Business VoIP

Business phonesetI’ve been thinking about getting a VoIP phone in my home office. I’ve been using only a cellphone to conduct business for fifteen years, but there are times when it would be very handy to have a good speaker phone and to also enjoy some of the other features that come with business phones these days. So I’ve been shopping around and I quickly noticed that VoIP vendors have introduced some interesting innovations to their VoIP platforms in just the last few years and they are trying hard to be a better alternative to local phone service.

Since most of my clients offer business landlines I thought it would be interesting to describe what I found in the marketplace. I think it’s important to keep up with what your competition is doing, and VoIP business service is definitely becoming a serious competitor to anybody selling phone lines to businesses. Here is what I found about today’s VoIP market:

Price. Business VoIP keeps getting less expensive. Just a few years ago the VoIP prices were universally around $40 per line. Both Fonality and RingCentral now have lines starting at $19.99 including unlimited long distance and basic business features. Packages climb in price to $40 to include such things as video conferencing. Every online vendor has a different set of features at various price levels making it difficult to do a side-by-side comparison. But the bottom line is that basic VoIP business lines have come down in price.

Integration with Apps. Probably the coolest new feature with some VoIP services is full integration with common business software. For example, you can get full integration with helpdesk software like Salesforce’s Desk or with Zendesk. Or you can tie into collaboration software like Google Drive or Dropbox for business. A number of phone vendors are integrated into Salesforce, the industry-leading sales tool. And some platforms claim to integrate easily with most android apps.

These are powerful tools that are not bundled with switch-based telephone systems. Buying a phone line that is already fully integrated with Salesforce or Google Drive can be a big enticement to users who want to solve multiple issues with one purchase.

Advanced Business Services. VoIP business vendors have made big strides with their suite of advanced business features, Earlier generations of VoIP business lines were mostly a replacement for single line business phones, but they now offer features that rival the best functions of IP Centrex and other switch-based solutions.

And many VoIP platforms now integrate video conferencing for up to 50 simultaneous users, something that is not part of most Centrex or PBX feature sets.

Mobility. It doesn’t look like the VoIP providers have yet solved the mobility issue, but it’s obvious that they are working on it. Most of them still use call-forwarding to allow calls to be sent to cell phones, but I couldn’t find anybody that is yet offering an integrated cellphone / landline product where all features work seamlessly across both platforms.

Unified Communications. A few VoIP providers are now offering applications that will support phone calls, voice mail, email, chat applications, conference calls and other forms of communications and give users the ability to easily switch how they are communicating. But most don’t yet have this fully developed.

There seems to a lot more functionality with VoIP business lines than what I was able to find just a few years ago. I think carriers need to be putting pressure on their switch vendors to keep up with the innovations going on with VoIP. Many businesses are going to like the integration with common business software and with video calling and if you are selling landline solutions you need to keep pace with what customers want.

Hosted IP Centrex Service

In a few other blogs I have referred to IP Centrex as a new service for businesses, so I thought I ought to explain the service. Hosted IP Centrex service uses data-centric phone sets to replaces key system, PBX system or existing Centrex service. The IP Centrex phones can be controlled by a softswitch or by connecting an IP PBX to a legacy switch.

A number of CCG’s clients are having success selling IP Centrex to business customers. The product includes the best features of a large PBX plus many additional “value added” services that are only available through IP based phone service. The product can be integrated with a subscriber’s computer systems to provide such features as dialing from Outlook, common databases for all employees, etc.

There is a wide range of phone sets available that include a screen that allows a caller to manage their calling. The product requires a customer to buy new IP handsets and many of my clients lease sets as part of the price.

This product has a large potential market since it can be tailored for the very small or very large business. It is easy for the carrier or the subscriber to customize features for each phone or for the whole system.

There are a number of benefits of this product to both the carrier and to subscribers. Some of the biggest advantages:

Benefits to the Carrier

  1. Can be sold to any business subscriber regardless of what service they had before. It’s a good replacement for B1’s, trunks or traditional Centrex.
  2. Subscribers become stickier to the extent you can get them hooked on custom features not available elsewhere.
  3. Allows a carrier to sell service outside your traditional footprint. You just need to find businesses that have a decent high-speed data connection. This also means you can sell voice services to all branches of a customer’s business and not just to those in your footprint.
  4. It promotes the Company’s data products and is easily bundled with data.
  5. The product has a lot of pricing flexibility and can be sold to compete with multiple B1’s or traditional Centrex. You should be able to profitably beat the price of any traditional phone product.

Benefits to Business Subscribers

  1. The Subscribers get a telephone system that equals the features of a high-end PBX.
  2. The Subscriber no longer needs to buy or maintain a PBX. The customer can buy the IP phones or lease them from you.
  3. Subscribers can portray a unified professional image to the public. Employees at remote locations can be integrated into the telephone system. And small companies can act like bigger companies by the use of the various features. Remote employees can be made to feel like a part of the Company.
  4. Subscribers can tailor the phone system and each phone to meet their needs. There are hundreds of features available including many that were not available on analog systems.
  5. Subscribers can easily manage the features available on each set using the Subscriber portal that allows for easy and immediate changes to the features on any or all phones.
  6. Phones are portable and an employee can quickly move their phone from desk to desk or office to office and keep the same extension, voice mail and features.
  7. Phones can be programmed to be nomadic (portable, but not mobile). This means that an employee can take the phone out of the office and work at home or in a hotel as if they were in the office.  All features and functions of the phone remain unchanged.