5 minute read |

Is a free switchboard really free?

VoIP phone service background
VOIP | VoIP Services

Businesses face a bewildering array of choices when it comes to purchasing a new voice communications system. From cloud VoIP to self-hosted SIP trunking, you have so many options it can be hard to pick.

Adding to the confusion of business owners is the jargon and acronyms. What exactly does SIP mean? Is a virtual receptionist the same as an IVR? How about virtual numbers? It should come as no surprise that there are businesses that want to upgrade but find it difficult to select the right option.

Unfortunately, some vendors take advantage of the situation. They advertise free options that are not really free. Or give new names to familiar features and call them ‘innovative.’ It can be hard to separate the truly innovative providers from resellers or untrustworthy operators.

One example is the recent trend of vendors offering ‘free switchboard’ for businesses. An efficient switchboard is vital to most companies handling large call volumes. If that’s one of the main complaints the staff have about your current system, a free switchboard sounds attractive. But is it really free or does it come with strings attached?

No such thing as a free lunch

In business, everyone knows there’s no such thing as a free lunch. Yet, people continue to take such ‘free XYZ’ advertising at face value and think they are getting a good deal. But consider it from the provider’s point of view – what do they get out of it?

The fact is that no company can afford to give away a valuable product or service for free, forever. So there has to be a catch. Always remember that when evaluating something that sounds too good to be true.

Free switchboards are not really free

The reality is that most of the so-called free switchboards are not really free. There are many ways providers try to hide the true cost of their services.

It’s bundled with other services

For instance, the free feature may be part of a bundle of services that are paid. Basically, the switchboard is included as part of the complete service package. That’s exactly what most vendors do. At VoIPstudio, the switchboard is part of every pricing plan we offer. It’s included for all customers, regardless of the plan.

The free moniker is used to attract attention and for advertising purposes mainly. In this case, you will agree it’s not truly free. You still have to pay for it.

It’s part of a more expensive plan

Another way providers give it away for free is to mark up the price of their service plans. Suppose vendor A offers a basic plan for $10. Vendor B advertises a free switchboard on their marketing materials but the actual price of the plan is $15.

Of course, it’s easy to see that the free feature is simply bundled into a higher-priced plan. You cannot get the free switchboard in the $10 plan, so you have to buy the more expensive option.

It is misrepresenting information in a way that’s harmful to clients. It is designed to cause customers to ignore the price discrepancies. And worse, it is misleading and makes it hard for businesses to compare providers fairly.

The free option doesn’t work well

Some vendors may actually provide a free switchboard. They claim you don’t have to buy a full-fledged service plan or anything like that. Imagine a customer signs up for one such plan. Sooner or later, they will find that the free service comes with limitations such as:

  1. It will only work for a specific period such as the first 3 months.
  2. It only works for low call volumes. You have to buy a package if calls exceed X number per day or similar.
  3. It won’t integrate with your existing voice solution. It will only work as a standalone feature.
  4. It will only work for a specific number of employees. If you add more staff, you need to pay for a better plan.

The real cost of free services

As you can see, any free service – not just a switchboard – usually comes with strings attached. Or in other words, you had better read the terms and conditions very closely before you sign on the dotted line. Opting for a ‘free’ solution has hidden costs that you may not find out until it’s too late.

Short term benefits over long term risks

Free services offer short term benefits. You can save money right now and not have to spend a dime on a feature you need for the company. However, you get those benefits at the expense of long-term risks. If the provider cannot sustain the free switchboard over time, they may go bankrupt. They may stop offering the free option and you may be left without service abruptly. When your business depends on working phones, it’s a huge risk! And one most organizations cannot afford to take.

Cost of integration

At first, customers may be happy with a free switchboard. But slowly they come to realize that it won’t work with other systems. Users face difficulties in using the feature with their current workflow. Sooner or later, they end up spending money on integrating it with other business systems. Organizations that purchase a complete plan from a service provider do not have to spend on integration.

Cost of future growth

If the free switchboard cannot handle high call volume or won’t work for more employees than you have now, then it won’t remain free for long. As your business grows and expands, you will start pushing up against the limitations of any free service. Instead of thinking about expansion or launching new products, business owners start worrying about paying for a phone upgrade.

Lack of technical/customer support

How much support can you expect from a provider that’s offering a free service? Consider popular free email providers like Gmail or Outlook. They don’t come with any guarantees or assurances of quality. If the mail service stops working for a few hours, consumers don’t have any option but to wait for it to start working again.

Can you imagine being in a similar situation as a business owner? If the service goes down, you can’t get help. The vendor may not prioritize the free service for repair, they are more likely to focus on getting their paid customers back up and running. It’s not a good situation to be in for any business.

Service and quality deficiencies

A provider offering free services has very little incentive to provide high-quality service. Customers are more likely to get ‘good enough’ service. They also cannot invest in infrastructure or research for innovation. How can they when their customers don’t pay for using the feature?

Free services like internet search engines or email continue to survive only because the parent company is subsidizing it with other, more profitable ventures. Unless the vendor has another income stream, the free service will not remain free for long.

Are free switchboards good for any business?

That doesn’t mean free switchboards are inherently worthless. It can be valuable for businesses in very specific situations.

For example, a really small business that is cash strapped at the moment might opt for a free switchboard. They really need a solution for handling incoming calls but cannot afford to pay for it. As the business grows, they can look at investing in a more comprehensive solution. 

The current global pandemic is another such circumstance where a free option can be useful. If your team is working remotely and you don’t have the infrastructure to support it, a free switchboard can provide temporary relief. Such free services are priceless especially when businesses are also facing severe financial constraints.

Another use for such free service is if you’re evaluating the provider before signing up for a full-fledged voice solution. If the vendor does not provide a trial or demo, then this may be your only option. Or you may want to experience their level of technical and customer support in person before signing up.

Businesses that are looking to upgrade from their current phone system may also like a free switchboard. They can use the free service for a few weeks or a month while they decide on a good option for the business. In other words, it works as an interim solution until you find the right service plan or provider for the company.

Unless your business is facing a very specific situation where a free switchboard is the only solution, it’s better to stay away from them. It’s quite simply not worth the time and effort. Focus on finding a service provider that will fit your needs – both current and for the foreseeable future. 

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Thousands of businesses across the world trust VoIPstudio for all of their most vital business communications. Why not be the next?

Thousands of businesses across the world trust VoIPstudio for all of their most vital business communications. Why not be the next?

Start a free 30 day trial now, no credit card details are needed!