Just how easy to use is it? To find out, I downloaded and ran a free trial of the software on my Windows laptop.
According to the company’s Web site, the installation requires Microsoft Windows running on an Intel Pentium III Processor or higher, a 10 GB hard drive, and 256 MB of RAM. However, when I tried to install the software on my ThinkPad T30 with 256 MB of RAM, I got the following error: “CallButler cannot be installed on systems with less physical memory than 256 MB.” Apparently, CallButler wanted more of that 256 MB than my ThinkPad was willing to give it. An upgrade to 512 MB solved the problem, and the Setup Wizard ran smoothly.
During the setup process, the Wizard asks you to choose between CallButler Professional for $350, CallButler Unlimited for $895, and CallButler Enterprise for $2,500. The difference is simple enough: Professional is limited to 10 lines and 5 extensions; Unlimited supports 50 lines and unlimited extensions; and Enterprise supports 100+ lines and unlimited extensions.
A key strength of the offering’s pricing plans is the fact that you pay a flat fee for the software, but no per-minute or monthly fees to use it (aside from any applicable fees you may pay to a VoIP provider). There’s also a new hosted version of the software, CallButler LIVE, that’s available for $160 per month, but was not ready in time for this review—and the company plans to offer a pre-configured appliance in the near future as well.
Setting it up
To keep things simple, I chose to download CallButler Professional, and entered some basic information including name, e-mail address, and phone number. The software immediately launched a brief demo of the CallButler voicemail system, followed by three options: ‘Help me configure CallButler for my business,’ ‘Take a tour of features,’ or ‘Start using CallButler now.’
The first option leads to a menu from which you can choose a business type, including General, Storefront, Restaurant, or Real Estate. I chose Real Estate, and the system first asked me to record a welcome greeting, a main menu greeting, featured listing details, and a voicemail greeting—with suggested scripts for each.
The system then asks for a phone number (landline, mobile, VoIP, etc.) to forward calls to, and returns you to the demo—but this time, the greetings you’ve just recorded replace the default greetings. It’s a slick, straightforward way to walk you through setup, then show you what you’ve deployed. The result—in a matter of minutes—is a simple auto attendant system with a series of options and extensions.
Once the initial setup is done, you’re presented with the main menu for the software itself. Across the top of the main menu are seven tabs: Extensions, Receptionist, Call Flow, Call Personalization, Test Drive, PBX, and Phone Numbers. And the interface as a whole is impressively intuitive.
The system interface
The Extensions tab is a good example—click on it, and you get a list of the extensions you currently have implemented. Click on ‘Edit’ next to any extension, and you get a new window that allows you to change the extension number and greeting, and adjust a wide range of parameters simply by checking or un-checking boxes.
The Receptionist tab allows you to select a phone number or extension at which all incoming calls will ring first before entering the auto-attendant system, allowing that number or extension to act as the receptionist for the whole office.
The Call Flow tab gives you a graphical representation of all aspects of the call flow, from the welcome greeting through to the behavior of each extension.
The Call Personalization tab allows you to customize the way a call is handled from a particular caller as defined by their caller ID or phone number—or just by their area code. You can record a personalized message for that call, you can have that call transferred directly to a particular extension or phone number, you can run a custom script for that call—or you can automatically hang up on the call.
The Test Drive tab presents the same system demo that was available during setup, allowing you to run a quick test of the system; the ‘PBX’ tab shows you the current status of each extension; and the Phone Numbers tab lets you provision a VoIP number through CallButler (through a partnership with Teliax), or configure the system to work with another VoIP provider.
The aim of the system as a whole, according to company CEO Jim Heising, is to bring IP PBX functionality to small business customers who wouldn’t otherwise be comfortable with the idea. CallButler customers can forward incoming calls to a landline, a cell phone, or a softphone, and can control the whole system from an intuitive and straightforward Windows interface.
And it can be as simple or as complex as you want it to be: For a particular extension, for example, you can set up any form of find-me/follow-me system with just a few clicks. Say you have four different phone numbers: office phone, cell phone, home phone, and VoIP. You can have the system ring all the numbers at once whenever your extension is dialed; you can have it ring them in a specific sequence; or you can have it ring different numbers depending on the time of day.
It also supports custom scripts and custom add-ons that can be used to query a database and return, say, account information or order status. That ability to support the specific needs of various industries and companies, Heising says, is what makes CallButler unique.
Still, it’s the overall simplicity of the system that really makes it stand out. The uncluttered, user-friendly graphical interface makes a solution that could easily become intimidating and confusing very easy to grasp and control. In its aim of making a virtual phone system both affordable and easy to use, CallButler certainly succeeds.