What is Direct Inward Dialing (DID) & is it Right for You?

Imagine you’re at an amusement park, eager to experience the thrill of a brand-new ride. The anticipation is palpable, but so is the dread of the seemingly endless line ahead. But what if someone handed you a fast pass that whisked you past the crowds, saving you time and enhancing your experience? 

That's exactly what direct inward dialing offers to modern businesses. It allows external callers to reach your employees’ extensions directly without going through a receptionist or phone tree, similar to having VIP access to the ride you’ve been eyeing all day.

In this post, we’ll uncover what direct inward dialing is, how it works, and how you can use it to your business’s advantage.

What is direct inward dialing (DID)?

Direct inward dialing (DID) is a telecommunication service that enables organizations to assign unique phone numbers to individual employees or departments without requiring multiple physical phone lines. This technology allows external callers to reach a specific extension within an organization directly without passing through an operator or IVR menu.

Sometimes called a virtual number, a DID number is a phone number you assign to route calls to a specific place, person, or department so callers don't always have to call your main number and be transferred to their final destination by an operator.

What makes DID so popular is its flexibility. Say you’re working from home but want calls routed to your mobile instead of your office phone. With DID, it doesn’t matter where you are — the call finds you as long as the private branch exchange (PBX) system knows where to send it.

DID services can be helpful for businesses of all sizes, but especially small businesses that want to appear larger or businesses with multiple departments that need to be easily reachable by customers. Combining DID with Smith.ai's virtual receptionists takes this efficiency to the next level, providing direct access to experts and ensuring personalized and efficient call handling.

What is direct inward dialing used for?

DID technology can direct calls to any type of phone, including in-office desk phones, softphones (software-based phones that run on computers or mobile devices), mobile devices, or even third-party services. This means businesses can leverage DID numbers in a variety of ways, including:

  • Direct lines for each department: DID facilitates direct access to specific support lines, making it easier for customers to reach the right department without being redirected multiple times or sitting through a lengthy IVR menu.
  • Field-based personnel: DID numbers can be set up to forward incoming calls directly to field staff's cell phones. This ensures employees remain reachable while keeping their personal numbers private.
  • Remote workforce: Calls to a DID number can be forwarded to a landline or softphone, which is useful for employees who work from home.
  • ​​Regional presence: Companies with national or international reach can use DIDs with local area codes to give the appearance of a regional presence, improving customer trust and perceived local support.
  • Targeted marketing: DID numbers can be used for targeted marketing campaigns, like print ads, display ads, billboards, or sweepstakes. This allows them to track and measure the effectiveness of each initiative using call-tracking software.
  • Priority service: Companies can assign dedicated DID numbers for VIP customers or premium membership tiers, routing calls to prioritized support teams to provide enhanced service levels.
  • Third-party services: DID numbers can be integrated with outside services, like Smith.ai's virtual receptionists, to provide a professional first point of contact for incoming calls.

How does direct inward dialing work?

DID is available on both traditional telephone systems and VoIP systems.

Graphic comparing traditional call routing and direct inward dialing. On the left, a male caller is connected through an IVR menu to three different extensions. On the right, a female caller is connected directly to three individual direct inward dial numbers.

Direct inward dialing with traditional PSTN

Direct inward dialing with a public switched telephone network (PSTN) involves a telecom service provider connecting a batch of trunk lines to a company’s PBX. You can think of the PBX as the brain of the operation — it knows who’s who and where each call should go. 

The PBX allocates DID numbers to the customer, allowing external callers to reach a specific extension within the organization directly. The PBX directs incoming calls based on the dialed number, routing them to the right person or department.

Traditional PBX systems are typically more expensive to set up and maintain than other options. Many businesses are now turning to VoIP phone services, which provide virtual phone numbers and more features at a lower cost.

Direct inward dialing with VoIP

With VoIP systems, direct inward dialing is generally easier to implement and manage, as many of these systems come with built-in DID features. Using your internet connection, the VoIP provider maps virtual DID numbers to extensions within your system. This is done through session initiation protocol (SIP) trunking. A SIP trunk is the virtual equivalent of a physical telephone line (sometimes referred to as a POTS or plain old telephone service line).

This setup is flexible, scalable, and more cost-effective, as it often offers the ability to integrate phone systems with other digital platforms, such as CRM software, email services, and messaging apps.

Key benefits of direct inward dialing

Direct inward dialing offers several advantages for businesses, including:

  • Improved customer experience: DID allows callers to reach the right person or department directly, bypassing automated menus or receptionists, which can enhance customer satisfaction.
  • Increased efficiency: By enabling direct calls to the appropriate person or department, DID can save time for both callers and employees, leading to improved operational efficiency.
  • Cost savings: DID numbers help businesses stay financially lean by reducing the number of phone lines required but still providing all employees with their own direct number.
  • Professional image: DID numbers can give small businesses a more professional and organized image by offering customers different phone numbers for each service or department.
  • Faster resolution: DID minimizes call queues and missed calls. Employees save time by avoiding transferred calls and repeating information.
  • Personalized service: Businesses can use DIDs to set up their phone system to intelligently route calls based on department, location, or language.
  • Geographical flexibility: Businesses can establish a local presence in multiple markets by acquiring local DID numbers, whether or not they have a physical office in those locations.

Direct inward dialing vs. direct outward dialing

While direct inward dialing revolves around incoming calls, direct outward dialing (DOD) allows employees to dial out from their company phone numbers, even when using a personal phone or a VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) system.

Without direct outward dialing, an employee might need to jump through hoops (read: dial “9”) to get an outside line before making a call. DOD removes that extra step.

DID and DOD work together to improve business phone systems and perception among customers. DID makes it easier for people to reach specific employees, while DOD makes it easier for employees to make outbound calls to customers and sales leads from their fortress of solitude.

Is direct inward dialing right for your business?

If your business experiences any of the following, it might be time to consider DID:

  • High call volumes: Your business is swamped with calls, resulting in long wait times and missed opportunities.
  • Customer service efficiency: The quality of your customer service is substandard, driving customers away.
  • Local market presence: You want to establish a recognizable and accessible contact point in various geographic locations to boost expansion and build customer trust.
  • Departmental accessibility: Calls intended for specific departments, such as sales or support, are often misrouted, causing frustration for your customers and employees.
  • Scalability and adaptation: Your business is growing, and you need a communication system that can keep up.
  • Cost efficiency: Your current phone system is too costly, and you need to find a more reasonable option.
  • Operational streamlining: Your company's communication is all over the place, making it hard to get things done.
Decision guide on using DID for businesses. It lists 'When it's right for you' and includes high call volumes, multiple locations, plans to scale, and customer service orientation. Opposite, under 'When it isn't', it lists very low call volume, single location, no expansion plans, and limited budget.

How to get started with DID

Setting up DID for your business involves a few important steps:

  1. Contact a provider: The first step is to find a telecommunications service provider that offers direct inward dialing. Many VoIP and PBX providers offer DID, so you’ll have plenty of options. Discuss your business needs with the providers to determine how many DID numbers you need and any advanced call routing features.

Compare providers based on their pricing, features, service level agreements, and geographic coverage to find the best fit for your business needs​​​​.

  1. Choose DID numbers: Once you've selected a provider, you'll need to decide on the specific DID numbers you want for your business. Telecom companies generally offer several options, like local, toll-free, international, and even personalized vanity numbers. Consider your geographic reach, the departments or employees who need direct numbers, and any marketing or customer service strategies that could benefit from using specific numbers.
  1. Configure your phone system: The final step is to configure your phone system to work with your chosen numbers. With a cloud-based system, the provider will handle the technical aspects of routing for you. You’ll just need to specify where to route each number — to an auto-attendant, individual employee, department ring group, phone tree, or elsewhere. If you have an on-site PBX, your IT staff will need to allocate trunk lines, program the numbers into the system, and set up call routing to the appropriate destinations.

Improve your customer experience with DID and Smith.ai

Direct inward dialing allows businesses to simplify their communication processes, improve customer satisfaction, and reduce costs. Leveraging Smith.ai's expertise with DID numbers can further enhance the effectiveness of business communications, making it an invaluable tool for small businesses, professionals, and firms aiming to optimize their client engagement strategies.

With Smith.ai, you can ensure that every call is answered promptly and professionally, regardless of your team’s availability. Our virtual receptionists are trained to handle customer inquiries, schedule appointments, qualify leads,  and warm transfer calls to the right person or department in real time, providing a top-notch customer experience that will set your business apart.

Take the first step in enhancing your customer experience by implementing DID and scheduling a free consultation with Smith.ai today.

Warm Phone Transfers
Written by Maddy Martin

Maddy Martin is Smith.ai's SVP of Growth. Over the last 15 years, Maddy has built her expertise and reputation in small-business communications, lead conversion, email marketing, partnerships, and SEO.

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