Australian businesses are abandoning landline connections for more affordable Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) phone systems. According to a recent study by ACMA, increased availability of Australian broadband, ongoing developments in voice and video technology, and widespread adoption of smartphones and tablets have helped VoIP’s popularity grow rapidly. As a result, managed IT companies now offer a wide variety of VoIP solutions to their SMB clients. But some businesses benefit from VoIP more than others, which is why it’s important to know the basics of what a robust VoIP solution can do for you.
Do you need premises-based or hosted VoIP?
There are two main types of VoIP solutions. The first is premises-based VoIP; where routers, handsets, servers, and other hardware are maintained onsite and managed by your IT department. Then there’s hosted VoIP; which means the hardware and software are maintained and managed by a third party at an off-site location.
The type you choose usually depends on whether you have the expertise and manpower to manage the phone system yourself; but there are pros and cons to each. While premises-based VoIP requires a greater initial investment and full-time maintenance; it does give you greater control over the security and management of your telecom network.
Hosted VoIP, on the other hand; saves you from the cost of buying your own hardware and expensive maintenance fees. All you have to pay for is a fixed monthly subscription fee (more on this later). However, you will have to rely on a third-party provider to secure and ensure the quality of your phone system; which means finding the right provider is critical.
Can you trust your provider?
Unfortunately, the practice of surprising customers with hidden fees and ‘gotcha’ clauses is all too common in the telecom industry. That’s why you must have a rigorous vetting procedure for providers and take the time to read the fine print.
For instance, some VoIP providers may offer “unlimited calling” in their package; but this may apply only to local calls, not long distance ones. Other providers might even charge extra when additional participants join conference calls; so make sure to clarify upfront about how much they’ll charge you.
When choosing a provider, you’ll also want to check their website for case studies, credentials, and customer testimonials. These will give you an idea of their customer service, success rates, and VoIP and industry expertise.
Have you looked at online reviews?
When searching for a VoIP phone system, it’s important to get unbiased third-party opinions and reviews. Websites like PCMag and online forums like Spiceworks are great places to find information written by IT experts with a good mixture of pros and cons about each solution they review.
What features do you need?
Your VoIP system will undoubtedly include an array of features that can help you and your employees work more efficiently. Here are a few of the basics you can expect with either a premises-based or hosted VoIP system:
- Call forwarding – Lets you reroute incoming calls to another destination based on things like time of day or device. So if you’re out of the office, you can have calls automatically redirected to your company-registered mobile phone.
- Conferencing – Allows you to set up calls and share screens with multiple people. Some services will handle as many as 250 people in one session.
- Auto-attendant – Redirects calls to employees’ desk extensions or to specific representatives based on the caller’s needs.
- Video chat – Enables you to conduct high-quality video conferences without the need for separate equipment.
Those are just a few of the standard features. Depending on your business model, you might need some extra features. If you’re managing a helpdesk, for example, “barge and whisper” allows you to listen in on conversations; and coach employees to ensure high-quality customer service.
Another feature to keep in mind is the ability to integrate your VoIP with customer relationship software (CRM) like Dynamics 365. The CRM software will remind your sales staff when to call clients and even display relevant customer information when you’re in the call so you can make persuasive sales pitches.
How secure is your VoIP solution?
In recent years, cybercriminals have found ways to eavesdrop on private conversations or infiltrate unsecured VoIP networks. Since VoIP will serve as the communication hub for your business; robust security is absolutely essential.
For starters, look for a VoIP system that offers firewall protection to identify and block suspicious voice traffic; and multi-factor authentication to prevent unauthorised access to VoIP calls & account data. Your VoIP solution should also come with voice encryption features so nobody can listen in on your calls.
Additionally, if you opt for hosted VoIP; make sure you know who is responsible for maintaining security; and ensure there are stringent security services included in your contract.
What’s the cost?
Before purchasing either a premises-based or hosted VoIP phone system, get a clear estimate of the upfront hardware and software costs, maintenance fees, and upgrade charges.
For example, if you choose a premises-based VoIP solution, you’ll need to purchase handsets for each employee (starting at $60), VoIP software (roughly $500 per license), on-site technicians ($30 per hour), and enterprise data plans ($40 per user). On the other hand, hosted solutions can go for as low as $12 dollars per user per month with the price of VoIP software licensing dependent on the vendor’s business plan.
For most SMBs, hosted VoIP system produces immediate returns and gives them more room to scale back and forth, whereas premises-based VoIP systems can have serious payoffs in the long run. Typically, startups and mid-sized businesses go for hosted VoIP while larger enterprises opt for premises-based VoIP.
Clearly a lot goes into choosing a business phone system, but the good thing is you don’t have to make that decision by yourself. Empower IT is an experienced managed IT services and consulting firm that can assess your company’s budget and goals before recommending a high-quality VoIP system. Call us today to get the communication tools you need to succeed!