The speed and quality that you can get with business level VoIP makes it a virtual necessity in the modern business landscape. Streamlined efficiency in communications will not come through the landline in the future. Voice over Internet Protocol is the trend that is looking to become the new standard, if it has not taken that mantle already. The question is now which company will provide the service to you. Not all VoIP providers are built the same. You should seriously vet any company that you are entrusting with your communications structure. Here are some best practices to guide your hand.
Before anything, you must consider how a VoIP system will integrate into your current communications standard. What kind of communications strategy do you need? Is your workforce going completely virtual, or do you still have a traditional headquarters with a few satellite offices? When you assess this, look not only at the present, but also at the future. Most companies today are cutting costs by limiting their association with in house physical resources, including business real estate. However, as you move your office structure into the virtual world, you need to be sure that it is a strong, stable system.
If you are a company with a BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) policy, you should pay special attention to the amount of customization that your VoIP provider allows with your mobile apps. Not all VoIP providers have this mastered. Do not be fooled by the desktop apps that these providers may place in front of you, because mobile apps over VoIP are not quite an industry standard yet.
No matter who you go with, you will be able to find more simple services such as call forwarding. This is a necessary service if you are looking to get calls delivered to your employees while they are traveling. Any system without an app that is dedicated to the service will not be able to log the communication or create a transcript over voicemail if the call does not connect. However, keep in mind that some providers may be able to provide this over a desktop app and not a mobile app.
Call Routing/Call Management
You should have the ability to route calls from one customer service representative to another if the call is not answered by the first rep. Current technology also allows a company to provide a voice or touch menu. This is usually a much better option than trying to hold impatient customers in the queue until your reps are able to answer the calls.
Many VoIP systems are based around videoconferencing and forget about these service options. What good is videoconferencing if all of your customers are unhappy because they cannot reach a rep when they want to? The VoIP system that you choose should be able to upgrade your traditional values as well as bring the new technologies into the mix for you. Make sure that your system has basic management and routing features to improve the simple experiences that your customers, prospects and partners have with you.
Third Party App Integration
One of the major benefits of a digital communications system is the ability to interact with other digitally based systems. Your VoIP infrastructure can be much more than a communications pipeline. It can also stand as a base platform to launch a sophisticated network of customer facing services and supply-side efficiency standards.
Future proof your company through a VoIP system that has the ability to integrate with the huge number of third-party app providers on the market today. Make sure that you run down the integrations list fully before making a final decision. Depending on the individual needs of your company, the software ecosystem that one VoIP provider has may fit you better than another.
Regardless of how good any digital system is, you will eventually run into problems that you will need some level of customer service to fix. How ironic it would be if a communications company did not have the wherewithal to properly communicate with you when you need it the most! They do exist.
There is a relatively simple way to test the customer service of a VoIP company that you are vetting. Simply asked every question you can think of during the sales process. No company will treat you better after the sale than they will during the sales process. If you are not met with patience and timely answers for each and every one of your questions, you know that the customer service of this company is probably lacking.
Industry standard for business VoIP is 24/7 service. You may have to invest in a higher tier of the platform in order to get this level of service (do not expect it of the free tier options), but it should always be available to you. If you are running a company that moves globally and does business in different time zones, you are going to need VoIP provider that can guarantee timely answers to your queries. 24/7 service becomes a necessity rather than a luxury. Again, look to the individual needs of your company to determine what level of service you will need from your VoIP provider.
Honestly, security is likely the least of your concerns. However, it should still be a priority. The VoIP industry is now overseen by watchdog agencies that require accreditations fully participate in the top tier of competition. Ask about these accreditations during the sales process.
You should also have some basic questions about the security of your data before pitching your wagon to any VoIP service. End to end encryption is a must. If you are company with many tears of employees, you may require two factor authentication. Most firewalls that VoIP companies use our strong, but verify the partnership anyway. Private VLANs are another option that you will likely need if your business is expanding.
Unified Communications (UC)
Universal Communications can come from your VoIP service provider. This is a great way to integrate a complex suite of services that serve as a sort of hyperconvergent communications platform. Include voicemail, phone calls, conference calls, emails, video calls and your chat functionality under the same umbrella. This kind of platform has many advantages.
First of all, you won’t have to keep up with disparate systems for each of these functions. This will save a great deal of time, money and headache, especially when something goes wrong. You will be able to easily keep up with message logs, including the recipient of the message, the device the message was received on, and the medium through which it was received.
Depending on the scale of your operations, you may not have to incorporate UC directly. However, if your employees prefer to use more than a couple of forms of communication to contact each other, you may want to consider it. Future proofing your company in this way saves time for the inevitable consolidation that is coming in the communications industry. Companies like Microsoft are already creating integrated systems from their former standalone products including Outlook, Skype and Dynamics CRM, for example. It is also easier to have all of these costs on a single bill as well.
There is a reason that pricing is low on this list, when others might have placed it higher. You should, of course, look to receiving the best service for the lowest cost possible. However, your cost of doing business should not be the first thing that comes to mind when selecting a VoIP provider. Functionality should be.
Keep in mind that you may not need all the bells and whistles that every VoIP offers. It is best to create a list of the services that you need and look for providers who do that. You can then compare apples to apples in terms of selecting from the group of VoIP providers that will actually give you what you are looking for.
Make sure that you are comparing similar tiers of service as you shortlist your service providers. The biggest VoIP providers will have a number of tears, including free tears that can serve as your introduction to the company if you are still unsure about the service provider that you want.
The Questions to Ask
As you go through the vetting process for your VoIP companies, there are some questions that every provider will want to know. In order to shorten the basic process, we have included those questions here.
- How many employees do you have that will need a phone or some other form of communication?
- How heavy is your volume of calls?
- What is your budget for a new or updated system?
- Do you have a BYOD policy?
- Are your employees in physical proximity to each other, remote or do you have a hybrid system?
- Which VoIP features are vital to your business activity?
- Do you have a reliable connection to the Internet?
- How do you expect your communications system to integrate with your other tools?
- What is your industry?
- What is your title and experience with digital communications?
- What is your current system?
- What is going wrong with your current system?
- When do you envision making a decision on your service provider?
As you go through the sales process with providers, you may pick up on other questions that seem to be common throughout everyone’s process. Add them to the list and answer them ahead of time so that you do not have to worry about looking up the answer every time you vet a new company.
A Few More Best Practices
- Set a goal for your company from the start. You need definite goals in mind before you begin setting VoIP companies. Answer the questions above precisely so that you understand the needs of your business, your budget and the requirements of your team. Most importantly, figure out what you don’t want ahead of time so that no one can sell you on features that you will not be using. Don’t forget to consult with department heads in your company to get a variety of perspectives on what they need in a communications system.
- Plan for the future. Technology in the communications industry is moving forward at an accelerated rate. If you try to “time” your play to technology’s latest iteration, you’ll be running an antiquated system within six months. Consider the future expansion of your business as well. The system that is adequate for your business now may not be adequate as your call and sales volume increases.
- Consult. This is especially important if you do not have a dedicated IT department. You are not paid to research the technicalities of VoIP. It is always best to outsource this to a trusted professional. The upfront cost is well worth the time that you will save and the intricacies that you will learn about without having to take on an entirely new core competency.
- Use the free trials. Most VoIP services will have free trials and free tears that you can take advantage of. Try them all. Compare them against each other. See how they integrate with your current system. There is no better way to determine what will work best for you than to actually start working with what is available.
Competition in your industry is fierce, and you cannot afford to make big mistakes in your budget. Use the standards and practices above to ensure that you get the best VoIP provider for your small business. Make sure that you take your time. The way that you communicate with partners, vendors and customers will determine how fast your business grows. Your choice of VoIP provider makes all of the difference in the way that these communications will take place for you!