C-level briefing: ‘You know my name, look up the number(s).’
In the technology industry, the ever-increasing number of electronic devices per person is often cited as a key indicator of how our world is changing.
This is particularly true in a work context; it is not uncommon to have one phone for personal interactions and another for work.
One company, however, argues that it should be the number of mobile phone numbers per person that should increase, not the number of devices.
"People who work have a separate work email and personal email," says Swytch co-founder and CEO Chris Michael.
"This was one of the driving factors. It was a problem that I had experienced; I can separate my email, I can separate my social media accounts, but I couldn’t separate my mobile number.
"Either I gave everybody the same number or I had to have a second contract, a second SIM card and a second phone."
The company’s free app allows the user to hold several cloud-hosted mobile phone numbers and access them through one device.
"Business users that have Swytch will benefit from having their personal line on their work phone or their work line on their personal phone.
"What happens when the user receives a call through Swytch it identifies not only who’s calling but also which line the user is being called on."
Swytch initially targeted the consumer space; the text on the company’s website explains how it can be used for example to provide greater privacy on online dating services, for example.
"We started Swytch as a consumer product, where it was very much an individual’s choice to get themselves a secondary line. We were targeting micro-business: we classify that as under five people, freelancers, consultants, start-ups and things like this. This is because they take care of their business communications as well as their personal ones.
"We were approached very quickly by a number of people asking for the solution for larger numbers. With bring your own device and other developments…they want to reduce the inventory of devices that they have to keep track of and the line rental that they have to pay."
Enterprises needn’t just provide the technology to their employees. The virtual number provision could be a valuable tool in one of their other key relationships: with their customers.
"A great example of this is Autotrader. When you sign up to Autotrader and you want to display something they give you the opportunity of having an 020 number that you display on the advert. That call is forwarded to your mobile number.
"The problem with that service is that it is on an incoming-only basis. When I receive that call I don’t know that it is being forwarded by Autotrader. It is important to sell my car but I can’t identify that that’s a call about my car; it could be about anything.
"Also, it doesn’t work for texts. Gumtree, for example, we found that people prefer to communicate by text, which doesn’t work very well if you display a landline number."
The anonymity that this provides is limited, as Michael explains:
"Now, if they want to call back someone they just received an inquiry from, there is no way for them to mask their number again. They start displaying their main number and it defeats the purpose of the number that was assigned to them.
"That’s an example of how a mobile number could be used much better than a landline number. The Swytch app would allow the user to communicate back through their Autotrader line."
If the technology catches on, the question "which number is best to reach you on?" could soon be a much easier one to answer.