Your business probably relies on a phone service for its very existence. An efficient, convenient and accountable way for managing in and outbound calls is an essential part of a well-managed business.
The delivery of this critical service can be glossed over by IT staff who understand data services but not voice services. Management expect phones to just work and don’t appreciate the technical factors in providing a reliable high quality phone service. This combination of IT staff lack of experience and management ignorance can be dangerous.
A badly installed and configured VoIP (Voice Over Internet Protocol) system can lead to, not just inconvenience with bad quality calls, but deals lost and goodwill eroded with long term business consequences.
Todays telephony is completely different to what it used to be. Making a phone call on a VoIP system seems very similar but what happens in the background to deliver this service could not be more different. Your old telephone service had its own “copper” network connected to large phone exchanges strategically placed around the country. Todays VoIP telephony is a data application delivered over a fibre optic network, sharing the data connection with your Internet service, and other services such as “Netflix”. Large phone exchanges housed in buildings have been replaced with high-end computer servers housed in racks the size of a large fridge.
The critical difference between old phone services and todays phone services is that VoIP systems are susceptible to bad quality if installed and managed incorrectly. This happens all too often which gives VoIP a bad name. Everyone has heard someone say that VoIP is unstable or provides bad quality voice calls. The real reasons behind these problems are either the installers that haven’t done a good job or have used the wrong Voice Service Provider (VSP).
Avoidance is Better
Choosing the right VoIP Service will save you time, money, and avoid headaches and downtime. But it’s only when there is a problem that the true value of a good VoIP Service becomes apparent, and by then it’s too late when you are tied into a term contract.
Every supplier of Voice Services will tell you that their service and support is the best, so how do you sort the “wheat from the chaff”? To select the right Voice Service for your business, you will have to do some homework and ask some important questions says Managing Director Nigel Rayneau of Auckland-based VSP Ufone.
1. Who is powering the voice service?
You need to establish exactly who provides your service because if your IT consultant is proposing a VoIP system then they will invariably be selling a service provided by a VSP. You need to know who that is because that’s who is ultimately responsible for the quality and stability of the service. It’s best to research the VSP and find out what their customer are saying, and how long they have been in business.
2. Does your VSP operate and manage their own VoIP Infrastructure?
Establish whether the VSP owns and manages the core VoIP infrastructure, or do they actually buy from someone else? This is also important because they might not have the ultimate control meaning support will be 2nd hand. The actual VSP might be providing an inferior, or cheap service so it’s critical you understand exactly who provides the service.
3. What support channels do they provide?
No matter how good they say they are, or reliable they claim, the only thing you know for certain is that at some point you are going to need technical support. It may be as simple as configuring a phone for a new staff member, or more serious like a roadworks digger sliced through your local fibre feed.
You need to know that expert support staff is available when you need them, and equipped to troubleshoot a wide range of problems. Does your VSP provide support via a phone call or is it all done by tickets and emails, because the latter is insufficient for any serious business.
Also where is their support located? An overseas support department might save that provider money, but won’t provide the immediate knowledge required for good support.
4. What experience does the installer/integrator have?
Most problematic VoIP systems are caused by a bad installation, and this is the result of incompetence or inexperience. You don’t want to be the first install with a company that has no track record or experience to speak of. Also do they have sufficient Public Liability Insurance and do they follow ‘Best Practice’? Fly by night operators are common so know who you are dealing with. Research your installer/integrator and get a number of references from obviously independent customers, with a variety of different VoIP systems.
5. What protection is provided against fraudulent calling?
Telephony has been subject for a long time to “Fraudulent Calling Attacks” and in the new IP world of telephony this has only increased. Your chosen VSP should be guaranteeing protection against “Calling Fraud”, as the cost can be significant.
6. What large corporate or Government customers do they serve?
A good indication of the capability of a VSP is the quality of their customers. The stringent requirements of corporates and Government departments means that their service providers have been strictly evaluated.
7. What is their system uptime?
In the “old days” telephone services rated their reliability by how many nines they could achieve, and the ultimate was 5 nines or 99.999% uptime. This equates to 5 minutes per year or 26 seconds per month, where the service was down, and needless to say is very reliable. VoIP systems by their nature cannot get close to this performance because they rely on so many more moving parts that are impossible to control. System uptime over a 6-12 month period will give you a good indication of how reliable the VoIP service is.
8. Do they have a disaster recovery plan?
In the event of a disaster which wipes out a data centre, ask them what happens to your service? A carrier grade VoIP service should be redundant over at least two physically separate data centres. In the ‘unlikely’ event that a data centre is disabled by a disaster, it should not put the VoIP service out because the other nodes will take over the load.
What will happen if your data connection is lost. The VoIP service will rely on this data service and if it fails for any reason does your VSP provide alternate routing to an Interactive Voice Response (IVR) menu of options, or at the very least diversion to a cell phone.
9. Do they provide a Web hosted “Cloud PBX” service?
By far the most popular option for a VoIP solution is Cloud Hosted. This is because it off-loads the responsibility to keep the system configured, operational, and secure. It also reduces the need for capital expenditure because no server equipment needs to be installed on site. A good Cloud Hosted solution should be housed in local “Telco Grade” data centres, rather than at an overseas location or worse at an insecure or inferior data centre. It should also be fully functional, for example an internal extension to extension call should connect via the extension number, not a ‘dummy’ phone number.
10. Are mobile phone apps available for all brands IOS & Android?
Many businesses are on the go or have remote workers, so having a mobile VoIP solutions is crucial to their success of their day to day business. This is also critical if you are travelling overseas a lot. Ask your provider if their service allows you to take calls on cell phones and other mobile devices with a mature and well tested application.
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