Are Cloud Voice Services Really Right for You?

It may seem like everything related to communications is moving to the cloud. So of course, your business should be in the cloud too, right? Maybe not.

While cloud voice services offer a lot in the way of exciting functionality, and it can be appealing not to have to own or manage your company’s communications systems, the cloud isn’t necessarily the right solution for everyone.

In fact, in my personal experience, about half of the people who purchase a cloud solution aren’t really the best fit for it. Let me explain why.

Cloud voice services were built to provide highly functional, interactive suites of services. These unified communications solutions deliver instant messaging, web conferencing, video messaging, and other advanced communications capabilities all within a single application. This functionality can be fantastic for companies that use and need it – those with multiple locations, many remote workers, and high call volumes.

However, if your company is a more static business model, all of that functionality may actually slow you down. For businesses that have used the same phone system for the past 15 years and are now looking into new options because your old system is no longer serviceable, the cloud is likely not the right solution.

Cloud voice services were not built to function like traditional phone systems. That is one thing they do not do as well.

Your Business May Be Better Off with a Traditional Phone System If…

Are you trying to decide whether your company can benefit from a cloud-based communications system? Consider the following factors. You may be better off with a traditional phone system if you:

  • Have no (or few) mobile/remote workers
  • Have minimal phone usage
  • Still use pagers or fax machines
  • Do not have a customer service department
  • Use key system appearances to answer calls (put a call on ‘line 1’ and use an intercom to tell someone that their call is holding on line 1)
  • Could be considered a traditional, low-tech business

If you answered yes to more than one of the above points, your business will likely benefit more from a new phone system rather than cloud voice services.

Cost Comparison: Traditional Phone System vs. Cloud Voice Services

What about the cost differences? The cloud systems look comparatively inexpensive when you look at the monthly fee versus an investment in purchasing an entirely new phone system. So, let me break down the cost considerations:

  1. Call Volume: Most hosted cloud solutions include unlimited calling. That is ideal for companies with high call volume, like call centers and customer service departments. But for a company with minimal phone usage, you’re paying for those unlimited calls. And consider a company that had 50 phones with their old system, but only five lines on all of them. In the past, they only paid for the five lines. But with a new cloud service, they would be paying for 50 cloud users – one for each phone — each with unlimited calling. It is likely less expensive to have monthly service costs rather than burying those costs in an unlimited solution.
  2. Up-Front Investment: The minimal up-front cost and low monthly fees of cloud products can be appealing. However, it’s worth considering how long you expect to use the solution. For companies that used their last phone system for 10-12-15 years (or more!), the long-term cost benefit lies with purchasing a system outright. However, if you don’t want to invest the upfront capital, or don’t want the responsibility for managing a phone system, you have the option to lease (or lease-to-own) a phone system as well.
  3. Service Responsibility: Unfortunately, many cloud providers have immature customer service organizations. So, while you may spend less up front on a product that you don’t have to own or manage, you’ll likely spend a significant amount of time and effort managing your vendor’s customer service team. The person in your business who is charged with managing the vendor relationship will require time to track down the appropriate customer service contact, struggle with how to resolve issues that arise, and deal with potential down-time.

At first glance, cloud voice services appear to be the simple choice. But it needs to be the right choice for your business. If you want help deciding what communications solution – and which provider – would be the best fit for your business, we’d like to help. Barry is committed to an agnostic view of the market: we know all the players and their products, and help our customers identify what will work best for their needs. We understand small and medium sized businesses, and have solutions that include simple, basic telephony as well as cloud-based communications, and everything in between. Then we can help you implement and manage your new systems – all for the same (or lower) cost than you would have paid on your own.

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Learn more about cloud-based communications with: “Clouds, VoIP, and Unified Communications”.
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business voip services

National Carriers and Business VoIP Services: Proceed with Caution

business voip servicesIf you’re researching voice over Internet Protocol options based on the latest “business choice award,” you might think business VoIP boils down to a shortlist of corporate behemoths. And choosing your organization’s ideal provider—it would seem—is just a matter of comparing the largest, most well-known carriers.

Not so fast…

Fortunately, carriers like Verizon and Comcast aren’t the only word in business VoIP. Cloud VoIP services are readily available through regional, managed service providers (like us), who work closely with a much smaller customer base and integrate best of breed providers. Our model ensures that your voice and data system is robust, reliable, end user-friendly. And theirs? Well let’s just say, here are four reasons why working with a national carrier could lead to unpleasant surprises:

1. Patchy Installation and Training Services

If you’ve ever relocated or expanded your business, you know what a hassle voice and data implementation can be. Getting up and running starts with hands-on project management: database collection (outlining users, inbound protocols, automated attendant settings, etc.) and coordination of timelines/cut-overs. Installation also requires the engineering piece—actual programming and deployment. Throughout the process and post-installation, your team members need different types of system training, too.

The big carriers won’t be much help in these areas. Sure, they’ll get you a dial tone and assume some of the coordination, but don’t expect a lot of hand-holding or consultative set-up support. Don’t expect comprehensive, onsite training for your employees or system administrator. And don’t assume your phone lines will be ported over exactly as scheduled. After all, a carrier with hundreds of thousands of customers is bound to blow a few deadlines.

2. Limited Failover Capability and QoS

National carriers deliver voice over IP/SIP trunk service via a standard circuit that they provide. It’s not dedicated to your business, which can create quality of service (QoS) issues if and when the pipe becomes oversubscribed. In the event that a carrier circuit is unavailable, calls must be redirected to standby, analog phone lines. This means your failover capability is limited by the number of backup lines you’re willing to keep… and pay for.

Our ipConnect ShoreTel Cloud model is different. We have complete control of our circuits; we’re able to provision and control both sides of a T-1 for example, so if there is mixed traffic, your QoS never suffers. Further, the brains of our system live in a fully-redundant, cloud-based data center. You don’t have to pay for backup lines or worry about business continuity.

3. Customer Service from the Cloud

In the Age of Information, everyone’s customer service record is on display, for good or ill. According to a 2013 Forrester report, positive customer experience is more important than price, in terms of building loyalty. That’s why businesses like yours prioritize smooth, seamless communication.

When you’re in the customer seat, and your UC system is having hiccups, your business VoIP provider should maintain the same UX priority. But the big carriers don’t because they can’t, which compromises your service reputation and your future business prospects.

Carriers simply aren’t structured to build one-on-one relationships or deal with field-level issues. In fact, most of these business VoIP providers got into cloud services because they don’t have the capability to offer on-premise solutions. Instead, they route your questions to giant call centers, staffed by mediocre support techs who provide generic, scripted recommendations. Wouldn’t you rather work with an engineer who has actual field experience, and knows who you are?

4. Multi-Tenant Platforms

Most of the big carriers offer what are known as “multi-tenant” platforms for unified communication. Any time the underlying software gets upgraded, every customer on the platform is affected—all at once. This is problematic for your business in two respects. First, you have no control over when your IT people will need to stop and address the latest transition. Second (as a kind of consolation prize), multi-tenant platform providers know the upgrade issue is frustrating, so they don’t make very many improvements. They avoid delivering smarter business solutions because they only way they can deliver them becomes a pain point for most customers.

At Barry, we give every customer their own discrete instance of the ShoreTel platform. When upgrades come to market (as is happening now, with ShoreTel Connect version 15), we can manage the transition at different times for individual clients. We can provide retraining for administrators according to their schedules. Ultimately, you still get a best-in-class business VoIP solution, but you’re never at the mercy of a forced migration.

What are you looking for in a new phone and data network system? How do clouds and VoIP figure into better business communications? If you aren’t totally sure, we have a resource that might help. Check it out:

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Hosted VoIP Solutions: 3 Tips when Shopping for Providers

hosted_voip_solutionsI recently attended a client meeting where I found myself having a familiar conversation. The prospective client is already using a hosted VoIP network (although “struggling with” may be a better description). So far, he’s had disappointing experiences with not one, but two separate providers, and unfortunately his complaints are pretty common:

• The phone and data service quality are poor.
• The support people he’s been dealing with to resolve his issues? They’re even worse.

Ouch. He told me he still likes the concept of a hosted VoIP solution, but he feels the promise he was sold on (better technology and cost savings) has not been delivered.

This is a good segue into how we, at Barry, do hosted VoIP solutions differently. Rather than have the conversation in your office, after your initial vendors crash and burn, maybe the following advice can save you some time.

Because hey, it’s easy to make claims like “feature-rich” or “all-inclusive.” But how often do you see providers getting deeper on these points—spelling out what their sales bullets really amount to? If you’re curious about the substantive factors that distinguish Provider A from Provider B, here are some key points to keep in mind:

1. When it comes to hosted VoIP and UC technology, the “how” is as important as the “what.”

Today’s unified communication systems can do things your predecessors probably never imagined. Phone-based coaching tools, conditional call forwarding, find me/follow me mobile reach, personal auto attendants, the ability to upload your own preferred hold music… (That last one’s huge. Just ask Twitter.)

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Meanwhile, business VoIP offerings are difficult to compare. It’s easy to get caught up in the features of different products/services—especially when sales and marketing teams do such a good job blurring real distinctions.

Just don’t lose sight of how all these features will come together for you. Ease of use—both for your end users and your administrators—should always come first. As ShoreTel partners, we’re fully onboard with the tagline “Brilliantly Simple.” We believe communications technology should give you the power to conduct business across continents, time zones, and devices—with tools that are always reliable and comfortable. In fact, a big part of our job is staying current on available and coming innovations, so we can recommend optimal equipment/configurations for your business needs.

2. The new normal in customer service should make you uncomfortable.

Across the board, customer service has become mechanical—completely removed from personal, direct relationships. Instead of reaching someone who recognizes your voice and understands your problem, you reach an operator who asks you to enter your account number and choose from a list of pre-programmed issues. From there, the aggravation continues…

This is particularly true among the larger, hosted VoIP solution providers, where support staff turnover is high and training is questionable. Most customers now accept poor service as the new normal. If you’re younger than me, you may not remember a time when standards were any different—when you could get a knowledgeable person on the phone without wasting half your day. (Sigh.)

But that’s not to say customer service is dead. As you shop for hosted VoIP providers, use Net Promoter Scores (NPS) to weed out the lowest performers in customer satisfaction. NPS is calculated by taking the percentage of customers who are “Promoters,” and then subtracting the percentage who are “Detractors.” Brands like Apple and Trader Joe’s routinely score in the 70’s. Telecommunications companies, as a whole, score in the single digits.

We’re different—dramatically different, if you consider our NPS (somewhere between 95 and 100 at last check). In striving to be the best VoIP provider, we focus on earning the trust, respect, and loyalty of each customer. It’s how we do business. While we wish there were more industry metrics to prove our commitment in this area, the NPS distinction and our many VoIP customer testimonials are a good start.

3. Support isn’t just a courtesy issue; it’s a bottom-line factor.

When phone communication is central to your business (e.g. you maintain a call center, an order department, a help desk), you need a reliable phone system with a top-tier support company working behind the scenes. Some carrier/cloud organizations are promising the moon and the stars via “network-based” phone systems. The hidden cost? Your IT department will end up saddled with help requests, picking up slack for the provider—eating up resources and working hours in the process.

At Barry, we deliver unparalleled support from the very beginning: onsite meetings to review the implementation, onsite training, and ongoing service support with quick access to high-level technical resources. It’s part of our mission to be customer-centric, but it’s also how we ensure you achieve the full cost benefits of hosted VoIP solutions.

Want to see for yourself? Read how we combine advanced cloud-based technologies with old-fashioned service and delivery values. Browse our customer case studies.