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Call Queues vs. Ring Groups – Hosted VoIP Delivers Both Options

Posted by Mark Greim on Aug 12, 2019 3:19:51 PM

You do not need an expensive phone system to enjoy the benefits of call management via a call queue or ring group.  Securing your service with the right Hosted VoIP provider who can effectively consult with you and program your call flow to balance customer needs and employee capacity will deliver the benefits you are looking for with your hosted system.

For high inbound call volume companies, a hot debate is whether to utilize call queues or ring groups.  There are benefits to each, but let’s start with a general description:

Ring Group – Inbound calls are directed to a set of employees and they ring all phones atRing Groups the same time.  If no one is available to answer, it can be programmed to roll to a back-up group or move into an auto attendant.

Call Queue – Inbound calls are directed into a queue, where the caller is on hold for an available attendant.  Employees need to log in and log out of the queue to accept calls.  Programming and system capability differ widely at this point, but typically there are either opt out processes or time out process that direct callers to an automated attendant.

The beauty of the call queue is the equitable distribution of calls to employees in the queue.  Callers typically will hear hold music and messages while they wait.  Depending upon preferences of the company and their customers, the length of time in queue is a programmable variable.  The challenge with call queues is the management of the employees from a log in/log out perspective.  If someone forgets to log out, calls could be directed to an unattended station.  Again, there are some programming variables to solve for such an issue, but it could lead to some longer hold times for a caller or two until the programming kicks in.

Ring groups are more of a static program with a fixed number of rings between groups and ultimately to an auto attendant as a back-up.  Callers can either hear ringing or hold music while ringing.  The automated attendants serve as back-ups and can provide for routing to people or departments or for message delivery.  The benefit of this approach is that employees in the group are free to move about without worrying about logging in and out of the queue.  Additionally, the fixed amount of time before back up groups or attendants are engaged is seen as a benefit.  The downside is potential inequity of call disbursement between members of the group.

Ultimately, the decision comes down to striking the right balance between customer preference and employee management.  Companies that bring a solid understanding of customer preferences to the table are a step ahead in programming the right solution. 

 

About the author:  Mark Greim is the Vice President of Sales and Marketing at sipVine, a provider of Hosted VoIP Phone Service. 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, Configuring digital phone service

My Phone System is Failing! What do I do?

Posted by Mark Greim on Jun 10, 2019 10:20:00 AM

Every business with an analog phone system faces this question at some point.  The first sign that something is wrong typically is that you are having difficulty securing replacement handsets or other components.  The manufacturer has long since put that system on "end-of-life" and is looking for you to upgrade to their newer model.  You're able to hold on for a while by finding parts on Ebay until your actual service vendor indicates that they will no longer be able to support your system, which really disturbs you because you've been spending a small fortune with them to keep the phone system alive!

SIP_5ptchecklist_300x400.pngDoes this sound familiar?  We hear from businesses all the time who have been able to hold off on phone system replacement, but have been experiencing these end-of-life conditions and spending a lot of money and resources to avoid the replacement.  The worst feeling is the fear that something catastrophic will happen to their system and they won't be able to get it back going again.

Well, there is good news for you.  Most businesses have or are moving to a Hosted VoIP service.  What this means is that they will never have to worry about phone system replacement again!  Moreover, because they are not actually buying a phone system to sit on-site and they are only purchasing the VoIP handsets, the cost to do this is much lower than purchasing a replacement system.  It may even be less than the maintenance costs spent annually to keep your old phone system alive!

phone.jpgHow is this possible?  The Hosted VoIP provider is responsible for maintaining the phone system and keeping it state-of-the-art.  Your business will receive the benefits of service enhancement and never have to monetarily fund or physically replace a phone system again.  Your VoIP handsets should last years.  At sipVine, we use Polycom or Cisco phones and we rarely have one go bad.  If one is damaged, it can simply be replaced.  If that model is no longer available, you would receive the upgraded model and it would work alongside your other phones without issue.  There are not many areas of infrastructure investment where you are no longer concerned with obsolescence.

Virtual_Phone_Mobility.jpgWhen you begin your review of Hosted VoIP services, you will see a vast number of areas of improvement when compared to your old phone system.  Providers may have different approaches, but you should be able to program you flow of calls and your auto attendant to better match the needs of your internal and external customers.  You can create situations where your customers always get to the person or group they are looking for.  There are strong features surrounding mobility and virtual office locations.  The general feature set is robust, providing small and medium-sized businesses with an enterprise level phone system.

The bottom line is that you should be able to save money on the monthly service and the upfront purchase of the capital.  You will become more efficient and improve your communications with your customers.  And, you'll never have to search Ebay again for replacement parts!  So, if your phone system is failing, contact a Hosted VoIP provider today!

 

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 System Replacement

The No-Stress Way to Upgrade Business Phone Service to VoIP

Posted by Mark Greim on Mar 12, 2019 9:32:00 AM

The debate between landlines and cloud telephony is over.  Most businesses have converted or soon will be converting to Hosted VoIP for their business phone service.  Whether your small business is located in Kansas City or New York City, traditional phone companies continue to increase the pricing on analog landlines, which only fuels the exodus.  Manufacturers of phone systems are discontinuing systems that are analog based in favor of VoIP phone or VoIP enabled phone systems.  Soon, it will be difficult to find replacement parts or phones and receive repair or maintenance services on analog-based phone systems.

SIP_300x400_5ReasonsIf you're running a business that is still utilizing an analog phone system, you are obviously maximizing your return on investment.  However, you may be finding that with your phone service plan price increases and your rising cost of service and repair, your monthly savings by moving to Hosted VoIP will provide a quick return on the new investment.

You also may be very busy running your business and any thought of changing over your phone system may create stress and wasted cycles.  Rest assured as there are ways to create a no-stress conversion to Hosted VoIP.

Find the Right Provider

It all starts with finding the right provider, as a successful selection will help make all other conversion actions (or steps) go well.  There are many options for your consideration, but for a stress free experience, consider going with a local provider.  Such a provider will:

No Stress Move to Cloud Telephony
  • Be more familiar with your business and the community you both serve.  They can visit with you face to face and get to know your expectations and requirements.
  • Deliver and install the VoIP phones
  • Conduct on-site training for your employees
  • Be in a better position to troubleshoot any post-install issues

Be sure that the local provider is actually providing the system and service and not reselling or white labeling a product of a national provider.  It is also good to look for longevity in the market.  Ask for local references, both long term clients and recent additions.  These should give you a good idea of how the provider is performing.

Ensure Programming will Maximize the Benefits

Again, the right provider will help you through this important component.  National providers are quick to drop ship phones and turn the programming over to you to handle via a web portal.  A local provider will be able to meet with you, understand your business requirements, and help identify areas of opportunity, such as call flows, automated attendant options, and customer communication demands.  The local provider will be able to consult with you on some best practice options and also customize these options specifically to how you want to communicate.  You can also increase your availability for key customer contacts, like sales and customer service, through mobility options. 

Finally, the provider should be able to take all of the information gathered and pre-program the phones and call flows prior to the installation!

Help Make the Conversion Day Successful

You can relieve a lot of stress in this stage by selecting the best day and time for the installation and training.  The provider will be able to come in and set up the phones, conduct a training session, and seamlessly port your current numbers to the new service. 

Successful Conversion to Cloud TelephonyThe installation shouldn't be intrusive at all.  A new phone is placed where you need it, side by side with the current phone until the numbers port.  VoIP phones can share an ethernet connection with a computer if there is not a dedicated ethernet connection available.  You can help by making sure there's an ethernet connection wherever you want a phone.  Also, VoIP phones require power, so make sure electrical is available at each phone location.  Or, you can also choose to purchase a Power Over Ethernet (POE) Switch, which can easily be introduced to your network and eliminate the need for a power cord running to the phone.

Finally, VoIP phones work differently than an analog key system.  Although most of the changes are positive, it is still a change.  You can relieve stress by introducing your team to the benefits they will receive and set expectations that they should embrace the change!  This will certainly help relieve the stress of this or any conversion.

Remember to relax and take comfort in the fact that most of your business peers have upgraded their business phone service to cloud telephony.  By selecting the right provider, customizing your set up, and taking the steps to make the conversion successful, you will have a positive experience and receive many operational and economic benefits.

 

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

5 Events Signaling it is Time to Change Phone Providers

Posted by Mark Greim on Dec 4, 2018 9:50:00 AM

Changing phone providers isn't (and shouldn't be) top of mind for most businesses.  Investing in and managing the core business is always the priority, with infrastructure investments left to wait for the right time.  So, when is the right time?  There are some advantages from a strategic and efficiency standpoint that could make sense to implement at any time, but there are also some clear events that signal that it is time to change phone service providers and move to a VoIP phone system.

My_Phone_System_Crashed.jpgMy Phone System is Failing.  As phone systems age, businesses spend more and more time and resources on keeping it working.  This is an expense that is often overlooked when evaluating a system change.  The clearest signal that it is time to change is when the contractor used to maintain the system no longer supports the model.  Many times, parts are no longer available through normal distribution channels or are no longer being manufactured.  If your phone system parts are only available on eBay, then it's definitely time to make a move!

A great alternative to on-site phone systems is moving to a Hosted VoIP solution.  The problems cited above will not recur as it is the responsibility of the hosted VoIP provider to maintain and advance the phone system and service.  The business only purchases the VoIP phones, thus the only expense down the road will be for the occasional phone addition or replacement.

My Business is Moving.  This is a great time for businesses to evaluate their current phone system and provider.  Instead of spending the money on moving an old phone system, invest in a Hosted VoIP system.  The investment costs in Hosted VoIP are low because only VoIP phones are purchased.  The money saved on moving a system and potentially selling that system will more than likely offset the cost of the new VoIP phones.  Additionally, moving to a Hosted VoIP platform will provide additional flexibility to the business, as phones can be deployed anywhere there's access to high-speed internet.

Term_Contacts_bad_for_Phone_Service.jpgMy Telecom Contract is Expiring.  This is an obvious time to evaluate options, both on the phone service and phone system.  It is an opportunity to potentially save money on the monthly expenditure and remove the potential for non-budgeted expenses on phone system maintenance and obsolescence.  As stated earlier, the phone system and service are not necessarily top of mind for business executives.  Take a moment to review your current telecom contract to find the expiration date.  Your current provider will not likely remind you that your contract is expiring and you will find yourself auto-renewed.

You will find the telecom landscape has changed since you last signed your contract.  Most Hosted VoIP providers do not require contracts.  If they do, evaluate providers who do not, as there is no value in a term contract, except for the provider.  If the term contract is to secure pricing or concessions, you will find other providers have similar price advantages without requiring a term contract.

Phone Bill Rate Increase.jpgMy Provider Raised My Rates...Again!  One of the biggest complaints we hear about traditional phone service providers is that they raise their rates routinely.  There's typically fine print in any contract signed that allows for rates to be adjusted mid-term.  Moreover, rate increases are hidden in mysterious new surcharges that somehow appear on the bill.  They always sound "official" like "Recovery Fee".  The fact of the matter is that traditional telecommunication companies are losing traditional land lines in droves, and they're trying desperately to maintain margins by increasing their rates.

Get out of the cycle of absorbing rate increases and evaluate your options, as there are plenty out there!  At sipVine, we have never increased prices.  If fact, we have only lowered our prices since our inception in 2005.  Moreover, our published rates include any real surcharge costs we incur and we only add sales tax to our invoice.  Clearly, there are great alternatives to your current situation!

SIP_5ptchecklist_300x400.pngMy Competition has a Communication Advantage.  It may not be easily identified, but if your competition has moved to a Hosted VoIP platform, there are a number of advantages they have when it comes to their communication strategy.  Many areas can be made to be more efficient with direct inward dialing, call flow decisions, heightened remote or key contact availability, auto attendant features, and many more advanced communication features.  Where the previous four events are not high mindshare activities of business executives, leveraging infrastructure to create a competitive cost, efficiency, and communication advantage should be.  This is a great reason to evaluate a Hosted VoIP solution today!

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 System Replacement, Moving Phone Service, Telecom Term Agreements

When You See Increasing Phone Service Rates, Run!

Posted by Mark Greim on Oct 30, 2018 9:02:00 AM

Phone service providers should be all about raising your expectations, not your rates. Sadly, the opposite is true in many cases.  Small businesses routinely complain about the difficulty in getting something done through the customer service channels of the major telecom providers.  Just as common are the frustrations that come from being rewarded for such lackluster service with rate increases.  Thankfully, there are alternative providers offering rate stability, improved technology,  and superb customer service.

Affordable VoIP System and Competitively Priced Phone Service

Compared to purchasing an on-site phone system, moving to a hosted VoIP platform is very affordable.  Businesses only purchase the VoIP phones, not the system itself.  Additionally, the financial returns carry on over the long term.  The hosted VoIP provider assumes the responsibility for maintaining and upgrading the system, thus the business does not need to worry about system maintenance or obsolescence.  At most, they will replace or upgrade the VoIP phones as they age.

Another Phone Service Rate IncreaseHosted VoIP phone service is priced differently than traditional phone service.  With hosted VoIP, businesses are charged for monthly service by the number of phones deployed, not the lines of service coming into the system.  However, in most cases, businesses moving to hosted VoIP are paying less than traditional phone service.  Additionally, most hosted VoIP providers do not require term contracts.  This does not guarantee price stability, but it does guarantee that they will need to remain competitively priced to retain the customer.  Despite requiring term contracts, traditional telecommunication providers have continued to increase rates to protect their margins, as their number of analog lines continues to decline with customer defections.

Improved Technology with Hosted VoIP

Technology improvements and increased functionality in the telecom space have been largely seen in VoIP deployments as opposed to analog phone systems.  Businesses now expect their phone system and service to be flexible and programmable, conforming to how they run their operation.  Hosted VoIP enables businesses to improve their external and internal communications, becoming more present and efficient. 

Better Service with VoIP for Small Business

With rising expectations for improvements to their business operations with the new technology, businesses are becoming more reliant on their Hosted VoIP provider for their phone system management.  Given previous experiences with traditional phone service providers, businesses were hesitant to rely on a service provider for maintaining their phone system as well.  This is where careful consideration needs to take place with the choice of Hosted VoIP providers.

Small Businesses Choose Hosted VoIPFrankly, the national VoIP providers haven't lived up to these higher expectations.  They push their customers to their self-servicing web portal and deploy a call center approach for their support.  Given the myriad of ways their system can be programmed, support is better performed by professionals familiar with the system and the options available.  Self-servicing is frustrating to the customer.  There are Hosted VoIP providers who provide more of a concierge type of customer service, taking the burden of phone system programming and managing off of the customer.  This gives them time to focus on what is more important, their business!  Because of this level of involvement with the customer, these type of providers tend to exceed expectations for customer service.

As you research hosted VoIP providers for your business, be sure to ask what their pricing history has been.  "At sipVine, we are very proud of the fact that we have never increased our rates since our inception in 2005", states Robert Conner, sipVine's CEO.  "In fact, our rates have declined.  It is our goal to be the affordable alternative to the business community for phone service and set the standard for 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: Hosted VoIP, small business phone service

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

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

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