Before we go into the question of how to choose a provider, let’s first see if you need VoIP. Just to be clear, I use the term VoIP to describe all Hosted Voice over IP and Unified Communications services. The industry term today is UCaaS (Unified Communications as a Service) but most people still use the term VoIP. I am not referring to on-premise VoIP phone systems.
When do you NOT need VoIP?
- You operate a very small business or are self-employed. In this case, you can probably get by quite effectively with your cellphone unless you need to have a business number that you want to keep separate from your personal cell number.
- Your business is premise-based (you operate only in the location of your business and do not operate remotely) and you have a well functioning on-premise phone system. In this case, it is pretty much the old saying: If it ain’t broke don’t fix it.
When do you NEED VoIP?
- If your business does not meet one of the above criteria you will need to switch to VoIP. It is not a question of if but rather when you will need to do so.
Now that we have determined that you need or will need VoIP, how do you choose a provider? There are literally hundreds of VoIP providers in North America so how do you find the right one for you? The following is a list of the most important criteria when choosing a provider in order of importance:
- Reliability. When it comes to reliability in VoIP, nothing is better than redundancy. VoIP systems run on servers in data centers. Like any server, they will at some point fail. When this happens (and it will), your provider must be able to seamlessly route your call through another data center so you do not experience any downtime or degradation in service. The more redundant data centers they operate from the more reliable the service will be.
- Customer Service. This includes implementation or onboarding and support. VoIP is essentially software that manages your calls and provides you with data about your calls. You need to learn how to operate this software. Most current VoIP solutions are very user friendly and intuitive to use. They do, however, require some initial training especially when it comes to managing the setup and ongoing administration of your system. The provider must therefore provide comprehensive implementation and good customer support during the entire duration of their service contract. One way of evaluating this is to ask for a demo account and then try to contact their customer support.
- Capabilities. Otherwise known as Features or Functionalities. How capable is the solution? Does it just allow you to manage calls or does it have a comprehensive list of features that can help you communicate more effectively? Features like advanced desktop, browser and mobile apps, audio and videoconferencing and collaboration, Business SMS, device swapping, click to dial, integrations with O365, Gmail and CRMs, call analytics, call quality metrics, call queues, call recording and transcription etc. In addition, many VoIP solutions offer packages that allow you to manage a full contact center. Is this important to you? Do you want to be able to manage calls as well as SMS, chat messages and emails all from the same application? Many are now using AI (artificial intelligence) to help you handle complex customer interactions. Your business may not need many of these features today but it is helpful to understand how they may be able to help your business in the future.
- Value. You noticed I did not say cost. You can get very cheap VoIP solutions in the market today but they are exactly that, Cheap!. If they for not meet the above criteria, you are not getting value and may end up having to change provider. Once you are satisfied that the providers you are evaluating meet the criteria that are important to you, then you can look at the price. There are many differences despite the ferocious competition and as mentioned there are hundreds of providers in the market today so it may be a bit overwhelming to sift through all their pros and cons and find the best offers. Like anything else, however, it is worth doing your homework upfront to avoid any surprises down the road.