As technology advances, systems come together, and the price of technology drops. This is certainly true in telephony. Whereas businesses once had to allocate a substantial part of their operating budget for telephone services, today they can include telephony as part of their IT infrastructure at a fraction of the cost thanks to voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP). With VoIP, the same infrastructure used to deliver computer data can be used for digital phone calls, which results in real savings. Some even think of VoIP as free telephone service.
According to a report on IT spending by Alinean, Inc., the average small company spends 6.9 percent of its revenue on IT infrastructure, including VoIP, and the average midsized company spends 4.1 percent. However, with VoIP adoption for business growing, there are more considerations when it comes to choosing the right VoIP provider. VoIP services vary widely in features and costs, so it’s a matter of finding the VoIP provider that offers the features your business needs most.
Here are seven things to consider when evaluating a VoIP provider:
- Call quality – While VoIP services can support a variety of cool calling features, your VoIP system is first and foremost a telephone. Check the call quality. It should be crystal-clear, without jitter or dropouts. Be sure that your VoIP provider can deliver the bandwidth to support the call volume you anticipate.
- Shop for the features you need – VoIP providers tend to differentiate their services by offering special features. Some features will be offered by every provider, such as auto-attendant, voicemail, conferencing, and directory services. Others may offer value-added services that will have greater value to your employees, such as find me/follow me, presence, remote location, and computer/telephone integration. Match the phone features to your business needs and be cognizant of associated service fees.
- System redundancy – Continuity is essential for any business, and that includes telephone service. Be sure your VoIP provider offers redundancy to prevent outages. Redundancy will likely include a clustered service environment with multiple gateways, so if one gateway fails, service will roll over to a backup gateway. Services such as messaging and auto-attendant also should have fail-safes as well.
- Service guarantees – To ensure superior service and uninterrupted operations, you also should shop for service guarantees. All the major VoIP providers offer performance guarantees, including terms that outline what happens when service is not as promised. Get it in writing, typically as part of a provider’s service-level agreements. You also should assess the quality of customer service.
- Service fees – You also want to make sure that all the services you need are included in your contract without extra costs. Service fees should be competitive and clearly spelled out so that there are no surprises or “gotchas.” Be sure that the rates are locked in for a reasonable period of time with no increases.
- Get references – Before you sign the contract, ask for references from customers of similar size with similar calling requirements. You want to get an independent perspective on the quality of service before you commit.
- Can it grow with your business needs? – Whichever VoIP provider you choose, be sure it has the versatility and capacity to grow with your business. As your organization adds staff, new locations, and remote employees, the VoIP provider should be able to support them, including adding new features such as find me/follow me and remote voicemail and service access.
You may not find a single vendor that will meet all your telephony needs, but with the right VoIP system, you have a foundation you can build on. For example, with VoIP in place, you can add unified communications services to upgrade services with video conferencing, chat, and other integrated IT services.
You also can shop for other third-party services to make your VoIP investment even more valuable. Spoke, for example, is ideal for extending office VoIP services to remote workers. Spoke can turn your employees’ smartphones into an extension of the office VoIP system, complete with auto-attendant, voicemail, smart directories, group calling, hunt groups, and other capabilities. Spoke seamlessly redirects VoIP calls from the office to your smartphone so that employees are always connected to the phone system.
Choosing the right VoIP provider doesn’t have to be difficult if you are prepared.
Have your checklist ready, be sure to ask the right questions, and shop for the features you want. Also, consider some of the add-on solutions, such as unified communications services and Spoke, that will make your VoIP system even more valuable for your business.