One of the big debates between providers of Hosted VoIP services centers around whether to off source account servicing to the customer or deliver account maintenance activity as a part of the service. In either case, it can be a point of differentiation.
With Hosted VoIP services being the service platform of choice for most businesses today, a new telecom bundle has emerged. Traditional phone providers bundle voice and data with various term commitments under the guise of providing discounts. As alternative providers of internet have emerged, businesses have the opportunity to secure their internet services from such providers and open the door for moving their phone service to a hosted VoIP provider. These providers have created a "new" bundle. Because the phone system and service are now intertwined, such a bundle provides a unique opportunity to deliver a fantastic level of service.
The power of Hosted VoIP manifests with the ability to customize the system to match the unique needs of the business. Business select how calls flow into the office, develop an auto attendant to route calls to maximize customer satisfaction, create find-me/follow-me routines for high contact employees, program time of day routing / messaging differences, and work through many more areas for customization. After the initial deployment, changes can be made to the programs to address changing demands. There are also needs for administrative updates, as user names (and email addresses for voicemail to email features) change with turnover. Businesses may also add phones/users as growth occurs or new locations are required.
It is at this point where the great debate ensues. Is it better to provide a self servicing web platform or provide a full service support contact for customers? To be fair, there are cases to be made on both sides. At sipVine, we've made the strategic decision to provide the full service, doing so within our standard rate structure and bypassing any administrative fees or charges. At the core of this decision is what we believe to be an important opportunity to leverage the bundling of system and phone service. Due to the fact that there's an intensive level of custom programming up-front in the process, there's a great opportunity to get to know each and every customer within that context. How powerful is it to receive a call from a customer and you are able to demonstrate that you "know" them? Isn't that what customer service is all about? Do you have that kind of relationship with your current phone service provider?
sipVine views this as an opportunity, one that would be lost if we asked our customers to service themselves via a web portal. Granted, there are certain things that would be easy to do on a portal. However, we've provided service to a great deal of customers coming over from hosted providers who offered web portal updating access. In most cases, these customers were frustrated with the portal as they typically had to call for a refresher on how to use it or they created problems with the phones (or call flow) as they attempted higher-level updates.
Recently, a major national provider of hosted services announced that they are now going to provide a "concierge" service, as they realized the level of frustration out there and indicated that many do not have the manpower or expertise to maintain their systems themselves. The fact that they are putting a premium on full service signals the potential winner in this debate.
Despite being somewhat validated by this announcement, sipVine and other full service VoIP providers need to take full advantage of the opportunity. Customer controlled web portals have a great advantage in that they are "real time" updates. Thus, speed to respond such requests are paramount. At sipVine, we offer several different methods to place a request. Sending an email to the technical team, logging a ticket via our website or to a specific access email, or simply dialing 7HELP from their sipVine phone are among the access points. We pride ourselves in prompt closure of such requests, but mainly in delivering the feeling that we are in fact the "phone department" for all of our customers.
As more and more services are being delivered to businesses in a hosted platform, the debate or self service vs. full service will be front and center. Businesses may have differing preferences. Perhaps it is best solved by the question on how they would service their own customers. Offering full service comes at a cost to the business, but the reward can be a loyal and happy following of customers!
About the author: Mark Greim is the Vice President of Sales and Marketing at sipVine, a provider of a variety of VoIP phone solutions and services. Mark has extensive experience working for start-up or entrepreneurial organizations and has a passion for affordable, reliable, and purposeful technology solutions in those environments.