by Matt Mullarkey-Toner
Published on 2 December 2016
As cell phone data continues to replace telephone minutes and landlines whirl down into the drain of irrelevance, it's time to take a closer look at VoIP solutions.
Although you may have no idea what VoIP means (Voice Over Internet Protocol), you've seen examples or used it before. In this article, I'll give you some examples of popular VoIP solutions that have companion iOS apps (go here for VoIP solutions with Android apps).
Here's a quick refresher on VoIP apps: Have you ever made a call to a phone number with Skype? If the answer is yes, then you've had some experience with VoIP. For those who are unfamiliar, a VoIP solution (at its core) essentially works as an alternative telephony solution.
I've also divided the article into two sections:
A number of the apps listed below are free, so it's worth playing around with them to see if they'd be right for your business. But remember that many of these apps don't use minutes, and use cellular data instead, so keep an eye on your usage. I've also left out FaceTime because it's already installed on iOS devices.
Although Skype is mostly known as a video calling solution, it's probably the most famous VoIP application out there. Skype's ubiquity gives it a big advantage when it comes to a user base; there's a decent chance that your clients are available on Skype. Skype is also owned by Microsoft, which means that (in theory) it works pretty well with Microsoft Office products.
Another strength of Skype is that it will set up a phone number for you. After you've selected what area you'd like to have the phone number be registered to, it works much like a normal landline would: if people call your number, Skype will route it and your phone would ring like it normally would. Otherwise, Skype's features aren't that out of the ordinary: missed calls, voicemail, SMS, etc.
GetApp user, Brace Brittany, says that Skype has been an excellent solution for his company. He writes, "Skype is a good entry-level, low-cost VoIP service. It allows us everything including group video calling, rich text messaging, calling to standard phones, an actual public phone number, Wi-Fi hotspots and live translation also. This internet phone service provides call waiting, voicemail, caller ID and call forwarding. We can call people through your contacts list, which effectively makes it a speed dial function. The video conferencing feature is great for meetings or talking face-to-face virtually among friends."
Note: There is also Skype for Business (formerly known as Lync) which is specifically designed for companies. If you have a larger company it's worth checking out, but if you're a smaller company you should be fine with plain ol' Skype.
Nextiva doesn't just work as a VoIP solution, it's also a fully-featured call center and ranks well in our Category Leader ranking for call center solutions. The difference between Nextiva and an app like Skype is that Nextiva was built for businesses (as opposed to consumers) and therefore has features such as:
Nextiva is not just for large businesses; it's also designed to work for small businesses. If your business spends a lot of time on the phone with customers, it's a good idea to try Nextiva because it's built to handle large numbers of customers and it provides the infrastructure to organize it.
One user writes on the App store,"I make all my work calls from home through the app, using my wifi, which allows me to safeguard my cell phone number. Great App!"
You probably use Google to check your email, give you directions, watch (most) videos, translate your menu (or homework), and find the answer to most questions that pop into your head. At this point, why not give their phone offering a try? Google Voice is a service that gets you a U.S. user-selected telephone number, and allows you to receive and make calls from it. For example, you could set up a Google Voice account with a northern California number. If somebody calls that number, your phone will ring.
To get the most out of your Google Voice account, you're also going to want to download the other Google apps (e.g. Hangouts) in order to get access to features such as MMS.
As it stands, Google Voice doesn't have a high rating on the App store. Users have complained that the app has struggled to work due to recent updates. Despite having to download complimentary apps such as Hangouts and some negative comments on the App store, I would say it's still worth at least trying Google Voice. It's free to try, it can integrate with the suite of Google apps you might already be using, and it's unlikely Google is going to stop working on the iOS version (even if it's for a competitor).
Viber is similar to WhatsApp: it's primarily a messaging app that also offers voice and video calls. However, through its feature Viber Out, you can make calls throughout the world. The price of those calls depends on the country, and you might be better off using an alternative service as a line. However, Viber does offer excellent Viber to Viber calls which could be useful with clients.
Aside from the calls, Viber also has some nifty features such as:
In a sign that Viber is moving closer to B2B, their most recent update gave businesses and brands more power. The update says, "Public Accounts - Chat with brands and businesses on Public Accounts. Follow them for news and updates; subscribe to get direct messages." If you notice that a good chunk of your customers are on Viber, it's worth giving this new feature a try.
Like Nextiva, Aircall is a much more robust application than just a VoIP app and it also ranks well in our Category Leader ranking for call center solutions. If you are already using a number of cloud-based solutions, it's worth checking out Aircall as it integrates with heavyweights such as Slack, Zendesk, and Pipedrive.
Some of Aircall's features include:
The iOS version of Aircall is currently in beta. If you aren't familiar with a "beta" version of an app, it means that it's not "the final" version of the product and it's still in a testing phase. However, it's worth testing the beta version and, to expand upon that, provide feedback to Aircall in order to improve their product. Since it's in an early stage, make sure to check its page on the App store to see if there have been updates.
If Facebook is a big part of your business, it's worth looking into using Facebook Messenger as a VoIP program. If you aren't familiar with Messenger, it's an app exclusively for handling Facebook messages which separates it from the fully-featured Facebook app. The advantages of Messenger are obvious: it can make the most of your Facebook page via customer service and, most importantly, there are over 1.5 billion daily active users.
Facebook privacy concerns, which have been plaguing Facebook for over a decade, are a concern for messenger. If you are concerned about permission changes or new features that might be added, Messenger probably isn't the app for you.
At first glance, Messenger gets a lot of bad reviews on the App store. Upon closer inspection, many of the negative comments have to do with the Facebook app for iOS, rather than the Messenger app. The Android version of the Facebook app has received some criticism for being a battery drain. A reviewer on the App store explains why Messenger isn't so bad, and why Facebook is spread out over a couple of apps.
They (with some light edits for readability) write, "This app tends to get a lot of bad reviews from people crying about it not being part of the FB app. From a programmer's point of view this was the only way to make the app run smoother. FB itself takes a lot of the phone's resources, and without the messenger app inside of it, it still can be slow. Plus the different "plugins" that can be utilized across various apps on your phone. This wouldn't be as achievable if it was all rolled into one.
Right now, smart phones aren't at a place powerwise where they can handle all of that. And limitations from Apple with 3rd party access to the different APIs limits what can, and can't be done in a single app. I'd rather have a separate app with integration across my OS, that runs smoother, and has a bunch of new features and functions. All the complainers should really stop and think that maybe there is a reason it's a separate app. Something that is beyond the concept of their knowledge.
This app is good. I use it more than iMessage at times. It's the actual FB app that needs work."
If you have a friend that's travelled or lived somewhere outside of the U.S. (e.g. Europe), then you've probably had to download Whatsapp to talk to them. It hasn't taken off as much in the U.S. because most people don't worry about the costs associated with messaging people from different countries. In Europe, where there's people from all over the world, getting on Whatsapp is a great first step into breaking into the market. In terms of VoIP features, Whatsapp lets you call and provides a notification of missed calls. Unfortunately, group calls are not a feature at the moment, but it's not difficult to imagine this functionality eventually being integrated later on.
Although this user review for Whatsapp on iOS isn't directly related to business, I still think it's worth sharing. It shows that the app is user friendly (i.e. you'll be able train employees to use it relatively easily) and it's probably the sweetest App review I've ever read.
The user writes, "Very user friendly. Even my 77 year old mother who lives in the Dominican Republic can use it. When we sent her pictures of her grandchildren she cried. We live in Michigan and are unable to visit as much as we would like. It's opened a new way of communicating with my parents."
Although these aren't the only VoIP apps out there, you should give a few of these a try. For example, why not use Skype for landline numbers but also try and incorporate Facebook Messenger into your customer service? Obviously it's not a long term strategy as you don't want to become buried under multiple channels, but experimentation (at such a low cost) is worth it. If you're still curious why not check out this comparison of some of the apps mentioned in the article?
What's been your experience with VoIP apps? Is there one that covers all your calls, or are you using a mix? Let us know in the comments below!
Note: There is something that's important to keep in mind when using one of these programs: if you aren't on wifi, you'll have to use cellular data and that can add up quickly after a long call. With that in mind, it's a good idea to make sure that you've joined a secure network. I wouldn't recommend making calls over any sort of "free" network that will likely require you to give up your phone number or some social network information.