How to Evaluate VoIP Service Providers
When you wait until the last minute to do your holiday shopping, you often get stuck with less-than-ideal choices (ugly sweaters or chia pets, anyone?); finding VoIP services providers can be the same way.
While selecting holiday gifts might not require much time or effort, choosing a VoIP provider for your office phone does require some thought. Think about it: having reliable phone service ensures you never lose touch with your employees, partners, and customers. If you’re not sure how to evaluate a potential provider, then this is my holiday gift to you.
Here are 5 things to keep in mind when selecting a VoIP service provider.
VoIP Service Providers: Pick One in 5 Steps
1) PHONE AND SYSTEM FEATURES
Make sure you are getting the features you need and want. Most providers have the basic features, like hold and transfer, but other providers have unique features like hot desking (using any phone on the network) and mobile twinning (sending calls to both your cell phone and desk phone simultaneously) that can really enhance your operational efficiency and improve employee productivity.
Make sure to get a full list of features and an explanation of each before making a decision. And don’t be shy about asking the representative how those features can help improve your business.
Another important item to consider is to make sure your phone features work even if your phone is offline or if you have logged out of the device.
While some systems have features like call forwarding or call redirect that are “in the cloud,” other systems put those features and settings in the device. This could really be disruptive to your business in a time of need. Imagine buying a system that promised disaster avoidance only to find out that those features don’t work when you need them most, like when you have a power failure.
This is a big area to keep an eye on. The brand of phones used (whether Mitel, Polycom, or something else) and the types of phones offered should be an item to check. Make sure that the physical phone you are getting is from a quality vendor.
There are a lot of cheap phones on the market from unknown vendors and while they may look great in a picture, the worst thing that could happen is you get the phone on-site only to discover that it is not a quality product.
Also, make sure that you can get the types of phones you want. You may want a small phone for a lobby or point of sale location and a high quality conference phone for the boardroom. Having lots of phone options provides you with ultimate flexibility for all your business applications.
3) PRICING/BUSINESS MODEL
Generally, there are two types of pricing models offered by cloud-based phone service providers: unlimited per user plans and custom plans. Unlimited plans are simple to understand but you’re often stuck paying for features you may not use and paying extra for features you want while you can easily “over buy” as well.
For example, if you have five users, each on an unlimited plan, you will likely get five phone lines too. The odds of you needing five lines for five users are slim. Custom pricing plans let you tailor the service to your exact requirements.
Another consideration is whether to buy or rent the phones. Buying phones may be a good option for some but if they break or need to be upgraded to enable a new system feature, you are on the hook to pay for new phones. Pricing and business models vary greatly by provider and a few providers offer both purchase and rental options for equipment.
Also, check the pricing for features. While some providers tell you the system includes a feature, they often charge you extra if you need additional quantities. So if you want multiple auto-attendants so customers aren’t forced to sit through one long prompt of menus, you may end up paying extra – sometimes a lot.
4) CALL QUALITY
Just like pricing models, there are two general types of cloud-based phone providers. The first we will call “Internet-based providers.” These providers use the Internet to transport calls from your office into their own network and then on to the final destination.
This is usually fine for smaller companies or remote users but you need to make sure you have enough bandwidth to support the volume of calls at each site and you may want to manage the Quality of Service on your local network to prioritize VoIP traffic. The Internet is a best-effort network and therefore, the quality of the connection can suffer, and so can your calls.
The second type of provider, which we will call the “managed provider,” offers services over a managed circuit and generally will guarantee call quality and reliability. The connection from your site to the provider’s network is managed and traffic is routed over a dedicated connection, not via the Internet, so quality of service can be tightly controlled.
Some providers offer both Internet-based and managed options, giving you the flexibility to scale up or down as needed, depending on your requirements, applications and budget. Many companies use Internet-based service for smaller locations while large sites have managed services to ensure quality for larger groups of employees.
5) VENDOR EXPERIENCE
This is probably the most important item to consider. VoIP is not a new technology and the barriers to entry into this market are low. It seems like a new cloud-based phone provider is born every week and while some providers are very good, other providers will fail and you could be left high and dry for voice service.
If you keep these 5 considerations in mind and choose wisely, your VoIP service provider will become more like a trusted business partner than just a company who provides your phone service. If you’re not sure what I’m talking about, just ask a Broadview Networks customer!
Photo courtesy of b'jesus via Flickr