If your business is ready to make the switch to hosted VoIP phone service, or you are ready to look for alternatives to the national hosted VoIP providers, how do you narrow down the seemingly large group of alternative providers in the marketplace? It isn't an easy task and it will take a little effort. However, the reward for find the right solution for your business will benefit you for years to come.
The national hosted VoIP provider list is well known, and they certainly dominate internet searches for a variety of terms. Their features are, as expected, robust and cutting edge. However, for all of the reasons you were ready to move away from your old phone service provider, they possess many of the same challenges, namely customer service. This article will focus on how to find and what to look for in an alternative hosted VoIP provider.
There are many out there, and finding the right one is important to your business. There are IT service companies who dabble in VoIP telephony as an additional service line to their business. They are either reselling or white labeling a larger provider's service or have created a VoIP service line using a PBX firmware. Be wary of resellers or companies who do not focus on or specialize in VoIP. Look for companies that operate their own VoIP service and have been in business for at least ten years. These providers have stood the test of time and are responsible for their own customer service and customer experience. Below are some other areas that will help you narrow the list:
Look for a Local Provider - There's nothing better than being supported by a local provider. How refreshing will it be when your phone company actually knows you and your business? There are companies with a national footprint that provide the "feeling" of local support, and this is also acceptable. If their customer references provide testimony that the customer service delivered is grounded in specific customer knowledge and relationships, then this is the hosted VoIP provider for you!
Concierge, not Self-Service - One of the models of the large VoIP providers is to place responsibility for the system programming upon the customer through a web portal. This shifts the cost of administration from the provider to the customer. Not all businesses have a dedicated IT staff to handle such activity and not all portals are robust enough to handle more sophisticated call flow and design. There are hosted VoIP providers that see the administration as their responsibility and do not charge for providing updates and any call flow adjustments. As your business moves more activity to the cloud, finding a hosted VoIP provider that handles all of your telephony updates and maintenance will help you actually drive savings from your move to VoIP.
Customization - If you are able to locate a provider that delivers a feeling of local support as well as handles your phone administration, chances are they are able to customize their system to meet the needs of your business. There is a large degree of customization that can be delivered. If the provider holds meetings with your business in advance of installation to understand your unique requirements and to program call flow and other features to match those needs, then you have the right hosted VoIP provider. Ask the prospective provider what the install process is like. Look for a configuration meeting where they would gather the information required to provision the phones prior to installation. If the provider speaks to delivering a website interface for self-provisioning, then you will be challenged to maximize the benefit of the system. Not all portals can capture the full range of VoIP programming capabilities. If they do, they typically are too complex to be handled by your staff, or will certainly require a lot of time by your staff to be ready for implementation.
Features - You are looking for a provider that has a robust set of features that will actually advance your business and improve your communications. For the most part, such features should be included in the standard monthly fee. If you see that you are charged by feature or for features that should be considered as standard, you are likely dealing with a reseller or white label VoIP provider. Many providers look to make their standard user fee to be published as low as possible, then ramp it back up with add on features and surcharges. Others include the majority of the features in their standard fee. Going through a proposal process with multiple providers should identify one approach from the other.
VoIP Phone Selection - There are a variety of VoIP phone options out there for you. They vary widely in price, sophistication, and quality. One of the reasons to look at moving to hosted VoIP is to gain the benefit of not purchasing or maintaining a phone system ever again. Your purchase of the actual VoIP phones is important to match your ultimate goal. Going with the top end manufacturers of VoIP phones like Cisco or Polycom will ensure you will have a quality phone with a solid warranty and lifetime expectation. Additionally, there will be a clear upgrade path as time goes on. You should also ask the provider if their phones could be reused by another provider if you should choose to make a change.
Finding a hosted VoIP provider that best matches the needs of your business is not an easy task, but is well worth the effort. The answer is not always with the ones you see advertised heavily on the web and other areas. There are gems out there. Find one who conducts business the way you do!
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.