The days of paying through the nose for the installation and maintenance of expensive phone systems are pretty much over. So are the days of having to rely on your personal cell phone for business purposes when all other alternatives proved too costly.
The arrival of complex telephony services that operate in the cloud and can be accessed from your smartphone have seen to this. The only real problem – if you want to call it that – is that there are so many out there, it’s tough to know where to sink your time and money. To make life a bit easier for you, we took Grasshopper, which is owned by the enterprise software company Citrix, on a spin and recorded our findings, all the better to help you decide if it’s the right service for you.
The Virtual Phone System
Grasshopper is a virtual phone system that requires no hardware to buy and no software to install, other than a single smartphone application. Everything is maintained in the cloud. You can get one (or more) 800 numbers for your business, or you can pick a local number. It can be used with landline phones or mobile phones.
From this point, you record a main company greeting that’s broadcast to all inbound callers, which’ll serve to identify your company. You can establish different extensions to reach various people if you have employees who need to take business calls. When a caller punches in a particular extension, their call is forwarded to that employee’s phone (whether it’s a landline or a mobile). Calls can even be forwarded to Skype, if that’s how you roll.
Additionally, you can also use Grasshopper to make outgoing calls, which is useful if you want your professional number to show up on your recipient’s caller ID. You’ll need to use the smartphone app when you dial out to ensure your Grasshopper number is used.
Call Forwarding and What Else?
Aside from acting like a high-end telephony service that forwards calls around, Grasshopper also folds in some features that you’d never get if you just operated off of traditional hardware.
Call Screening and Announce lets you know who’s calling so you can take the call or let it go to voicemail. When you answer, you get three options: answer, forward to voicemail, or hear the caller’s name if you’re not sure which option you want to exercise.
Anytime you get a voicemail, Grasshopper emails you an MP3 recording of the message that you can listen via your computer, if you desire. It also uses speech to text tech to you a transcript of the voicemail message so you can check your voicemail without having to put a phone to your ear.
Outbound fax functionality is supported, including a virtual fax feature that you can use to forward incoming faxes to a standalone machine. Grasshopper virtual fax can also convert incoming faxes to online-accessible digital images, or convert it to PDF and forward to your email inbox. Grasshopper doesn’t support outbound faxing.
On-hold music is provided for your callers and even lets you upload your own tunes, or self-produced commercials, to play during hold.
The system comes with the ability for you to set up a names directory that you key in via the online platform so that callers can route their calls to specific persons if they don’t know their extensions.
Conference calling is also supported, albeit with limitations. For one, each conference call is limited to 10 participants including yourself. It’s also imbued with a bit of DIY functionality in that you have to manually dial all participant numbers to queue them in to a group call. There is no way for conference call participants to dial in themselves.
$12 and Up
Since Grasshopper caters to everyone from sole business proprietors to medium sized companies, they offer a variety of plans that range in cost and functionality. Plans start at $12 per month and top out at $199 per month. Here’s how each one of them breaks down.
Please note that all Grasshopper plans come with the above-mentioned features, including a custom main greeting, call forwarding, and the ability to handle unlimited calls in the unlikely event that every single one of your clients decides to call you at the exact same moment. As of this writing, a $25 activation fee typically charged for all but the top tier plan is being waived.
- Pay As You Grow ($12/mo): The most barebones package offered by Grasshopper, Pay As You Grow assigns you one local or toll free 800 number. In addition to the base monthly payment of $12, you’ll also be charged 6 cents per minute for any calls received or placed. Other more expensive plans offer free minutes up to a certain limit, after which the 6-cent-per-minute fee is charged. As you might imagine, you’ll also be billed for minutes used according to your mobile plan.
- Ramp ($24/mo): The Grasshopper Ramp plan is the next step up from base. Here, the difference is that instead of paying for minutes as you go, you’re given 500 minutes per month. If you exceed this, the 6-cent-per-minute billing will kick in. If you come close but don’t exceed your 500 minute monthly max, this could be a significantly better plan. Just do the math. Paying an additional $12 for 500 minutes means you’re only being charged about 2.5 cents per minute – whereas under the Pay As You Grow Plan, you could easily wind up with a higher bill. Bear in mind that Grasshopper doesn’t roll over unused minutes. Ramp also comes with a single phone number.
- Grow ($49/mo): The Grow plan comes with 2000 monthly minutes and gives you two phone numbers. This can be useful if you’d like to have one phone number for customer inquiries and another phone number for your vendors. The same rules about minutes and the 6-cent overage rate applies to this plan, too.
- Max ($199/mo): Designed for power phone users, the Max plan may not meet your needs if you’re running an out-and-out call center, but it does offer you the greatest flexibility with respect to the number of phone numbers you can have and the number of monthly minutes allotted. Three phone numbers are supplied with this plan, and the threshold for minutes used is 10,000. This breaks down to under 2 cents per minute. Also included free with the Max plan is a feature called Voice Studio, which is a platform you can use to record professional-quality outgoing messages.
Important Note About Minutes: With Grasshopper, used minutes are cumulative. This means that if you hold a 30-minute conference call with 10 participants, you’ll be billed for a total of 300 minutes.
Lots of Bells and Whistles
Grasshopper is a powerful cloud-based phone system with lots of bells and whistles, but it’s not the cheapest out there. If cost is a major deciding factor, you may want to keep shopping. But if you have the budget to spend a little extra for a slick front-end phone system, it could be precisely what you’re looking for.
It’s not perfect, and remains something of a work in progress – especially for Android smartphone users. Currently, the full scale of functionality is available only to iOS users. The Android app is still only available in Beta and is missing some of the functionalities you may need right away, including some fax features. Android users will need 4.1 and up, and iOS users are required to have 6.0 or later.
Still not sold on Grasshopper? Give BusinessCall a whirl, but first read our full BusinessCall review.