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Marketing & Advertising Firms: A Target Market for Hosted VoIP

Posted by Mark Greim on Jun 25, 2015 10:36:15 AM

When looking at the customer demographics of Hosted VoIP buyers, professional service firms represent the largest category.  Marketing and Advertising firms are included in this category and are moving their phone services to Hosted VoIP at a rapid rate. 

Market Statistics

Marketing Firm VoIPA recent report published by Software Advice  suggests that 33% of small businesses business buyers are in the Professional Services category.  At sipVine, a Hosted VoIP company based in Kansas City, we examined our customer profile and determined that 20% of our customers fall into this category, as we have a stronger percentage than normal in the finance, insurance, and real estate industry.  Within the professional services category for sipVine, 20% are made up of Marketing and Advertising type businesses. 

Traditional advertising agencies, web design, and marketing consulting firms dominate the customer profile, but we're also seeing many new entrants in this category.  Start-up firms specializing in digital marketing and social media are in need of a low investment, scalable solution for their business phone needs. 

Driving Factors for this Industry's Move to Hosted VoIP

As with most businesses, the advanced features offered by a hosted system are very attractive to firms in this market segment.  Many employees of these firms are very mobile, working with their customers on location or moving from meeting to meeting.  Having features such as voicemail to email, find me follow me, or soft phone applications, allow them to be reachable and very responsive with their client base. 

VoIP for Ad AgenciesFurther, these businesses do not need to invest in an expensive, on-site phone system to receive the benefit of these features.  One of the great benefits of a hosted platform is that the up-front investment is very affordable.  You are not paying for the system, installation, or the on-site resources to administer it.  Businesses only need to pay for the VoIP phones utilized. 

Another common feature valued by marketing & advertising firms is three way conferencing.  A account executive can conference a customer and an internal resource with a few strokes on the VoIP Phone.  Conference bridge services offered by many hosted providers can pull together large meetings of remote employees or customer contacts.

Finally, with a hosted service, employees or contracted resources can be on the company phone system wherever they are deployed!  We have seen where marketing firms hire resources where the expertise exists or deploy them where they can be most effective.  Thus, employees or contractors deployed on a customer premise, out of town, or simply working from home can all be provided VoIP phones or soft phone applications that provide the appearance that they are all working under the same roof!  They can be provided direct dial numbers and internal extensions and calls can flow to them.

Common Features are Great, but Customize Your Service

We've discussed several of the great features or attributes that make Hosted VoIP services right for these agencies and firms.  However, one thing that is apparent to us at sipVine is that most businesses operate differently and have divergent priorities when it comes to their internal and external communications.  The power in Hosted VoIP is that it is essentially a program, one administered by professionals.  Thus, Hosted VoIP providers are in a great position to listen to the needs, priorities, and unique characteristics and build the call flow, auto attendant, and phone set-up to match.

Take time to find a provider who will do just that for your agency or firm.  Hosted VoIP, custom built and deployed for responsiveness, should provide the communications platform that will arm your agency with another point of differentiation in a very competitive market.  Wow, I'm even sounding like a marketer!  

 

About the author:  Mark Greim is the Vice President of Sales and Marketing at sipVine, a provider of a variety of VoIP phone solutions and services. Mark has extensive experience working for start-up or entrepreneurial organizations and has a passion for affordable, reliable, and purposeful technology solutions in those environments. 

 

Tags: Hosted VoIP phone service, phone service for professional service firms

Small Business Bullish on Hosted VoIP | Select the Right Provider!

Posted by Mark Greim on Jun 17, 2015 8:47:13 AM

Small businesses are rapidly moving toward VoIP, and competition in the VoIP category has never been higher.  Thus, it is a great opportunity for businesses to take advantage of the competition for their services.  The challenge is to narrow down the list of VoIP providers and make a selection that will be best for your business over the long-term.

Market Opportunity

At the risk of fueling the marketing machine (as you'll read about later), I'm going to cite a recent report published by Software Advice.  Over 40% of small businesses have already made the move to VoIP, with the balance still using a traditional landline service or cell phones.  Thus, a significant conversion opportunity still exists, fueling the competition for service.  Small businesses are moving to hosted VoIP due to the relatively low investment cost in return for advanced features equivalent to what is afforded to large businesses and their expensive phone systems.

It is also a great opportunity for the providers.  Not often are there opportunities in the business marketplace where alternatives to traditional providers can literally push traditional providers to a small market share.  Traditionally, businesses of all sizes would purchase phone systems separately, and utilize landline services from their local telecom provider.  With hosted VoIP, the system and service are combined and ride separately over whatever internet connection is provided.  Additionally, many hosted VoIP providers have a nationwide footprint, putting them in a position more favorable and less restrictive to the local phone providers.

Certain VoIP Providers Dominate the Marketing Machine

With such a market opportunity, money follows.  At play is the way small business researches their purchases...the web.  Sure, still plenty of money floods direct mail and other forms of traditional advertising.  However, the cost of ranking high on paid search terms and gaining significant placement on organic searches is staggering.  It was shared with me that paid search costs for VoIP related terms are second to only mesothelioma terms, as injury law firms scramble to get in on the payouts!

The large national VoIP providers fuel the unreasonable cost to paid terms, forcing other providers to pay to play or move to more obscure terms.  We've even seen where good value terms are eventually forced up in rate by the nationals and their robotic bidding software a month or two down the road.  They also drive business via other sources.  If you've searched for VoIP terms, you undoubtedly find companies that "rank" VoIP providers or have research that points to the "best" providers.  Make no mistake, these are actually engines that are funded by the providers listed as they pay for leads that are submitted for their call centers to attack.

This is not to say that the products offered by these providers are inferior.  Quite the opposite.  Money is clearly spent on product development and marketing.  But, are these businesses right for your business?

Other Providers Can Present a Risk to the Business, so Research is Important

There are alternatives.  Given the market opportunity, there are more and more entrants into the small business VoIP provider ranks.  The cost of entry is relatively low when compared to what telecom providers had to invest when building out the traditional landline service.  Because all VoIP providers utilize the internet for the physical transport of the voice packets, their investment is server/product/service based only. 

There are a couple of variations of alternative providers out there.  One is a true developer/manager of the VoIP product that they maintain and market.  Another is a reseller of a white label product of a national firm.  You can spot the latter if there are numerous line items for various billing options on their quote, as they are charged accordingly by their national provider.  Once on-line with these providers, you will notice that the service is not handled by people employed by the company.  For those who maintain their own platform, they have much more flexibility in pricing and configuration, but you need to carefully choose the provider.  Finding the VoIP specialists is the key.  If it is an offshoot business of a technical service company, you will need to see how grounded they are in VoIP experience and capabilities.

Finding the Gems

Again, the large players in the market are found easily and have good products.  But, are they right for your business?  Think about one of the reasons why you are considering leaving the large telco or cable provider -- customer service!  With so much money invested in marketing, customers are forced to deal with call center sales and support.  If you want to find a VoIP provider that will provide dedicated account and service teams, you will have to dig a bit deeper.Search_for_Right_VoIP_Provider

Make your search terms a bit longer.  Instead of searching on "hosted VoIP providers", use something like "hosted phone service providers with awesome customer service." Skip past the paid ads and review several pages of searches.  Examine the websites of the providers you find and look for a quality site with VoIP only services.  These will be players that have more depth to them and have the potential to provide your business with the support structure you are looking for in a provider.  Once you have a list of providers, make your calls and conduct your interview.  Look for providers that can adapt their service to how you do business (customizing the configuration).  See if they build your configuration for you and ensure that you are not required to build it yourself via a self-service portal.  Ask for a list of references, specific to other customers your size and in your industry.  Call these references to find out how reliable the service has been and have them describe the customer service provided.

 

If you are a small business, it is likely that you already have VoIP or are now ready to consider it.  There are gems of VoIP providers in this market.  Chances are they have a similar business philosophy to your small business.  Imagine receiving your phone system and service from the same company, one that looks and acts like your business and not some behemoth marketing machine similar to the one you are considering leaving!   Dig a little deeper in your research, and the results will benefit your business for years to come!

 

About the author:  Mark Greim is the Vice President of Sales and Marketing at sipVine, a provider of a variety of VoIP phone solutions and services. Mark has extensive experience working for start-up or entrepreneurial organizations and has a passion for affordable, reliable, and purposeful technology solutions in those environments. 

Tags: Changing Phone Service Providers, small business phone service

Hosted VoIP: Full Service vs. Self Service

Posted by Mark Greim on May 20, 2015 11:21:10 AM

One of the big debates between providers of Hosted VoIP services centers around whether to off source account servicing to the customer or deliver account maintenance activity as a part of the service.  In either case, it can be a point of differentiation.

With Hosted VoIP services being the service platform of choice for most businesses today, a new telecom bundle has emerged.  Traditional phone providers bundle voice and data with various term commitments under the guise of providing discounts.  As alternative providers of internet have emerged, businesses have the opportunity to secure their internet services from such providers and open the door for moving their phone service to a hosted VoIP provider.  These providers have created a "new" bundle.  Because the phone system and service are now intertwined, such a bundle provides a unique opportunity to deliver a fantastic level of service.

The power of Hosted VoIP manifests with the ability to customize the system to match the unique needs of the business.  Business select how calls flow into the office, develop an auto attendant to route calls to maximize customer satisfaction, create find-me/follow-me routines for high contact employees, program time of day routing / messaging differences, and work through many more areas for customization.  After the initial deployment, changes can be made to the programs to address changing demands.  There are also needs for administrative updates, as user names (and email addresses for voicemail to email features) change with turnover.  Businesses may also add phones/users as growth occurs or new locations are required.

It is at this point where the great debate ensues.  Is it better to provide a self servicing web platform or Full_Service_vs_Self_Service_VoIPprovide a full service support contact for customers?  To be fair, there are cases to be made on both sides.  At sipVine, we've made the strategic decision to provide the full service, doing so within our standard rate structure and bypassing any administrative fees or charges.  At the core of this decision is what we believe to be an important opportunity to leverage the bundling of system and phone service.  Due to the fact that there's an intensive level of custom programming up-front in the process, there's a great opportunity to get to know each and every customer within that context.  How powerful is it to receive a call from a customer and you are able to demonstrate that you "know" them?  Isn't that what customer service is all about?  Do you have that kind of relationship with your current phone service provider?

sipVine views this as an opportunity, one that would be lost if we asked our customers to service themselves via a web portal.  Granted, there are certain things that would be easy to do on a portal.  However, we've provided service to a great deal of customers coming over from hosted providers who offered web portal updating access.  In most cases, these customers were frustrated with the portal as they typically had to call for a refresher on how to use it or they created problems with the phones (or call flow) as they attempted higher-level updates.

Recently, a major national provider of hosted services announced that they are now going to provide a "concierge" service, as they realized the level of frustration out there and indicated that many do not have the manpower or expertise to maintain their systems themselves.  The fact that they are putting a premium on full service signals the potential winner in this debate.

Despite being somewhat validated by this announcement, sipVine and other full service VoIP providers need to take full advantage of the opportunity.  Customer controlled web portals have a great advantage in that they are "real time" updates.  Thus, speed to respond such requests are paramount.  At sipVine, we offer several different methods to place a request.  Sending an email to the technical team, logging a ticket via our website or to a specific access email, or simply dialing 7HELP from their sipVine phone are among the access points.  We pride ourselves in prompt closure of such requests, but mainly in delivering the feeling that we are in fact the "phone department" for all of our customers.

As more and more services are being delivered to businesses in a hosted platform, the debate or self service vs. full service will be front and center.  Businesses may have differing preferences.  Perhaps it is best solved by the question on how they would service their own customers.  Offering full service comes at a cost to the business, but the reward can be a loyal and happy following of customers!

 

About the author:  Mark Greim is the Vice President of Sales and Marketing at sipVine, a provider of a variety of VoIP phone solutions and services. Mark has extensive experience working for start-up or entrepreneurial organizations and has a passion for affordable, reliable, and purposeful technology solutions in those environments. 

Tags: Changing Phone Service Providers, Phone System Administration

How Insurance Agencies Thrive with Hosted VoIP

Posted by Mark Greim on May 13, 2015 11:00:00 AM

From independent insurance brokers to multi-location agencies, the insurance industry has harnessed the power of hosted VoIP services to enhance their customer service experience.  Additional benefits are found in the economics, as these organizations do not have to purchase an expensive in-house system to achieve the benefits derived from a hosted VoIP platform.  Listed below are several examples of how insurance companies have utilized VoIP to improve their customer service:

  1. Find Me/Follow Me - We've all seen the commercials touting the responsiveness and availability of your insurance agent in times of need.  Insurance agencies can utilize their VoIP platform to facilitate this promise in becoming a reality!  Calls into the agency can be routed to the agent, adjuster, or other customer facing staff via a direct transfer or by implementing a find  me / follow me feature on that associate's extension.  Most utilize their cell phone as the destination for such routing of calls. 
  2. Strategic Use of an Auto Attendant - Whether it be as back up during hours during high call volume or as the primary after hours process, agencies have utilized an auto attendant to help route customer calls to a destination that meets their current need.  The agency may have a claims center or roadside assistance center that supports them, and customers can choose the particular option that meets their need and be transferred there.  Reaching the agent or other staff after hours or in an emergency can be additional options on the attendant.
  3. Time of Day Routing and Holiday Schedule - A great feature of hosted VoIP is that it is essentially a program, one in which insurance agencies and similar businesses can customize to their schedule.  During normal hours, they may choose to ring the office phones in a certain pattern.  After hours, they can streamline the ring pattern and fall to an afterhours auto attendant.  Similarly, holidays can be scheduled to operate in after hours mode and the greetings can be customized to the holiday.
  4. Voicemail to Email - Obviously, there are times where agents or adjusters are simply unable to take a call.  With voicemails being delivered to email, they are able to immediately be notified of a customer's need, listen to the voicemail, and respond according to the level of urgency.

Insurance_Agents_Improve_Service_with_VoIPInsurance companies that deploy hosted VoIP to their headquarters and agent offices can achieve even greater benefit.  First, the economics of using a hosted provider across so many locations is very compelling.  Many hosted VoIP providers offer a declining rate schedule based upon volume.  Especially in the agent office settings, the savings over their current phone service can be significant.  Additionally, companies can drive uniformity to their agent offices, whether they are company owned or franchised.  Certainly, a common phone system drives uniformity in and of itself.  More importantly, standard messaging and processes can drive positive customer recognition and loyalty.  Similar auto attendants and messages, call flows, hours of operation, and such can all be managed centrally in a hosted VoIP deployment.

These benefits are very applicable to the insurance agency, but they apply to many businesses, professional service firms, and other organizations as well.  It has never been a better time than now to check out the advantages offered by hosted VoIP companies and improve service to your customers!

 

About the author:  Mark Greim is the Vice President of Sales and Marketing at sipVine, a provider of a variety of VoIP phone solutions and services. Mark has extensive experience working for start-up or entrepreneurial organizations and has a passion for affordable, reliable, and purposeful technology solutions in those environments. 

 

 

Tags: Phone Service for Insurance Agents, Technology in Business

Hosted VoIP: The Ultimate Business App

Posted by Mark Greim on May 4, 2015 1:30:00 PM

Does your company look at your office phones as a productivity enhancer?  Companies that have adopted a hosted VoIP system into their office environment certainly do.  There are so many features and functions available, and they should be easily customized to integrate into the operations of the business and enhance productivity.

Below are several real world examples of how businesses have applied a hosted VoIP platform into their VoIP_-_The_Ultimate_Business_Appoperations:

  1. Direct Dial Numbers for Key Contacts - With a hosted VoIP system, you can introduce direct dial numbers into your organization.  Where you don't need to widely publicize all of these, certain employee groups, such as sales, can benefit from providing direct dial numbers to their contacts.  It frees up the business's main line, although sales calls coming from the main line can be easily transferred to a sales associate or sales ring group.
  2. Direct Sales Associates are Never Out of Reach - When a sales associate is out of the office, calls to their direct dial or calls transferred to their extension can be programmed to simultaneously ring their cell phones.  This puts your company at an advantage, as your contributors to business growth are instantly available to your customers and prospects.  If they should not be available, their voicemails are directed to their emails.  Thus, they can know they missed a call and quickly understand if the call needs an immediate call back.  As an added bonus, they can flip on their soft phone application on their smart phones that has been programmed to mimic their desk phone.  Thus, when they call clients from the soft phone, it will be delivering the business's caller ID, not the cell phone's caller ID.
  3. Customize Your Call Flow to Drive Customer Delight - The beauty of a hosted VoIP service is that the call flow can be programmed to drive customer satisfaction.  Understanding the majority of your calls and where they are directed is the key here.  Some businesses boldly state that "all calls will be answered by a person" and routes all calls to every phone.  Where that accomplishes the company's mission, does it satisfy the customer when the person answering the call needs to transfer it elsewhere?  So, if the majority of the calls are for a particular department, why not create a ring group where calls are directed first?   Alternatively, businesses can utilize an auto attendant at the front of the call flow where the customers can choose among a small number of options that will quickly direct them to a call group that matches their needs.
  4. Recording Calls to Improve Customer Satisfaction - We've all heard the message, "your call may be recorded for quality assurance purposes," so let's assume that is exactly why the call is being recorded!  Many business VoIP companies provide the ability to record on demand or record calls involving a particular group of associates. Such recordings are valuable as a training aid, reinforcing positive behaviors and identifying areas for improvement. 
  5. Deploy Phones Wherever You Deploy Resources - There's no phone system on the wall limiting who is on your communication platform.  With VoIP, you can deploy phones wherever there are resources.  Say you've recruited a team of top-notch support engineers based in California, but your office is in Texas.  With a hosted platform, they can still be on your phone system and calls can be directed to them as directed in your call flow design.  Say your company is growing quickly, and you've outgrown your current location.  You can deploy additional resources at home or in a temporary office and, to the external caller, it will appear as if everyone is under the same roof.

It is definitely time for organizations to look at their phone system less as a support system and more as a business application.  And, hosted VoIP is the ultimate business app!

About the author:  Mark Greim is the Vice President of Sales and Marketing at sipVine, a provider of a variety of VoIP phone solutions and services. Mark has extensive experience working for start-up or entrepreneurial organizations and has a passion for affordable, reliable, and purposeful technology solutions in those environments. 

Tags: Hosted VoIP

Why Successful Businesses Choose Hosted VoIP

Posted by Mark Greim on Apr 10, 2015 9:46:06 AM

It's a matter of time before every business will be evaluating their phone system.  With many businesses delaying infrastructure investments until the economy turned around, there's a rush of new phone system investments being made each and every day.  Successful businesses have recognized that much has changed in the technology in the last decade and are making the switch to a hosted VoIP solution.Successful_Business_People_Choose_VoIP

Similar to other information technology decisions, phone service can also be moved to the cloud.  Business leaders have recognized that their infrastructure investment dollars can be spread widely over several initiatives because capital and servicing costs are minimized through a hosted service model.  Specific to the telephony decision, moving the system and service to a hosted platform significantly reduces the up-front capital investment. 

Cost Savings:  With hosted VoIP, businesses do not need to invest in an on premise PBX or phone server.  Such equipment is what is provided and maintained by the hosted VoIP provider.  They only need to invest in the VoIP phones that connect to the hosted provider.  Not only is the capital outlay greatly reduced, but the access to advanced features is significantly increased.  Additional savings can be secured by not employing or contracting resources dedicated to the upkeep and maintenance of a local PBX.  Some hosted providers, like sipVine, provide all of the on-going administrative services as well, included at no additional charge.

The New Bundle:  Traditional phone companies secured term agreements from businesses and convinced them that bundling voice and data services created value.  This value, sometimes more perceived than real, only produced a pricing value at the expense of a committing to term agreement.  Hosted VoIP providers can ride any high speed internet connection, but a real value can be achieved by bundling the phone service with the phone system.  Value is delivered because the phone service is now a program resident on the hosted platform, and this program can be designed to match the specific needs of the business.  Additionally, hosted VoIP providers that perform the configuration and administration get to know their customers very well during the process.   Good providers take advantage of this opportunity and provide significant service benefits to their customers.

VoIP Technology:  As mentioned above, much has changed in the world of telecommunications over the past decade.  Analog line based systems are antiquated.  They worked well in the past but are very expensive to deploy when attempting to match the features and benefits of the affordable hosted VoIP services.   Simply put, a hosted VoIP system can be configured to match the needs of the business rather than the business conforming to the constraints of the phone system.  Businesses also do not have to worry about obsolescence, as it is the responsibility of the hosted provider to develop and deploy new features as technology advances. 

Successful businesses measure themselves on the results of their decisions.  A decision to deploy a hosted VoIP system is a can't-fail decision, as it delivers an affordable investment, a valuable bundling of system and phone service and an improvement in technology. 

 

About the author:  Mark Greim is the Vice President of Sales and Marketing at sipVine, a provider of a variety of VoIP phone solutions and services. Mark has extensive experience working for start-up or entrepreneurial organizations and has a passion for affordable, reliable, and purposeful technology solutions in those environments. 

Hosted VoIP Delivers Entrepreneur to Enterprise Scalability

Posted by Mark Greim on Mar 17, 2015 3:00:15 PM

Simply put, Hosted VoIP is the most flexible of phone system and service options businesses have today.  Businesses can literally never worry about their phone system constraints again.  Consider business applications or purchases that can be deployed for companies at the Entrepreneurial stage through the established Enterprise stage.  The list is few.

How is it possible that a phone system can work for a small entrepreneur and take that same VoIP-FromEntrepreneurtoEnterpriseentrepreneur's business throughout its life cycle?  First, the very nature of a hosted phone system is that it provides the infrastructure to the business over the internet.  The only equipment deployed by the business are the phones themselves.  Therefore, the business never needs to worry about "sizing" the system to meet current and future demands.  Second, because the features of the hosted phone service are vast enough to meet enterprise level requirements, the entrepreneur and small business gets to take advantage of these higher level features throughout their business life cycle.  They do not need to scrimp on system requirements or overbuild for their level of needs.

Such a platform leads to many advantages to these entrepreneurs and all growing businesses:

  • Low Capital Outlay - Because you do not need to purchase a phone system or switch, the only capital outlay for a hosted phone service is the exact number of IP phones you need today.  Keep in mind that whether you have just a single phone or a handful to start, you still have the full feature set of a robust, enterprise-level phone system.
  • Grow as You Grow - As the business grows, you only need to add phones/users as you have the employees on board.  Again, the system will expand as large as you need it to be.  Hosted providers typically charge for the monthly phone service by phone or user, so your monthly costs will only increase as your business increases.  Many providers offer a declining rate per user depending upon how many phones are deployed.  Thus, your phone system and service always is in an exact match to your company's size.
  • Freedom of Location - As businesses grow, they find themselves moving to larger locations or adding additional locations.  All businesses need to have in place is a high speed internet connection, and the phones can move from one location to another.  You don't have to be concerned with moving a switch or even buying a new system.  Nor is downtime a concern.  All of this can be well coordinated with your hosted provider.  Adding locations, whether in the same city or outside of the area, is not an issue at all with Hosted VoIP service.  All phones have direct dial numbers consistent with their location and you can extension dial between phones.  Phones in all locations can be tied into call flows or ring groups from a primary main line for the business.  There's simply a tremendous amount of flexibility Hosted VoIP provides a growing business.
  • No Obsolescence - Business do not need to worry about their phone switch becoming obsolete.  It is incumbent upon the provider to maintain the system with a progressing set of features to meet future requirements and capabilities.  The phones themselves can be upgraded down the road, but the original models can still be in service for as long as they operate or remain compliant with the host system.  Thus, telecom obsolescence is off the table from an entrepreneur's perspective.

Every entrepreneur or leader of a growing business loves flexibility, especially when it comes to infrastructure decisions.  Choosing a Hosted VoIP system and service will be one decision that will provide such flexibility and deliver advantages throughout the lifecycle of the business.

 

About the author:  Mark Greim is the Vice President of Sales and Marketing at sipVine, a provider of a variety of VoIP phone solutions and services. Mark has extensive experience working for start-up or entrepreneurial organizations and has a passion for affordable, reliable, and purposeful technology solutions in those environments. 

Tags: Benefits of VoIP, start up business phone service

Changing VoIP Providers: Getting it Right

Posted by Mark Greim on Feb 17, 2015 10:00:00 AM

Not too long ago, this article would have focused on changing your business phone service from a traditional phone service provider to a VoIP provider.  Hosted VoIP services are becoming widely accepted as the technology of choice for the small to mid-size business market, manifested by the fact that many companies are now switching from one VoIP Provider to another.  It is also a signal that selecting a provider at the outset needs careful research and deliberation.Get_VoIP_Decision_Right

Every day, we are installing customers who are moving from big name VoIP providers to sipVine.  Common reasons for the shift are frustration with level of service, poor call quality, and complicated web portal processes for self-servicing.  Thus, as a part of "getting it right", you should start with those items when researching VoIP providers, whether it be for moving your service from a traditional phone service provider to a VoIP service or for switching VoIP providers.

  • Customer Service - Seek out references or testimonials relating to how the VoIP company provides customer service.  Do they understand the customer and can resolve the issues quickly?  There's a unique opportunity with hosted VoIP service in that the provider is delivering both the phone system and service.  Thus, they have an opportunity to leverage this situation to get to know the customer's business and configure the system to match their needs.  Find out from references if the VoIP provider has taken advantage of this opportunity as shown through their on-going service.  If not, move on to the next provider.
  • Poor Call Quality - VoIP providers still have some work to do in the area of call quality.  This is the primary reason sipVine converts existing VoIP customers from other providers.  If the answer to "how does your company provide for VoIP quality of service?" is along the lines of adding bandwidth or running over a separate connection, then they do not provide any QoS.  Having a QoS solution is key to your decision on moving to a business VoIP service, or you will be a candidate for a switch to a VoIP provider like sipVine.  You will be surprised that the major players in this industry do not have a solution for this.
  • Self Servicing - Many VoIP providers offer a web portal.  Where this provides some glitz to the sales process, the reality is that the objective is to push customer support opportunities to the customers themselves.  Most customers of VoIP providers we convert have shared stories of complicated portals and more frustration with the situation than benefits derived from self-servicing.

As an aside, we also see many lost opportunities for customization of the VoIP service when we are converting a customer from an existing provider.  Most phones are built with their most basic configuration option.  Be sure to select a provider that will meet with you in advance of the install and work through items like call flow, custom attendants, phone line appearances and/or busy lamp fields, and several other customization options.  If not, then a large opportunity is missed to build your system to match your needs.

Outside of researching the areas above, when preparing to move from one VoIP provider to another, there are a few things to be prepared for:

  • Make sure you are out of contract.  Most VoIP providers do not have term contracts, but it is always good to double check.  If you have had documented problems with voice quality, you may have some grounds to break the contract.
  • A VoIP phone may be locked or password protected.  Be sure to get them unlocked or find out the password prior to switching providers, assuming that provider can reuse your specific brand of phone.
  • Be sure to capture all of the numbers you wish to port to a new provider.  If you have not published your direct dial numbers (DID) widely, it may be prudent to only port over your main line and fax line and have your new provider deliver a new block of DIDs for you.   Whether you port all of your numbers or not, you should cancel your service and billing from the other provider once you have confirmation that the ports have been completed.

We hope this information is helpful.  Don't be discouraged if your initial foray into VoIP didn't go well.   There are some fantastic providers of VoIP services and some wonderful benefits to the businesses who use them. 

About the author:  Mark Greim is the Vice President of Sales and Marketing at sipVine, a provider of a variety of VoIP phone solutions and services. Mark has extensive experience working for start-up or entrepreneurial organizations and has a passion for affordable, reliable, and purposeful technology solutions in those environments. 

Tags: Changing Phone Service Providers

Auto Renewals: A Bad Telecom Legacy

Posted by Mark Greim on Feb 3, 2015 11:12:00 AM

As a business, you're excited about the opportunity to evaluate new technologies and drive benefits to your organization.  After all, a Hosted VoIP system is becoming commonly accepted as not just the technology of the future, but of the present.  Your peers in your industry are moving to these services and they come highly recommended.  You've calculated the benefits to your business, determined your return on investment, and selected your new hosted VoIP provider.  Now, you turn to your existing telephone service and, after struggling to even find the right person to talk to, find out that, BAM, your service was auto renewed for another year!Term_Contacts_bad_for_Phone_Service

This is not a story presented merely for effect.  It is a reality that occurs every day.  As telecom companies desperately hang on to their old, analog technologies, they rely upon the shackles of term contracts and the dreaded, insulting, and gutless auto renewal to keep their customers hostage.  We'll set aside the question of the auto renewal for a moment and discuss the other bad legacy at play here, the term contract.

How are businesses convinced that a term contract for their telecom services is a good thing to begin with?  It's all about feeling like they are getting the best deal.  First, they are presented with the merits of a bundle of services on a single bill, albeit a confusing bill.  Then, they see that the overall price is reduced for the bundle for each year tacked on to the term.  They sign the order, and all is good.  But, is it?  Many times, the order signed references terms and conditions that are not attached, but available on line.  These terms are rarely reviewed and certainly not negotiable.  Typically, they are not discovered until the business is ready to make a change or when their agreed upon pricing increases during the term.

Most businesses in this situation are usually of the belief that they are out of term and free to make a change or negotiate a renewal.  After searching hard and actually finding someone who can effectively answer questions regarding their service, they discover that their contact auto renewed for another year a month ago without any notice or warning.   Following the example above, they are shocked that such terms existed in the first place.  Telecom companies claim that they are doing the business a service in that they are staying with their current bundle price and didn't revert to a higher, non-term price.  However, all they accomplished was to further drive dissatisfaction with the situation and shackle the customer to one or more years.

It may be deemed to be a little indulgent that this message is being crafted by a company who doesn't believe in term contracts and has a clear philosophy of earning our customers' business every day.  Perhaps, but we literally run into this exact scenario each day when working with businesses who are ready to invest in VoIP technology.  It is a sad situation and a bad legacy of the industry, one that needs to change.

What should your business do?  First, evaluate your current telecom contracts and seek out the specifics of your term.  Then, you will at least know your options and the time frame in which you have to either seek out alternatives or attempt to negotiate a renewal with more favorable terms.  With the rate of exodus from traditional telecom providers, they may be more flexible in the future when it comes to term and price negotiation.  If you don't want to bet on that becoming reality, examine your alternatives and what new technology from new providers can provide your business.  Many offer no contacts, clear, competitive pricing, and cutting-edge, but affordable technology.  Your business deserves to be free from the shackles of term contracts and auto renewals!

 

About the author:  Mark Greim is the Vice President of Sales and Marketing at sipVine, a provider of a variety of VoIP phone solutions and services. Mark has extensive experience working for start-up or entrepreneurial organizations and has a passion for affordable, reliable, and purposeful technology solutions in those environments. 

Tags: Changing Phone Service Providers, Moving Phone Service

Review of the Polycom VVX Models of VoIP Phones

Posted by Mark Greim on Dec 19, 2014 8:20:00 AM

During our certification for sale process, sipVine had the opportunity to conduct extensive user testing of several of the Polycom VVX models of VoIP phones.  The VVX300 and VVX400 models are the base and mid-range phones in the line-up, and will prove to be easy to use and solid workhorses for the heavy phone users in small to medium-sized businesses.  The VVX500 and VVX600 models are higher-end phones in the line-up and represent the cutting edge in VoIP phone technology.  These phones are sharp looking, high tech, and are reflective of Polycom's leadership in the marketplace.  This series of Polycom phones will serve businesses well and take advantage of everything business VoIP has to offer.

Standard Features:vvx300

They come with all of the standard, hardware-driven features you would expect from a Polycom VoIP phone, such as: call forwarding, call transferring, three-way conferencing, do not disturb, directories, and voicemail.  All phones come with Polycom's best-in-class speakerphone and HD voice clarity. 

Additionally, the stand for the Polycom VVX series will allow for 3 different angles.  You can select a new angle with ease, a vast improvement over the stand of the previous Polycom models.  Compared to a Cisco SPA series model where you have only one angle, these Polycom VVX's are superior in this regard.

Upgrades:

Screens/Lines

  • VVX300 - Backlit, grayscale screen with 6 lines
  • VVX400 - Backlit, color screen with 12 lines
  • VVX500 - Backlit, color touch screen with 12 lines
  • VVX600 - Backlit, color touch screen with 16 lines

VVX400Compared to the previous Polycom IP phone series, one upgrade is in the number of lines/favorites that appear on the screen.  The lower end models in the IP series had two to three lines, versus the six to 12 lines with the VVX300 and 400 models.  The VVX500 and 600 provide for 12 to 16 lines, respectively.  If you provision two lines for inbound/outbound calling, you'll have four to 14 "favorites" that are effectively speed dials.  If the favorite is in your organization and on the VoIP service, you can enable a busy lamp field (BLF), so you will know if that person is on the phone or not.

The VVX400, 500, and 600 all have color screens, which adds to their elegance.  The two higher-end models have touch screens, which resonate well with tablet and smart-phone users.  Additionally, the higher-end models allow you to personalize the screen saver and background via a USB port or through the web configuration utility.  

Network

The VVX300 and 400 models have dual 100mb ports, so your phone can share an ethernet connection with your computer.  You can upgrade the lower models to a VVX310 and 410 to have dual gigabit ports so your phone will not be a bottleneck when passing large files over your network.  The VVX500 and 600 come with standard, dual gigabit ports.  Finally, the VVX600 model will allow for a Blue Tooth headset pairing.

Cool Stuff:

Of course, if you're not already familiar with the functionality of VoIP phones, then the features above will all seem pretty cool!  However, these new Polycom phones have functionality that will really delight even the experienced VoIP users!  For example, with the USB port on the VVX500 and 600, you can attach a zip drive and record calls.  The display will show you how many hours of recording you have available on the drive.  All models allow you to integrate the phone with your computer's mouse and keyboard, allowing for a mouse over and click to dial from your favorites or directory.  Additionally, these models will integrate with your Outlook Exchange calendars, providing you a view of your calendar from your phone, and dialing from the calendar for conference calls. 

Polycom also has a "My Info Portal", which allows access to stocks, news, sports, weather and other streamlined content to the phone's screen.  Finally, both the VVX500 and VVX600 have optional cameras that will allow for Desktop Video Conferencing from phone to phone or interact with video conference bridges right from the phone.

sipVine Review:

During our certification of the VVX models on the sipVine service, we reviewed all modelsVVX500 and functions of the phones.  The VVX500 and VVX600 truly are the "Cadillacs" of the series, both in terms of functionality and price.  With the exception of standard gigabit ports, the touch screens, USB ports, and the video conference options, VVX400 has all of the same features as the VVX500 and VVX600.  However, the VVX500 and VVX600 will retail 48% and 82% higher than the VVX400, respectively.  The VVX300 has a grayscale screen and has even a greater price advantage.

Focusing first on the differences between the high-end models and the standard models, the color touch screens in the higher-end models are very nice.  It takes a little getting used to when compared with physical line buttons or softkeys on VoIP phones, but you'll catch on quickly.  Smudges are not noticeable, and clean up with a soft cloth will keep the phone clean and free from scratches.  Due to the cost of the phones, we didn't dare attempt to clean with a paper towel, so we cannot comment on the screen's ultimate durability!  The phone screens can pick up a glare, so the angle options are not just nice, but a necessity.

The other benefit over the lower models is the USB port, allowing for recording of calls right from the phone as well as personalized screen savers and background pictures.  Where recording of calls may have a specific benefit to various organizations and users, the screen saver "benefit" is not a driver toward purchasing these upper-end models versus the standard models.

VVX600That takes us to the video conferencing.  First, the optional camera will add $135 to the purchase price.  The screen sizes are adequate.  Being able to call into a video conference bridge is a great advantage for those who interact that way routinely, as phone to phone video interaction is only beneficial to those who really see the need.  It is only usable for personal video conference interaction, as a group huddling around the phone for the conference is not a viable option.  There are some even higher-end VVX phone options with larger screens (VVX1500 and VVX1500D), but we did not review those phones.

The VVX300 and VVX400 phones are easy to use and intuitive for the user who may be new to VoIP.  Compared to the Cisco SPA models of phones, they have superior speakerphones and a larger number of Lines/BLFs on the phone itself, however, the Cisco models win the ease of use battle.  The VVX300 has 6 lines, versus the 4 line Cisco SPA504.  The VVX400 has 12 lines and a color screen, versus the 8 line, grayscale SPA508.

Both the VVX300 and 400 models have hard buttons next to the line appearance/BLF that change color when in use.  These present a similar user experience to other VoIP phones.  We found it easier to transfer / dial utilizing the hard buttons versus the touch screens of the higher end models, likely due to our previous familiarity with physical buttons.  The menu scroll/select button is slightly cumbersome, and the touch screens of the higher-end models are superior in the scrolling/selecting functionality.

The backlit, grayscale screen of the VVX300 is clear and readable, but doesn't blow you away with clarity.  The color screen of the VVX400 is much better than the grayscale.

I will make one comment on a feature of all models tested.  The integration of the computer keyboard and mouse with the phone is cool, but a little distracting.  There are a few times during the day where I've scrolled over and clicked on a favorite to dial.  The keyboard was nice when entering contacts into my directory, but, honestly, that was a one-time effort.  Searching directory listings is aided by this functionality to some extent.  All things considered, I found myself scrolling my mouse over to the phone on accident quite routinely during the day.  You basically program the setting to indicate what side of the computer the phone resides, and it opens up that border of the screen to scroll to the phone.  I didn't realize how often I scroll to the max end of the screen to exit from programs or scroll up and down until I no longer had a side border to stop my mouse.  So, I will likely turn that option off.

Suffice it to say, the higher-end models will likely be a luxury alternative for sipVine business VoIP customers in the small to medium-sized market space.  Most will select the VVX300 and VVX400 phones for their general office deployment.  Some executives may select the higher-end models, as they really are nice.  I'm using the VVX500 now, and don't want to give it up!

Overall, these models of phones by Polycom will become one of sipVine's lead products.  Our previously lead product was the Cisco SPA500 series, which possesses many great features and flexibility.  However, these Polycom models surpass the Cisco models in many ways, and we're looking forward to sharing these advantages with our current and future customers!

 

About the author:  Mark Greim is the Vice President of Sales and Marketing at sipVine, a provider of a variety of VoIP phone solutions and services. Mark has extensive experience working for start-up or entrepreneurial organizations and has a passion for affordable, reliable, and purposeful technology solutions in those environments. 

Tags: VoIP Phone

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