not post a contact phone number on their website. Even some seemingly established companies (such as 37signals) do not post their phone number (or, if they do, it's not easy to find). There's simply a "got questions? fill out this form!" page.
Is this a good strategy for a start-up business? Is there a degree of panache to having no phone number?
What if no one can answer the phone all the time? Should we just have a voice mail?
I debated this when first launching our website, but felt it was really necessary to have a phone number listed if you wanted to appear as a "real" business. But I didn't want to use my own phone or cell phone....you really want to appear bigger than a 1 -3 person shop.
Ultimately, I found a service called RingCentral.com, that I'm really happy with. I'm sure there are other services out there..but this lets you setup a 888 number, have a professional voice over for your company intro, and then assign extension numbers to specific dialing rules. IE, "For sales, Dial 2" rings my cell phone, but for "Support dial 3" calls my CTO
s number...it makes you look very professional and is a very inexpensive way to stay connected to your prospects, clients, etc all while looking like a professional company.
FYI, I ended up choosing a woman's British accent for our voice over...very global! :)
There are 2 aspects to this:
I think a better question is when you should get a number. If you customers want to contact you through a particular channel, it pays to listen.
So how or when are customers likely to contact you? Through your website? Email? Twitter? By phone?
In our case, it would have been better to wait to get a dedicated business phone line until after our 1.0 release became commercially available. Even now, the cost isn't justified, since most of our early adopters prefer Twitter or email to using the phone.
What do you have to lose by actually trying this out?
I've heard that customers really like to be able to call you, and are pleasantly surprised that they can speak to the founder.
I would go for a phone number backed by VOIP like Skype (or Google Voice if they allowed you to get multiple numbers), since it will be cheaper than an actual line. Even if the comments go straight to voicemail, you can always return the calls yourself later.
Introduce yourself as the founder, and talk to your customers. You might actually learn something!
It depends. If your customers are businesses, you definitely should get a phone number and post it on your website where it can easily be found. (Hint: the top or bottom of every page is an easy place to find it.)
If your customers are consumers, and your product/service is not based on providing high levels of service, then you may not want to publish a phone number, as the calls you will get are going to be more of a distraction than a benefit.
I think its definitely a good idea to have a number, I have always had my number on The Lounge and Ruby Row sites... it just happens to be my cell-phone number. I made sure my voicemail includes my company name and I try to answer it professionally if I don't know the number. Obviously this won't scale forever and I will eventually get a nice 800 number, but it has worked out so far.
If your startup is B2B, I'll highly recommend getting a phone number. Businesses, especially small businesses like dealing with a person on the other end.
I would encourage you to list a number for your business. I don't see any "sophistication" value in not having one.
I wouldn't publicize a phone number when you have no intentions of answering during business hours. A 1-3 person company that lies about the size of their business is going to get caught regardless of the electronic voice mail's accent. If you had an international business, you'd be listing your international customers.
The sites that don't advertise their phone number probably only give it out to paying customers and high-end B2B sales & service people give out their cell phone numbers as well. Saves a lot of time on stupid sales calls.
Do you list your real address or a fake international address?
Just not enough time in the day to play charades.
My advice is to get one even if it just goes to voice mail and says something like, "To keep our services affordable we receive your message and send you a reply within 1 business day"
I think it depends on the type of company. If customers can sign up for your service right on your site, then a phone number is not necessary. You can handle sales and customer service via email or GetSatisfaction.
If your sales process requires personal attention, you certainly need a phone number. I recommend GotVMail/Grasshopper. It's similar to RingCentral that Mike recommended, but I'm not sure how it compares. It really helps to have a service like this where you can set up custom menus and voicemail boxes. You can have voicemails emailed to the appropriate person, and route calls to home, work, or cell numbers as needed. If you do decide you need a phone number, I highly recommend a virtual PBX like these services as opposed to a Skype or Google Voice number.
You could get a Skype number for little money in the State and City of your choice (I have mine in Sanfran). This number forwards the call immediately to your Skype account, you can even set Skype to reforward that to your mobile. This whole thing works beautifully.
You should have a phone number if you cannot answer all the questions about your product or services in an FAQ or about us page.
Then again--there is no right answer to this question. You mentioned 37signals, they are doing something right. Their products are not cheap (but very well priced compared to the market) however they were one of the first and got a lot of visibility and carved a very particular niche out.
If your message is so much aligned with your target audience on your site that when they arrive the total experience entices them to stay then...
YOU DON'T NEED A PHONE NUMBER.
Everything is is subject to testing--you can setup a funnel in Google Analytics to test how aligned your message is with your audience. Setup a 3 step funnel in GA and try to drive visitors through the funnel to a sale without a phone number.
**Here's An Idea**
check out Avinash Kaushik's site www.kaushik.net for more information on setting up GA funnels and every other imaginable concept on quality metrics.
For me I have ring central as well, no complaints, can get a virtual desktop "soft phone" and field live calls from your PC forward calls to your cell or google voice number. It's affordable even to test a new business idea.
There is no right answer to this question until you test your audience and niche and particular message.
Having a visible phone number for processing credit cards, and to a lesser degree, for sending out marketing email is a requirement. It makes you look good, and while you obviously want to channel customer inquiries through a form that enables tracking and ticketing, there are some phone calls you want to get. You want to get the call from a customer who's about to spend big, but is impatient by nature and your soothing intervention - while it may knock your schedule out of whack, is worth it.
On the flip side, people who actually bother to call show an interest level above the norm. Sure, some can be irritating, but from our experience, the calls we get do matter.
Sincerely, I HATE PHONES. They are disturbing machinges from hell.
Aside from my biased and subjective personal view...
I think that a well established Company should have a phone number, or...
provide good quality ALTERNATIVE CHANNELS such as
The problem w/ publishing your phone number is that you have to make sure someone answers the phone. If people are getting thrown into voicemail constantly, what's the point? Just put a form out there.
Yes yes yes! you just look so fly-by-night, hole in the wall and dodgy without one!