Most small businesses have already made the shift to a Hosted VoIP phone service. Many have been unable to take full advantage of the features and flexibility of these systems due to the inability to navigate the do-it-yourself programming portal pushed by the nationally branded VoIP providers. This has led to frustration with the technology. The good news is that there are Hosted VoIP providers that can take care of the complexities of the programming and help conform the phone system to the needs of the business.
The national VoIP brands are very good at product development and marketing. They have pushed the industry toward more integration with the tools of business, helping the industry reach that Utopian "unified communications" goal that VoIP has been promising for years. Product roll outs and up-market targeting has helped them expand rapidly. They are also a marketing machine. Any VoIP related web search is dominated by the national brands.
Where their focus clearly has been on top line revenue growth and product development, the national VoIP brands have left a sizable hole in their strategy for other hosted VoIP providers to fill. Phones are drop shipped and businesses are provided a portal for configuring their phones and administering them going forward. Pushing service to the end user assumes that these customers not only understand the technology, but also the capabilities! They also need to understand how to navigate the portal and remember this on future visits.
Every day, hosted VoIP providers like sipVine are converting businesses over from the national brands to their local service. "In 100% of the cases where we've converted a customer from a national brand, the basic programming of the phones have been an obvious miss", says Robert Conner, CEO of sipVine, Inc. "When we're done with our work, the customer always admits that they couldn't figure out how to work through the programming and they didn't understand all of the options with their previous provider. Furthermore, the service center support basically continued to push them to the portal for their DIY servicing."
So, what specifically is the difference between the "full service" vs. the "DIY" approach to Hosted VoIP phone service? The effort basically starts after the sale, where the sales representative or an installation support resource interviews and consults with the customer to gain an understanding of how their business communicates both internally and externally. This information is used in the programming of the customer account on the service. Some specific areas covered are:
- Lines and Busy Lamp Fields (BLFs) - VoIP phones can be set up in a variety of ways. For example, one of the phones sipVine deploys is the Polycom VVX400. It has twelve buttons for programming. A typical set up would be two buttons for the user's direct dial/extension, two for a customer's main line (if that user is on the main line ring group), and the balance for BLFs. These BLFs are essentially speed dials to other users on the system that can be lit up when the person is on the phone, hence the name "busy lamp". With a DIY phone from a national, we typically see that all fields are showing the user's extension, so the programming to make the phones operate better for the customer was never explained or understood.
- Ring Groups - Calls into the main line or to groups from an auto attendant can be programmed to flow to best meet the demands of the customer's callers and to match internal staffing requirements. Calls can "ring all" or ring one or a few, then others. This is a key step in making sure the phones work for all of the parties, and one missed routinely with DIY programming. Ineffective call flows can lead to dissatisfied callers and an inefficient use of internal resources.
- Auto Attendants - These can be set up before or after the main line ring group, depending upon the desires of the business. Options will route callers to their appropriate parties in a variety of customized ways. Again, understanding the customer's need and doing the programming is typically performed by the full-service Hosted VoIP providers.
- Customization to the User - Each user can have a variety of set up choices. Examples would be voicemail received to the phone, to email, or to both; caller ID delivery set up for their direct dial number or the main line; and add a duplicate soft phone app to their cell phone. BLFs can also be different for each user.
These are just a few of the up-front programming options covered by the full service approach. These ensure that the VoIP phone service is set up to the delight of the business and their callers. Perhaps even more meaningful is the service after the install. Where it can be nice to "self-administer" your phone system, it can be refreshing that when you contact your VoIP provider they, first, know who you are and, second, are willing to quickly make any and all changes for you. This keeps the expertise required to perform these tasks with the provider and not with the staff of the business, so they're free to perform the work of the business and not the administration of the phone system!
So, when searching for the best phone service among VoIP providers, the answer isn't always the recognizable national brand. Yes, these brands will always be on the cutting edge with new features, but they are outperformed routinely by the full service VoIP providers!
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.