by Karen McCandless
Published on 5 November 2015
Communication and collaboration have never been more important for businesses. Whether it's for a sales call with a potential customer, haggling over prices with a vendor, or keeping in touch with your staff when they're on the road, all of these scenarios require effective communication. But these days, you don't have to rely on a traditional phone system to stay in touch.
Voice over internet protocol (VoIP) - where calls are placed over the internet rather than through traditional analog, PSTN (public switched telephone network) signals - is enabling better, cheaper, more flexible and reliable communication. This means you don't need to compromise on the quality of your communications and can scale up or down easily for a great price.
"PBXs, which many companies used to use for their telephone communications, are hardware-based and use old technology that doesn't integrate with today's smartphones, tablets, laptops, etc," says Lisa Stapleton, marketing content manager at 8×8. "And increasingly, the clunky old things-which usually sit in a wiring closet somewhere on premises-are maintenance nightmares, in contrast with VoIP-based systems, which are maintained by the service provider. VoIP was originally used to make phone calls inexpensively over the Internet. Now, companies use the technology for all kinds of communications that travel over the Internet-chat, collaboration and meetings, customer contact solutions, voicemail, fax and more."
Before you dive into the process of purchasing a VoIP app, there a number of key features you should look for in any VoIP app. The standard features you'd expect to get from any standard solution include caller ID with name, voicemail, call waiting, call forwarding, call transfer, three-way calling, do not disturb, music on hold, and extension dialing.
While most products on the market will offer these features as standard, it's worth investing in a VoIP app that provides more advanced functionality. Examples of what you can get in a cloud-based app include auto attendant; customizable find-me, follow-me call
forwarding; call transfers and ring-through to other offices; call recording; presence management; meetings (with video); chat; ring groups; and internet fax capabilities.
It's also important to look for software that integrates with your other business software such as your CRM system and email.
The first question that you'll normally ask when choosing new software is about costs. And with VoIP, you're in luck; you can save money by not having to manage hardware.
"Many businesses are now realizing that business VoIP systems can help recover money they didn't even fully realize they were losing, in ways they never considered," says Debbie Jo, vice president of Marketing at 8×8. "That's why so many are coming out of their PBX closets, turning to Voice over Internet Protocol business phone service, and ditching their existing carriers for the savings."
VoIP can help you cut costs by eliminating charges for calls between offices as well as PBX maintenance costs, and the expense incurred in travel to meetings that would previously taken place in person. If you pick the right service provider, you'll also benefit from low, predictable service costs, and you'll be able to easily and cheaply add and remove phone lines, as well as move them to different locations if your office base moves.
"We replaced our AT&T service and old hardware with the Polycom VoIP phones provided by 8X8," says Michael Applegate, chief financial officer and broker at St. Helena insurance. "Our 8×8 bill is regularly half the cost of AT&T, which paid for our new phones in less than 12 months."
Cost is key, but so is uptime/downtime, and general reliability. "Enterprises are increasingly finding that their phone, video conferencing, chat and customer contact systems can't keep up with demand, are unsecured, or aren't reliable enough to meet the demands of expanding businesses-particularly those with international operations," explains John Fomook, vice president of Product Marketing for 8×8.
With VoIP, the availability of your system won't be affected if there's a glitch, a storm, etc. "Disaster resilience-to everything from a power outage at the low end, to full-blown regional disasters like Sandy-is an increasingly important factor in deciding to move to the cloud," says Stapleton. "And smart CIOs are realizing that good cloud communications offer inherent reliability advantages that PBXs and local phone services can't touch. That's because the best cloud communications services are global in focus, backed up by data centers that ring the globe.
When properly engineered, these services can reroute traffic or failover to servers thousands of miles away from a local calamity, keeping communications flowing despite large disasters and disruptions. Plus, they can offer better overall reliability, and capabilities that old-style phones can't."
Store planning company Artco Group is one example where VoIP made a real difference to the running of their business in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. "In White Plains, we lost power for four days after Sandy," says Artco Group's CIO, Damian Brennan. "8×8's auto-forwarding kicked in flawlessly. We used our iPhones and home phones to take calls and keep the business going during the disaster."
The good news is that, as your business grows, you don't have to worry about switching from a VoIP solution to another kind of communications system, as it's increasingly suited for businesses of all sizes. It traditionally was the perfect solution for small and medium business as it's low maintenance, inexpensive, reliable, and flexible, but now if you start out as a solopreneur, then hit the big time and end up running an enterprise, your VoIP app can scale with you.
Increasingly, larger enterprises are turning to VoIP, both for their own global communications and also to help manage their contact centers and provide outstanding customer experiences:
"Even large enterprises are picking solutions based on VoIP, under the umbrella of Enterprise Communications as a Service (ECaaS) or unified communications," says Stapleton.
This post was brought to you in conjunction with VoIP provider 8×8.