The Most Important Feature of Hosted VoIP

Posted by Mark Greim on Oct 26, 2017 10:34:52 AM

Over the years, we've discussed the variety of advanced business phone features that a Hosted VoIP phone service delivers to businesses of all shapes and sizes.  These features have created a new standard for phone service, effectively making analog phone systems and service obsolete.  Moreover, they have transformed the communication practices of the businesses who have deployed them and utilized them to their fullest extent.  So, what is the most important feature of Hosted VoIP?

SIP_19ways_300x400.pngAfter over a decade in this business, I'm convinced that it is not a feature at all, but an "opportunity" made possible with a Hosted Phone Service.  That "feature" is customer service!  Every Hosted VoIP provider has the opportunity to excel at customer service because the phone system now goes hand in hand with the phone service.

Customer Service as a Feature

How does Hosted VoIP present an opportunity for excellent customer service by the Hosted VoIP provider?  Because these providers are hosting the phone system, there is an opportunity to really get to know the customer during the design and implementation stage.  This also can carry over to the administration stage.  However, not all Hosted VoIP providers take advantage of this tremendous opportunity!

Many of the larger, national VoIP providers insist that the customer utilize the online tools they provide so that set up and administration are totally the responsibility of the customer. This secures cost savings for the provider.  Alternatively, other Hosted providers deliver more of a concierge approach to design and administration, putting them in a unique position to provide outstanding customer service. These providers realize your time is valuable and you don’t have time to be a phone expert in addition to all your other work duties.

The Concierge Approach to Customer Service

Concierge Customer Service with VoIP.jpgThe concierge approach begins in the design/planning phase. While national companies have templates, look for a provider that customizes a phone solution that matches your business. Here's how.  First of all, Hosted VoIP is essentially a program.  This program can be customized for each business so that the phone system matches exactly how they perform business.  From designing a flow for incoming calls, to auto attendant design, to the user experience, Hosted VoIP providers can really get to know the customer during the design stage.  This knowledge of the customer can carry forward to the technical and customer support personnel who will administer the system as the customer experiences needs for changes.

Hosted VoIP providers who build this kind of relationship with the customer are uniquely positioned in the telecom industry.  When was the last time you contacted your phone service provider and the personnel actually knew who you were?  You're lucky if the call can be even handled by the first person you talk with and if that person is even located domestically!  Are you assigned a dedicated customer service representative?  This is entirely possible with Hosted VoIP providers who take the concierge approach.

How sipVine Differs from the National Providers of Hosted VoIP

sipVine's own experience as a Hosted VoIP provider has demonstrated time and time again that businesses move to Hosted VoIP for the features and capabilities but stay as customers due to customer service.  We have kept our pricing competitive while resisting the cost savings that we could achieve by forcing customers to self-service their design and administration, but have not charged extra for the customized design and concierge approach to customer service.  The trade-off has been a remarkable customer retention rate and a very loyal and evangelistic customer base.

Early on in sipVine's operation, we found that most businesses were simply switching to Hosted VoIP from traditional analog phone systems as their systems were failing and their old models were no longer being supported.  However, we are experiencing a wave of new customers coming in from the large, national VoIP providers.  Despite their vast array of features and a self-service portal, most of these businesses are leaving due to frustrations over the customer service.  Once we examine their phone deployment and call flow, it is clear that there was not an up-front process utilized to effectively customize the phones, call flow, and user experience to match the customer's needs.  The expertise to do this over a portal themselves did not exist or carry forward to the ultimate implementation.  Then, they experienced a failure in customer service to rectify or salvage the deployment.

Please hold for customer service.

Calling the customer service of the large VoIP providers tend to deliver solutions such as "increase your bandwidth" or "run your phones out of a separate internet connection."  These solutions may be practical, but they also may be unnecessary.  This is a failure in effectively diagnosing network trouble that impacts the phone service call quality or registrations. 

Hosted VoIP providers who are more engaged with the customer for their initial design and on-going administration can leverage such an engagement to help them diagnose the network trouble that negatively impacts the phone performance.  They can run tests to determine if the problem originates with the internet connection.  Or, they can dive in deeper to determine if the customer's router has settings that are conflicting with IP phones, if there's a local network problem, or if the customer is saturating their internet circuit either from a normal routine (cloud back-ups) or something like a specific computer that has a virus or is streaming video.

If your business is looking to make the switch to Hosted VoIP or if you are not satisfied in how your new Hosted VoIP phones have been deployed or administered, research alternative providers based upon how they engage with the customer.  Look for providers who will discuss with you how you want the service programmed up-front and ultimately deliver everything to you pre-programmed and ready for deployment.  Look for a concierge approach to customer service, not a self-servicing portal.  Your long-term satisfaction with such a provider will be virtually certain, as they will act more like your phone department and not a vendor.  This will be the best "feature" of your service, and it will help you make the most out of the new 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. 

Tags: Hosted VoIP, voip business phone system, Business VoIP, Customer Service, Customized Business Phone Plans

The Evolution of the Voice Over IP Marketplace

Posted by Mark Greim on Aug 15, 2017 10:18:00 AM

Now that we have a little longevity to the VoIP for business Marketplace, we can see that the market has evolved quickly with traditional market maturation undertones.  What may have been a surprise to us all is how quickly businesses moved to the new technology, as voice over IP installations are the preferred solution when compared to the old analog phone technology.  Even more surprising was how slow to respond were the traditional large telecommunication companies.  They have effectively ceded the business phone service market to VoIP providers, relegating themselves to wholesale roles.  Let's take a view of how this market has evolved.Evolution of VoIP.jpg

sipVine, a Kansas City-based voice over IP provider, has been operating since 2005, essentially bearing witness to this evolution.  "We knew we were on to something, but we were even surprised at the pace of overall adoption of the technology by businesses large and small," shares Robert Conner, sipVine's CEO.  "What has been very clear are the four stages of market evolution that can be identified over the years." 

Early Adoption Stage - As with any new technology, you have your early adopters.  Fueled by a vision of the technological impacts to their business, these early adopters embraced the technology for what it was and what it could be.  This went from "wow, we can process phone calls over the internet" to "look at these great new features that can actually improve our communication practices."

Later in the early adoption stage were the businesses looking to save money over their current analog service.  Telecommunication firms were not responding to the price advantages VoIP providers were delivering, leaving the door open for a great amount of savings to be delivered.  The cost and flexibility of a hosted VoIP system was so much better than purchasing an on-site system that many companies were seeing a full return on their investment in under a year. 

There were challenges during the early adoption years, namely voice quality and bandwidth availability.  At sipVine, we were able to develop technology to solve the voice quality concern, but the industry was not getting a good reputation from providers who did not provide such a solution.  The answer always was "increase bandwidth", which wasn't necessarily the right answer or easily accomplished.  T-1's and DSL circuits were the options available, although some alternative providers (like cable) were making inroads into the bandwidth challenge.

My_Phone_System_Crashed.jpgThe "My Phone System is Failing" Stage - Even as businesses were embracing the new technology and finding ways to save money, the early adoption years basically covered the same time frame as the economic recession.  Many businesses simply were not in a position to invest in new technology, even if there was a quick return on the investment.  Infrastructure expenditures were deferred and phone systems were put on life support.  As recessionary pressure eased, the industry experienced a wave of new customers that were very ready to replace their outdated or failing phone systems.

This is also the stage where many businesses were seeing their peers or competitors experience positive results by moving to a VoIP system and they were ready to make the change themselves.  This was the time of the greatest growth of the VoIP industry and the technology was clearly on the move to pass analog installations in the business community.  National VoIP providers and some regional/local providers were at the forefront of technological advancements to the product capabilities and provided a new level of customer service when compared to the traditional communications firms.  Businesses flocked to these alternatives in droves.

The Last Staw Stage -  As with any market, there are always late adopters.  These were the folks in the earlier stages that would say, "my phone system works, why change?"  Or, "I've been with XX&X for years, and I'm loyal."  Several things happened to these businesses later in the game.  Either their phone system became too expensive to support or they may have gone through a location move and it would be more expensive to move the phone system than to go with a hosted VoIP platform.  Or, they became tired of their loyalty to the phone company being rewarded with rate increases or outsourced/off-shored customer service that lacked any resemblance of service.  There were many, many examples and references of businesses that had made the move years earlier, and they drew upon that success and made the move themselves to voice over IP.

Full_Service_vs_Self_Service_VoIP.jpgThis stage was also marked by a proliferation of bandwidth availability.  In markets like Kansas City where Google Fiber entered and disrupted the market, businesses had more choices for bandwidth, especially as the cable and telco providers responded to the competition.  Bandwidth availability of 100 mb/sec to 1 gigabit per second became available and affordable.  Not only did this provide another big boost to the VoIP providers, it allowed businesses to move more and more of their IT infrastructure to the cloud. 

Let the Cream Rise Stage - Throughout the first three stages, most of the "wins" by VoIP companies were at the expense of the traditional telcos or cable companies providing analog service.  This current stage of the market is marked by many wins coming at the expense of other VoIP providers.  VoIP providers who have continued to add to their functionality, better customized the experience for their customers, or who have created a customer service model that differentiates them above the other VoIP providers are continuing to experience good growth during this current stage of a very mature market.

There are still businesses who are switching to voice over IP for the first time.  For those businesses, there are a few tips to be mindful of as they select their provider:

  • Choosing_a_Hosted_VoIP_Provider.jpgSelect a provider who can provide a number of references and those references can speak to the level of customer service delivered.
  • The provider should be able to customize the solution to meet your needs.  VoIP platforms are very adaptable.  Some providers, however, make this the responsibility of the customer to deploy and program their phones.  Good providers do this for the customer, as they have the expertise and experience across a number of market segments and are in a better position to do the programming.
  • Look for a provider who does not require term contracts and offers only high quality VoIP phones that are not locked down to their service.  There are many VoIP phone manufacturers, but not all phones can be reused on another VoIP company's platform.  At sipVine, we only sell Cisco or Polycom phones because they rarely break down and they are commonly used by other providers.  Of course, our service level is high enough that customers rarely leave, but we believe strongly in providing such flexibility to the customer.

Following these tips will help ensure that you are finding a provider who has already risen to the top.  This will keep you away from further disruption by needing to switch again later.  You should experience fantastic benefits by moving to VoIP which you can guarantee by selecting the right provider!

Tags: Technology in Business, VoIP Trends in Business

May the VoIP be With You

Posted by Mark Greim on May 5, 2017 10:39:55 AM

Most businesses today are moving toward the light and implementing VoIP Phone Service.  Specifically, cloud-based services are quickly taking over as the technology of choice for business, with traditional analog phone systems or even IP-based on-site systems becoming the way of the past.  As evidenced by Toshiba's recent announcement that it is exiting their phone system business and Avaya's Chapter 11 bankruptcy, Hosted VoIP phone deployments are taking over the market.

May the VoIP Be With You.jpgJoin the Resistance.   Is your current analog phone system on life support?  Are you finding it difficult to secure parts for the system, replacement phones, or locating a service company to support the system?  Are you intrigued by the features and benefits other businesses are enjoying with their cloud-based VoIP phone service? Well, it is time to investigate your alternatives! 

Businesses in this situation are finding that moving their phone service to a Hosted VoIP provider is very economical, both in the short-term and over time.  The up-front capital required is a fraction of the investment in an on-site phone system. Additionally, there is no need for service contracts, as you are only investing in the VoIP phones required for your business. Concern over future parts availability or obsolescence of your system is totally alleviated with a cloud-based phone system.

You Must Learn the Ways of VoIP.  As a part of your research and consideration, check out the websites of Hosted VoIP providers and engage in a few conversations with their sales associates. You should see features that will help your business transform your communication practices, internally and externally.  This includes items your current analog system cannot do, like connect multiple locations, allow for a seamless implementation of remote or mobile workers, and be easily programmed to match or enhance your desired call flows.  Automated attendants, voicemail to email, virtual faxing, overhead paging integration, direct dialing to associates, and find-me/follow-me features are just a few of the advanced communication features businesses have enjoyed once moving to a Hosted VoIP platform.

These are not the VoIP Providers you are Looking for.  Like any decision, choosing your partner is important. There are many entrants into this market, including traditional telecom providers who are trying their hand at a hosted service. Making the move to Hosted VoIP is an opportunity to remove yourself from the shackles of working with the large telcos, or even large VoIP companies, and find a local or regionally focused company that provides customer service the way you expect and deserve. Some Hosted VoIP providers even take care of all of your phone system administration, rather than provide a self-servicing portal. This keeps you focused on your business and not dividing the attention of you or your staff on your telephone operations.  So, in your investigative calls, find those providers that meet your specific requirements, both from a feature set and approach to customer service.

So, conduct an investigation today and transform your business!  May the VoIP be with you!


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, VoIP Phone Service

Perform a VoIP Comparison for Your Company Phones

Posted by Mark Greim on Mar 14, 2017 10:15:00 AM

When evaluating your company phone system and service, a VoIP comparison is necessary to evaluate the opportunity before you. This VoIP comparison will take you down two separate evaluations: one, to compare your existing system and service with a VoIP alternative and, two, evaluating the differences in VoIP providers.

VoIP Phone System & Service vs. Analog Based Solutions

Many businesses have already switched their company phones to a VoIP-based system. However, there remains a good number of businesses who, for a variety of reasons, have not made the switch as of yet.There are several comparisons to make for this evaluation:

  • Compare Features and Functionality - There are analog-based phone systems that provide a good set of features. However, the features of VoIP platforms are robust and expanding. Our first recommendation is to take a look at the features offered by a number of Hosted VoIP providers with an eye on how these features could impact your business in a positive way. Such features can improve your communication accessibility with your employees and customers, provide a platform for mobile or remote employees, and streamline your internal call handling processes.
  • Compare Costs of Equipment - If you are looking to replace your business' current analog phone system, the cost to move to a Hosted VoIP service is hands-down much more favorable. The biggest factor in this calculation is that you do not have to invest in a core system with Hosted VoIP. Only the VoIP Phones are required along with some other minor equipment. If you are comparing a Hosted VoIP service against maintaining your current analog company phones, it is likely that the one-time cost of the Hosted VoIP equipment is still favorable to a service contract or the on-going replacement/maintenance cost of the analog system.
  • Compare the Cost of the Phone Service - In the wake of mounting customer losses to VoIP providers, traditional telecom providers have been raising their business phone line costs to maintain revenues and margins. Even before such moves, the monthly costs of Hosted VoIP services have provided a monthly cost savings and helps provide a quick return on investment for the capital required. Solicit a few bids from Hosted VoIP providers and compare to your current phone service with the recognition that the traditional business phone service costs are rising over time.
  • Compare the Cost of Administration - With your current company phone system, changes or programmatic updates (if even possible) are the business' responsibility. You may have some elements that are included in a service contract with the system provider as well. With Hosted Phone Service, there are providers that will take care of all of your administrative needs as a part of the monthly service. Research Hosted VoIP providers that will relieve you from this cost and responsibility.

VoIP Phone System Providers

VoIP Comparison.jpgThe second lane in your VoIP comparison is to evaluate the various Hosted VoIP providers. The number of options out there are vast, and narrowing the list down can be challenging. We would suggest comparing a couple of the national named brand providers alongside alternatives that are regional or local to your area. One key to the local/regional list is to find a provider that has stood the test of time, operating a minimum of 5 to 10 years. Such a tenure would suggest that they are fiscally and technically stable and have a solid and loyal customer base. Another key with this set of providers is to make sure that they are not simply a reseller of a white-labeled national product. Resellers do not handle the technical customer service directly nor are they responsible for the on-going research and development of their product.

Once you receive bids for your company phones and service from these providers, be sure to contact references provided. They should be able to provide a reference from a company of a similar size and operate in the same or similar industry. Inquire about how the solution has improved their business along with how the overall experience has been for them. Are there any issues surrounding call quality, and how are they addressed? How was the initial installation and programming handled? What has been the approach to on-going administration and how easy are they to deal with for customer service

You should find that the national providers have a robust technology, but drop ship the phones and provide the customer a self-servicing portal for programming and administration. Local providers tend to be more engaged on the initial set-up and on-going administration, thus scoring quite well on the customer service approach.

If your business is being pinched by the costs of maintaining and old phone system and absorbing continued increases in telecom costs, this evaluation becomes very timely and critical for you. Not only can you save money overall, but you can transform your communication model and make a noticeable impact in your customer service.

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 System Replacement, Changing Phone Service Providers

Tear Down Walls with Business VoIP

Posted by Mark Greim on Jan 30, 2017 10:30:00 AM

Leave the talk around building walls to the American political scene.  As a business owner, your business will benefit by figuratively tearing down walls and removing barriers to communication with the help of a Hosted VoIP phone service.  With Hosted VoIP, the walls of your business become translucent, as your phone system is no longer confined to your physical location.  Additionally, as the world becomes more and more "always-on" in terms of communication, your business can adjust communication practices to meet the evolving demands of your customers.

Hosted VoIP:  A Be Anywhere Phone System

By its very nature, Hosted VoIP delivers a single phone system to wherever your business is conducted.  Because the system is cloud-based, the business deploys physical or soft phones where it best meets the internal communication needs and the demands of their customers.  Making all of the phones work together as one system and implementing a call flow is a function of programming and does not require physical phone systems where you deploy resources.  This opens the door for extreme flexibility and creativity and will give your business an edge over the competition.  Examples of ways businesses have torn down the walls and deployed Hosted VoIP are listed below:

  • Expanding the Business Presence Beyond a Primary Location - As a business grows, pressure on square footage can become acute. Instead of adding resources to a tight environment or going through the expense of moving a business, a business owner can look at alternatives to placement of employees.  Locations can be added where resources are plentiful or economical or in areas where business volume dictates.  Virtual employees can also be deployed where it makes sense for the business, allowing for expansion without taking on the cost of new locations.  A Business VoIP phone service can tie all of these employees together on the same cloud-based system, facilitating efficient internal communication while external callers are served as if everyone was under the same roof.
  • All Locations Work as One - There are certainly direct economic advantages of all business locations being on the same phone system. Through Hosted VoIP, phone bills are typically lower as there are economies of scale built into most pricing practices of the hosted VoIP providers.  Indirectly, the business can benefit through the programming of the service to best meet the needs of the business and demands of the customers.  You can centralize main line calls, where all locations incoming calls are directed to a central group of people.  Calls can be directed to where the customer is best served.  You can decentralize functions as well.  For example, a customer service group can be made up of several employees located in several different locations.  Businesses can right size their functions based upon call requirements, not the number of physical locations.
  • Inclusion of the Mobile Work Force - Many businesses have employees spend a lot of time in the field, whether it be sales personnel, site managers, or service technicians. Most utilize the personal or business cell phones to conduct their business.  Thanks to soft phone applications, these employees can receive and make calls on their business number or extension and not have to give out the cell phone number.  When they make calls, they are delivering the caller ID of the business, not the cell phone.  Voicemail messages are crafted for their business, and not a personal cell phone.  This can be advantageous to the business in many ways.  Calls can be transferred to the employee without needing to think about whether they are in the office or on their cell phone by transferring to the extension.  External callers don't have try to reach this person via a cell phone, they just call the business or the direct dial of the contact.

Meeting the Customer Demands

Remove Walls to Communication with Business VoIP.jpgWith the flexible deployment options described above, call flows and communication practices can be revamped to meet the growing demands of an always-on customer base.  Calls can be answered all of the time, regardless of where the resources are deployed.  Auto attendants can route callers by need to the appropriate group of employees, again with no requirement of location.  Direct dial numbers can be judiciously utilized for customers who need direct contacts.  After hours on-call personnel can be equipped with soft phones.  Calls can be programmed to deliver to the entire group, but the only ones that will ring are to those designated to turn them on for the period.  No complicated programming or a physical requirement to be in the office is necessary.

These are just a few examples.  Every business is different and the caller demands can vary widely.  However, the flexibility offered by a Hosted VoIP service provides the business with the opportunity to be creative.  Let your imagine fly and think of ways your business can communicate better with your customers and prospects and set your business apart from your competition!


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 Multiple Locations, virtual workforce, Business VoIP

Don't Forget Hosted VoIP with Your Cloud Investments

Posted by Mark Greim on Nov 21, 2016 11:32:55 AM

As we approach year end, many businesses are making their IT infrastructure plans for the next year.  As you may expect, investing in cloud infrastructure is high on the list. One of the most common cloud initiatives for businesses focused on cloud investments is moving the phone system to a Hosted VoIP platform, or Cloud Telephony.

Information Week recently conducted a poll of readers, as they were interested in where the information technology spending will be focused on this next year. Although not intended to be scientific, it did present an informal take on the areas of focus.  "More than a third of respondents (36%) cited cloud as the technology that will receive the greatest investment at their companies in 2017."

There are many forms of cloud investment, and cloud telephony is often overlooked as a great source of securing significant benefits to the organization. This includes reduced costs in both the short and long term, increased flexibility, and an upgrade in applications supporting the business.

Reduced Costs

Dont Forget Cloud Telephony.jpgAs businesses invest in Hosted VoIP, they are able to replace their outdated phone system with a state-of-the-art system at a fraction of the costs.  The investment for Hosted VoIP is low, as you only need to purchase the VoIP phones.  The physical system itself is hosted by the provider and it is not a cost incurred by the business.  Thus, the business will no longer need to worry about a phone system replacement in the future.  Additionally, many IT managers are challenged to support and maintain old systems.  They are either bearing a high maintenance contract or paying a high price for parts that are difficult to secure.  All those concerns go away with Hosted VoIP. The only future costs will be handset replacement or addition.  Again, if current models are outdated, the business can replace with newer models and not necessarily have to replace all of the phones.

The monthly cost for phone service may also be reduced by moving to Hosted VoIP. Along with standard all-inclusive packages for local and long-distance calling, the cost of hosted user fees are typically lower than the all-in phone line costs for analog systems.  Additionally, many Hosted VoIP providers serve as your phone administrator, making changes to user names, call flows, auto attendant recordings, and such.  Some provide user interfaces for self-servicing, but look for the provider that will make these changes for you at no additional cost.  This will provide the business with internal labor savings dedicated to keeping the phone system up to date.

Increased Flexibility

Cloud Telephony provides much of the same degree of flexibility as Cloud Computing. Specific to your phone deployment, businesses no longer are confined to the walls of the office for the reach of their phone system. Associates can be deployed across multiple locations, whether an office environment, a work from home assignment, or a strictly mobile device.  Calls can be directed to or made by these associates with all appearances that they are working in the physical office.

For increased associate availability for calls, a soft phone application can be downloaded to a smart phone, tablet, or computer. If a person has a desk phone, this application can be designed to ring at the same time, assuming it is turned on. Thus, no matter where or what time a call needs to be made or received, the associate can utilize the soft phone to increase their availability.

Upgrade in Applications

Moving to a Hosted VoIP phone system from a traditional analog phone system, the business will likely benefit from an upgrade in the feature set.  They can customize the call flow and add ring groups. The auto attendant can also be customized to match the needs of the business and their customers. They can also have different attendant messages and options based upon the time of day and/or day of the week. The service also comes with standard features like direct inward dial numbers for each phone, voicemail delivery to email, call transferring and conferencing, and call recording. All features and call flow programming are designed to enhance the communication experience for customers and associates.

It's budget season, so make sure your IT plan for next year includes adding cloud telephony to your other cloud initiatives. It is an easy way to drive further budget savings while enhancing your communication capabilities!


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, Cloud Telephony

Narrowing the List of Hosted VoIP Providers

Posted by Mark Greim on Oct 24, 2016 11:07:28 AM

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.

Choosing_a_Hosted_VoIP_Provider.jpgThe 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. 

Tags: voip service provider selection, Hosted VoIP, Changing Phone Service Providers

Reminder:  Your Telecom Term Contract is Expiring

Posted by Mark Greim on Aug 18, 2016 1:55:46 PM

This is the year! You placed a reminder on your calendar that your business telecommunications term contract is expiring.  Every year, you've been burned by the dreaded auto renewal provision that is in the fine print somewhere and this is the year you are going to break from the shackles of term contracts and make a change in your phone service!

Reminder_Telecom_Contract_Expiring.jpgLet's recall why you want to make a change.  The phone service contracts seem to be very one-sided.  They auto renew "as a service" to make sure you are able to keep the "good" rates.  However, your phone bill seems to grow as each year passes.  Moreover, your current phone service ties you into your old, analog phone system.  You've seen your business peers and competitors switching to hosted VoIP phone service and have heard about all of the cool features that can benefit your company.  Time to dust off your old research and review.

Reasons to Move to Hosted VoIP:

State-of-the-art technology for a small investment.  Analog phone systems are a thing of the past.  You can take advantage of the myriad of features but not break the budget in doing so.  With hosted phone service, you only need to purchase the VoIP handsets.  The phone system is managed and maintained by the hosted VoIP provider.  Additionally, you do not need to worry about the system becoming obsolete, as that again is the responsibility of the provider.  Thus, not only is your current investment cost low, you will not have to invest in a system ever again!

Monthly savings.  Many times, the monthly cost of hosted VoIP service is lower than your current phone service spend.  You are able to calculate a direct return on investment without even considering the indirect benefits driven by a hosted phone service.

Features to benefit your business.  There are many standard features that come with hosted VoIP service, such as voicemail to email.  The real benefit is driven by the opportunity to improve your internal and external communication practices.  Primarily this involves the programming of call flow, the auto attendant, and other features to delight your customers.  This can include direct dial numbers, mobility features for your sales / service teams, hunt groups or queues, and other practices that can increase the accessibility of your associates to your customers.

Virtualization.  Because the phone system is no longer on a wall in your equipment room and is accessible via the internet, your phones are not confined to the four walls of your office.  You can integrate several locations, remote employees, and mobile employees into one system.  This will improve your internal efficiencies.  Plus, the external customer can be served by the appropriate associate no matter where they are located.

Provider Selection:

No contracts.  You can start with hosted VoIP providers who do not require term contracts.  You've experienced the negatives associated with being tied to such contracts with your current telecom provider, why go down that path again?  You'll find this segment of providers to be more flexible and desirous of not being categorized with the traditional approach to telecom.

Customization.  No business is the same.  The customer service strategies, call flow, and operating principles are unique to the business and management philosophy.  Find a provider who will take on the customization of their system to match your business.  Many VoIP providers hand over an on-line portal for you to handle all of your administration and design.  Instead, look for the providers who will handle all of this for you.

Approach to customer service.  If you find a provider that offers no contracts and will handle the configuration and administration of your service, chances are they will also have the right approach to customer service.  With no contracts, they are incented to serve your business well every day.  By customizing your service, they get to know your business very well.  By performing your phone administration, they use this knowledge and this incentive to respond expeditiously and with contextual expertise. 

Check references.  It's always good to discuss their approach to service with several of their current customers.

Time to move!  Select your provider and your phones.  Discuss your requirements and set a time frame for porting your numbers.  And, don't forget to notify your previous provider that you are no longer going to be a victim of their auto-renewal practices!


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, Telecom Term Agreements

If it isn't broke....ah, go with Hosted VoIP anyway!

Posted by Mark Greim on Jun 14, 2016 12:24:52 PM

Finally!  The last of the businesses remaining on their antiquated analog phone systems are making the move to Hosted VoIP.  This communication model has proven itself over the past decade and is now the platform of choice for businesses. 

Finally_Make_the_Move_to_VoIP.jpgThere are several signs that the technology has been fully embraced.  Just listening to prospective clients calling in, they are more educated on the technology than ever before.  This certainly wasn't the case ten years ago.  Businesses are also switching service from one VoIP provider to another.  Again, years ago, all business came from traditional telecom providers or cable companies providing phone service.  And, finally, many businesses who were proposed a VoIP system several years ago are now calling back in looking to make the change!

So, why now are these holdovers making the move?  These are the folks that delivered the classic lines of "my phone system has been working fine for 15 years, why move?" and "I've been with the phone company for many years and they've never let me down."  Well, no matter what new technology is introduced, you will have your late adopters.  Also, when hosted VoIP was in its early stages, the economy wasn't exactly sound.  Infrastructure investments were postponed and phone systems were certainly among the casualties.  Now, these businesses are ready for the change.

These late adopters have heard all they need to hear from their business peers about the values brought to them by the features and benefits of a hosted VoIP system.  Additionally, their phone systems are now on the later stages of their useful life.  They are having difficulty securing parts and their vendors are pushing them to upgrade into a new system by not supporting their old system.  They are also finding that the phone company who "never let them down" has been overcharging them for years and holding them to automatic renewal terms that they never considered reviewing.  Some business were ready for the switch, but found themselves still tied into a three year renewal.

The best news for these late adopters is that they will no longer need to worry about phone system obsolescence.  In fact, they are not purchasing a phone system at all, just VoIP handsets that tie to the hosted VoIP provider's system.  It is up to the hosted VoIP provider to continue to invest in their system and maintain it, not the business customer.  They now can take advantage of the advancement in their communications platform, improving their customer service in the process.

So, if you are a business still hanging onto your analog phone system, it is time to check out your alternative.  Contact a hosted VoIP provider today and investigate all of the advantages that can be brought to your business.  Being a late adopter, you will also have the benefit of working with a hosted VoIP provider who has stood the test of time. 


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, Technology in Business

Why is VoIP the Technology of Choice for Business?

Posted by Mark Greim on May 13, 2016 10:11:41 AM

These are exciting times for businesses across the country, as the infrastructure supporting technological advancement has expanded dramatically.  With the introduction of superfast internet speeds available to businesses by Google Fiber, and followed by competitive responses from other providers, the backbone of this infrastructure now allows businesses to make technology choices they were not able to in recent years.  Businesses are taking advantage of this opportunity to invest in cloud applications and technology to improve their processes as well as margins.  This includes investments in voice over internet (VoIP) systems and service.

Businesses_Moving_to_VoIP.jpgVoIP applications have been around for many years now.  The availability of greater bandwidth has removed the final barrier for businesses to make the switch to the technology.  Even though a VoIP call only requires around 80k/second of internet capacity, increasing utilization of an organization's bandwidth for other applications would create contention for bandwidth.  Without packet prioritization routines, voice packets could be interrupted by data packets and create a poor call quality experience.  With internet speeds approaching one gigabit/second (1000mb/s!), contention or circuit saturation is no longer a concern.

So, why are businesses moving to hosted VoIP systems and services?  The reasons are plentiful, and the driving factor may vary by business.  Simply put, hosted VoIP is an affordable way to advance their communication practices, driving a host of direct and indirect benefits back to the business.

Affordability.  The phone system is actually provided in the cloud by a Hosted VoIP provider.  The business no longer needs to invest in a system on a wall in their business.  They only need to purchase the VoIP phone handsets.  Thus, they are receiving an enterprise-level phone system at a fraction of the cost.

Obsolescence and Maintenance.  These concerns and costs are removed with Hosted VoIP applications.  It is the responsibility of the provider to continue to invest in their system and evolve their service.  Finding parts for an old phone system or paying for repairs as a system ages is no longer required.  The only hardware exposure is with the handsets themselves.  If they ever need replacing, the cost is a minor expense.  As time goes on, new VoIP phones may be available in the provider's line-up, and they can be mixed in if and when replacements are required.

Expansion and Growth Considerations.  Businesses no longer need to worry about sizing their phone system to account for business growth.  This is especially beneficial to start-ups, as they don't need to over-invest on a phone system nor replace and undersized and under-featured system as they grow.  With hosted VoIP, you only need to deploy the number of handsets based upon the number of employees needing phones.

Flexible Deployment.  Because this is a cloud-based system, business can deploy the phones outside of the confinement of the walls of their office!  This frees the business to enable a remote workforce, whether they are at home, in a remote office, or highly mobile.  Calls to these associates can be made with internal extensions.  To the external caller, they will have no idea that calls are made and received outside of the business location.  Additionally, highly mobile employees can have a duplicate account of their desk phone, or a stand-alone account if they don't have a desk phone, on a softphone application on their smartphone or laptop.  Thus, they can make and receive calls from these devices and deliver the caller ID for the business.

Advanced Features.  There's a huge feature set available with Hosted VoIP systems, so it is likely businesses will have several that carry appeal and deliver value.  Examples are voicemail to email, call recording, direct dial numbers, external transferring, find-me/follow-me, paging solutions, call detail records, and much more.  Such features open up a world of applications that leave antiquated analog phones systems in the dust.

Call Flow.  One of the greatest attributes of the Hosted VoIP phone system is that it is essentially a software program.  Good Hosted VoIP providers work with their customers to design a call flow that matches their unique requirements and improves their communication practices.  You shouldn't have to conform to how the system works, rather make it work to maximize your customers' satisfaction.  Ring groups, call queues, time of day routing, and on-call programming are among the many tools available to have calls handled just the way you want them.

Automated Attendant.  Many bristle at just the idea of an automated attendant, however, when deployed correctly, this can be a powerful tool available to a business.  First, you have a choice of whether you deploy the automated attendant before or after a ring pattern.  Thus, it can serve as your call traffic cop or as a back up to your initial call groups.  The goal is to be able to route callers to the person that will best handle their needs.  Good automated attendants are made up of a few options that cover the majority of the needs of your callers.  Multiple options and layers only serve to frustrate callers.  Again, a good Hosted VoIP provider can provide consultation and best practices to set up an attendant in the way that will suite your business the best.

VoIP phone systems also have great appeal among businesses with multiple branches or locations.  They are able to consolidate the provider of their service, create consistency among locations, create efficiencies through extension dialing and transferring or even some function efficiency.  For example, you can centralize a function, say the reception function, so incoming calls from all locations are funneled to a central group for distribution.  Or, you can decentralize a function, such as customer service, so that the related ring group or queue is distributed across multiple locations for more efficiencies.  To the external caller, they have no idea that their call is handled in a centralized or decentralized approach.

Finally, Hosted VoIP providers are turning the telecommunications industry upside down.  There are opportunities to work with local providers that have set the bar high for customer service and technological excellence.  The new telecom bundle is your phone service and phone system together.  This puts the Hosted VoIP provider in a great position to get to know your business and provide awesome customer service commensurate with that understanding.  Find one today and take advantage of all of the benefits to your 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: Hosted VoIP, Technology in Business

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