Selecting the right phone provider for your business is challenging. You’ve read numerous articles on VoIP phone service and what it can do for you. Even companies that have used the technology for years find new VoIP benefits now and then. So you’ve decided to upgrade. It still leaves you with the question – which business VoIP phone service is the right choice?
A quick Google search will give you thousands of service providers. It’s easy to get lost trying to compare prices and features. Before you start the process of selecting a vendor, do the following steps first.
This is a crucial point when upgrading to any new technology, not just VoIP phone service. You need to know what you want before you can select the right service. Evaluate your existing phone system. See where the current system falls short of meeting employee needs. Talk to your staff. Ask them what features they would like and will improve their productivity.
Many businesses skip this step and start contacting service providers. If you don’t know what you need, how can you say if feature X or feature Y is more useful? For example, many providers offer digital faxing as a part of the service portfolio. But what if your business doesn’t need it? You could’ve selected a lower-priced service that doesn’t include fax features.
It goes without saying but let’s say it anyway. The first thing you should look for in any business-grade VoIP service is call quality.
Do not accept less than high-quality audio from any VoIP service. VoIP calls used to be choppy or users may not hear certain words. Calls might get dropped abruptly or not connected on. Those days are long gone.
Today’s best VoIP service providers deliver HD quality audio that is on par with traditional landline calls, if not better. Few people can even differentiate between VoIP and analog calls anymore. Check that calls are consistently high quality. It is not enough if one call out of 10 is good quality. Every call coming in or going out should have crystal clear fidelity.
Total cost is more than the advertised price or the sticker price of a VoIP service. You might find that the advertised price does not include add-on features, one-time charges or other miscellaneous fees. Be sure to get a breakdown of the various costs and the total amount in writing from the vendor. Your monthly bills should be roughly consistent with no surprises along the way.
Apart from what you pay the vendor each month, you will have other costs when upgrading to VoIP. Make room in the budget for these line items as well. Preparing your network for VoIP can be expensive depending on your circumstances.
For instance, can your existing network hardware handle voice traffic? Do you need to upgrade any routers or switches? You should also check your Internet connection. Is it fast enough for VoIP? Do you need to upgrade for extra bandwidth? Many organizations are surprised when the vendor asks questions and they don’t have the answers.
Some service providers offer a plethora of plans for you to choose from. What’s important is that they have a plan that’s right for you, not the total number. In fact, service providers with fewer plans make it easy for you to choose. You don’t have to figure out what is different between plans A, D, C, all the way to Z.
Check if the features you want are included in the plan costs or if they require extra fees. Some features come with a one-time fee and others have recurring costs. Check the fine print to see exactly what you’re paying for and make sure to get it.
You should also ask the vendor about support for third-party enterprise systems like CRM and ERP. A reputed VoIP phone service should work with your existing tools. Ask about support for mobile devices, softphone apps, and third-party SIP hardware. While you may not need advanced features today, it should be available for you tomorrow.
Generally speaking, VoIP phone services for small businesses are more reliable than they used to be. However, that shouldn’t stop you from making specific inquiries about each vendor. Ask them if they have a plan for emergencies and disaster management. What happens if your phone line stops working?
At the very least, you should be able to route calls to a landline or mobile number automatically. Can your employees continue working from another location? How quickly can you relocate and start working again in case of a natural or man-made emergency?
You should also ask the vendor about their data centers and infrastructure. Do they have multiple options for backup? What tools do they have to ensure your phones keep working? These are important questions to ask and get the answers to.
Even with security incidents making headlines almost every day, it’s something organizations ignore until it’s too late. As with any modern technology, your VoIP service is vulnerable to certain risks. Just as you use spam filters for email, you need specific tools for VoIP.
One part of security falls to the vendor. For instance, any business-grade VoIP phone service should offer encryption. This way, no one can steal information from you. Ask your vendor about the security measures they implement for their infrastructure.
The second part of security falls to you and your employees. The vendor can only do so much to protect your phone system. If employees leave their passwords written down on Post-it notes, anyone can break into the system. If you don’t already have a security awareness program, it is time to start one now!
No one pays attention to customer support until something goes wrong. That’s when you wish you had a more responsive vendor. You should be able to contact the service provider through multiple channels – email, chat, messaging, website, and phone.
If you are having problems with the service, they should have knowledgeable support staff who can solve it for you. If the service itself is down, they should be able to give you an estimate of when it will start working again.
Review the Service Level Agreement (SLA) thoroughly. This contract lays out the responsibilities of all parties. This is where you will find your uptime/downtime guarantees, scheduled maintenance windows, compensation for excess downtime, etc. Does the guaranteed uptime include maintenance? Make sure you understand every aspect of this crucial document.
A general rule of thumb is that the longer the provider has been in business, the better the service is likely to be. Of course, there will always be exceptions. But providers who stick around generally offer high-quality services. Can you trust a startup not to go out of business unexpectedly?
Another thing to consider is the vendor’s expertise in your particular industry. Some industries are highly regulated and have compliance requirements. Examples include healthcare, education, and finance. There are quite a few vendors who specialize in catering to the requirements of such businesses. They may offer tailored features that suits your needs better than a more generalized service.
There is no doubt about it. Most organizations are heading towards unified communication (UC). It means consolidating all your communication channels in one place. For instance, a software suite that handles instant messaging, text, phone calls, conferencing, etc.
Quite a few businesses use VoIP as the basis for unified communication. Major service providers already offer conference calling, video calls, etc. Add other channels as well and employees don’t have to switch between multiple apps. Users shouldn’t worry about reaching someone. Just send the message and the system will make sure the recipient gets it – on any device, anywhere in the world.
Unified communication might be too much for your business right now. After all, does a company with 30 employees really need it? Remember that we are talking about the future. Your company may grow to the point where you require UC features. Do you want the hassle of changing providers then? If your vendor already offers unified communication, then you have peace of mind about the future.
These are the eight most important things to keep in mind when selecting the right phone service for your business. However, you may have other requirements specific to your company as well. Evaluate each vendor against all the criteria to make the right choice.
Finally, make sure to read reviews from past and current customers. Talk to some business owners and managers about their phone service. Ask around for recommendations. Many online review sites compare different service providers and give you more choices. Now that you know to look for, get started on making the switch today!
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