VoIP and Cloud communications power modern business phone systems. These are the tools that improve your business communications and reduce costs. What do the words mean and just how can you use them to get maximum benefit?
WHAT CAN VoIP DO FOR YOUR BUSINESS IN 2017?
On premises VOIP - Is this yesterdays solution?
WHAT IS VOIP? - WHAT IS AWESOME?
Wouldn't you agree that phone technology has changed the world in the last decade. According to Ofcom 93% of adults in the UK now use mobiles - just who are the other 7%? The worlds most valuable company, Apple, makes phones. VoIP now powers two thirds of large business phone calls.
So I'm going to show you just what is great about it - but first what is it?
VoIP technology enables you to make and receive telephone calls over a broadband Internet connection instead of over a traditional phone line. VoIP stands for Voice Over Internet Protocol. With VoIP, analogue voice calls are converted into packets of data. The packets travel like any other type of data, such as e-mail, over the internet or any private Internet Protocol (IP) network. The signals are almost always encoded using the Internet Protocol (IP). This is VoIP. It is also called VOB, Voice over Broadband.
Using a VoIP service, you can call people who have landlines or mobiles or any other connected device. The VoIP Service connects to the old telephone network. This is the network that has been developed over the last century and a half with all of the telegraph poles and exchange cabinets. It is called the PSTN – the public switched telephone network – and VoIP connects using gateways.
You need a device to digitise the signal and that device can be an IP phone or any one of a number of other devices including your computer or tablet. Voice quality is as good as, if not better than, the traditional phone system.
VoIP Is replacing the old fashioned telephone systems rapidly. In the UK it is growing substantially, volumes have almost trebled in the last 5 years. You can see the growth in the chart.
OK, so what is awesome about that?
VoIP gives you more flexibility. You can use it anywhere, using any device at any time. Your customers will always get the same great experience wherever your people are and whatever device they use. Customers can be answered how you choose. For instance a person can greet callers by name or an automated call queue can route the call across the globe.
Costs are reduced to a fraction of traditional costs. Individual phone lines are removed, local switches are reduced and call costs are slashed.
VoIP gives you the power to change anything at any time with no technical know how. You can upgrade, cross grade and downgrade at will.
VoIP from £10/month
Want to know more?
For a more detailed introduction to VoIP you can see the ITSPA (Internet Telephony Service Providers Association) guide called "Planning And Managing Voice Over IP" here. It is hosted on our Slideshare account.
The graph and other communication statistics are available in the Ofcom Communications Report published in August 2016. We have found the Ofcom site unreliable so the report is here in full.
WHAT CAN VOIP DO FOR YOUR BUSINESS?
Avoid Misunderstandings With Call Recording
A good VoIP service can record phone calls using an industry standard protocols such as MP3 or WAV. You can access, search and download all your call recordings.
You can store these calls either in the cloud or locally on your PC. The recordings can be used to integrate with other programs including CRM’s such as Salesforce.
A word of warning – you must comply with the regulations in force. You can find a guide to Call Recording and The Law here.
Why Would You Want To Record Calls?
Call recording makes sure your recollection is accurate and can be very valuable in resolving the “who said what, when kind of disputes” It’s also a great training tool.
Dispute Resolution can be made easier using VoIP
Everyone who uses the phone can benefit by using recorded calls to resolve disputes. A recorded call is not economical with the truth!
Use your recordings as a training tool
Using recorded calls is a great way to train people to meet real life situations without the dangers of associated with learning for real. You can share good examples and bad examples.
Use your recordings to work out how much to charge your customers
Call records provide records which can be used to bill customers where time is charged for, but also provides tools to time the call and automatically generate reports for billing.
Ensure compliance with Industry regulations
Many industries have regulations which show how and where you must record calls A good VoIP system can make compliance easy and secure.
How To Answer Phone Calls More Efficiently Using VoIP
VoIP Gives you all of the tools you could want in order that important call as efficiently as possible and they can all operate differently based on the day and time a call is received.
What can you do If you or your staff are available to take the call
1) Place the call in a call queue and which then rings your extensions until answered
You can have a) Ring all – all extensions ring when the call comes in or b) Cascade – extension 101 rings and if not answered extension 102 rings and so on
You can group extensions into ring groups, as well, if you want. This is usually considered to be the best way forward - customers get answered as fast as your staff can cope with them. If they are delayed for a while the system will let them know where they are in the queue.
2) Use a voice menu (also called IVR or auto attendant) i.e. "press 1 for sales press 2 for accounts"
This allows your customers to be guided to the correct operator. It is generally fine if there are a couple of options, but many more and you instantly have unhappy customers. Sitting through endless voice mail options is painful. If you would like to hear how bad it can get you could try phoning Barclays Bank on 03457 345 345. Or for an example of how we think it should be done, try phoning us on 01922 21 33 33 - there are only two options
What can you do If you can't take the call
If you or your staff are not available to take the call you can either:
1) Direct the call to an alternative number for example a mobile
2) Direct the call to a voice mail box to take a message
You can set time based rules to determine how a call is handled as well. So many customers have different messages for Christmas, Out of Hours, Bank Holidays and so on
What Message Can You Choose To Use?
You can have:
Out of hours and holiday messages
On hold messages
Voice menu messages
Voice mail messages
The more professional the messages, the more professional you appear. Using music is good if it is done well. Be warned there are companies who will rent you professionally recorded voice messages at absurdly high prices - paying £10 a month over a five year contract does get very expensive.
How To Save Money With VoIP
You can choose your billing plan
The single most expensive component of a phone bill is the time based charge – the minutes. VoIP allows you to choose the billing method that suits you. You can choose to either pay using a plan, or go unlimited. Some companies have complex structures charging for connection, the seconds and then rounding up the call charges. Others charge simply by the second with no rounding. Some companies allow you to change billing methods at will.
Most VOIP providers will allow you to call other people on their network for free.
You can manage the way your people make calls
With VoIP you can see how your people are using the phones in real time and hence manage their usage. You can also set limits on who they can call and numbers, such as chat lines, that they cannot call.
VoIP saves you paying for hardware and lines and maintenance
The huge money saving is that you no longer need to pay for a PBX and the phones themselves can be amazingly inexpensive. So for example with Birchills Telecom they can be free with a subscription.
VoIP also it frees your business from ever having to install new phone lines.
VoIP systems just work – you don’t need to pay maintenance charges or repair bills. If you choose the correct system you don’t need to pay licence fees or upgrade fees or any of the other myriad charges that some companies invent.
How To Get A Great Phone System For Free
If you want a phone system for free without a long term contract then there is only one alternative that we know of and that is BIrchills Telecom.
How To Get A Great Phone Number For Free For Anywhere
With a VoIP phone system you break free from all old fashioned restraints. All phone numbers are available, world-wide, for you to use, connect, divert and cancel on demand.
You can have a London number even if your office is in Glasgow. You can also transfer numbers in. You can choose your numbers here.
ON PREMISES VOIP, IS THIS YESTERDAY'S SOLUTION?
On premises VoIP what does that mean?
With on premises VoIP when you pick up the phone you connect to a switch or exchange. In an office that switch is usually called a PBX (or Private Branch Exchange). This switch allows telephones in the office to connect to each other without paying call fees. The switch also allows incoming calls to connect to any of the phones within the office. The PBX usually sits in a cupboard in the office somewhere gathering dust and chewing through electricity.
As time went on people made these switches clever and added more functions. So for example the PBX controlled voice mail, gave you IVR (press one for this, two for that etc.) and did different things at different times of day.
When VoIP came along you could connect your phones in an office to the PBX using VoIP and then connect to the outside world using either analogue circuits or ISDN or even the Internet. This is often called on site, or on premises VoIP.
Would anyone want to do that today?
Even though I am a great fan of hosted VoIP I have to admit that in large organisations with large sites - concentrating all of your phone traffic via a single large switch on site does make economic and control sense. However, even here it must be sensible to consider replacing old ISDN circuits outside the building with SIP trunks. In fact BT has just announced the end of life for ISDN - they have given themselves 10 years to replace it with VoIP.
HOSTED VOIP - ALL THE POWER AND THE GLORY
So, just what is hosted VoIP?
Following on from on premise VoIP the next logical step was to do away with the PBX in the office and connect phones directly into the Internet. This meant that you could still allow phones within the office to connect to each other without paying call fees – but you could now connect to other offices for nothing as well. The phones are still connected to a switch which is now an array of severs. The servers are now in the cloud on the Internet.
As time has progressed the number of ways of referring to hosted VoIP has multiplied and some now talk about Cloud based communications.
Where is the power and the glory?
Each user gets all of the power that is built into the switch. So they can transfer calls across the globe for free. They can record calls for free. The get voicemail for free. And they get all of the other power functions.
The system can do a lot more than any on site system. It can transfer calls out to mobiles. It can follow a user as she moves around. It can play music on demand and it can handle calls depending on the time.
Analysis of calls is available instantly. The customer experience can be monitored. Costs can be viewed and controlled in real time.
But wait there is more!
UNIFIED COMMUNICATIONS - THE HOLY GRAIL?
So, what is unified communication?
For the last couple of decades the ultimate goal has been seen by many vendors as being Unified Communications or UC for short. People talked about convergence as being the embodiment of this goal. The idea is that you can talk to anyone, at any time that is convenient to them and the technology that made it happen fades into the background.
So with a unified communications solution, people collaborate through voice, video chat, web conferencing, and instant messaging. Employees can work together using each technology individually or all of them simultaneously, and from a single interface.
You can read more from Matt Townend on his blog here.
Do people really want it?
No one has ever said to me "You know what - my business would really fly if I could just get unified communications".
I have heard a lot more of "This is all too complicated - our guys just won't learn how to make it work - oh and it costs a fortune."
This isn't sour grapes - if you want a Unified Convergent solution Birchills can deliver it for you.
It's not only me, the idea is no longer universally seen as the goal with competing concepts such as "bring your own device ", BYOD taking over. Another idea is contextual communication, powered by WebRTC and we'll explore that next.
CONTEXTUAL COMMUNICATIONS - HAVE WE SEEN THE FUTURE?
What is this contextual communications?
The latest goal seems to be contextual communications where you can communicate with people instantly from wherever and whenever and they know the context from which you are calling or communicating. So if you are stuck on an spreadsheet, then when you call a help line (with a single device tap) then they will be able to help instantly. Or if you want to talk to some one about a problem with your car, then they have all the information on your car at hand and can help. You might also choose to communicate using Email or Snapchat or any one of many other communication programs and again the help line should be able to respond using that medium.
Sounds pretty exciting, huh? - you can find out a lot more below.
The technology that is being hailed to do this is called WebRTC – Web Real Time Communications. This is adding another layer of usefulness and complexity to VoIP.
WHAT VOIP IS NOT
There are known known's, unknown knowns but here are the known unknowns
VoIP will get rid of some costs and reduce others, but it will not bring your telephone costs down to zero.
VoIP technology has been developed for you, not a network managert. You don't need to know how it works to use it, any more than you need to know how to make a car to drive it. Ease of use is important in VoIP.
It should be business as usual when adopting VoIP – you shouldn't lose touch with your customers as you make the move, and you can keep your old phone numbers. Your operations shouldn't be affected at all. It should all become more intuitive, powerful and convenient.
VoIP is no longer a new technology and is now offered by all service providers. In fact, you face more risk staying with old fashioned telephony as time goes by VoIP provides cost certainty, easy upgrades for new features and better options for business continuity and disaster recovery.
THREE FUNDAMENTALS FOR HOSTED VOIP - A TRINITY
It's 1,2,3 lets get busy.
You need to have an adequate broadband connection to the Internet. The more users that you want to connect the more bandwidth you will need. You can test your broadband speed to our servers here. The speed that is important is the upload speed. If you take the upload speed and mulitply it by ten - then everything else being equal that is the number of users you can support. So if the number is 2Mbps then 20 users would be about the limit.
2) Phones And Devices
You need devices to digitise your voice and, loudspeakers so you can hear the conversation. We like dedicated phones called IP phones (sometimes called SIP Phones or Internet Phones) because they are always on and available. There is a great range of these phones ( you can see some on the photo) and you can see a large range of them on the main Birchills Telecom website here..
You could use your computer, tablet or mobile but these devices do other things and, these days, they continually upgrade. You don’t want to miss that vital phone call when your computer is upgrading to the latest version of the operating system. If you do choose to use to use a device then there is a whole array of softphones available - which are programs or apps which emulate a phone. You can see a range of softphones on the Birchills Telecom website here.
3) VoIP Provider
You also need a VoIP provider such as Birchills Telecom who will operate the PBX Portal and ensure your phone calls are carried successfully. Because the calls connect to the public network they are still charged. You can log in to the Portal to see how the system is working, alter things and get analysis. You can see what our PBX Portal does and looks like here.
Isn't there any other hardware available?
There is a great selection of other dedicated IP or SIP hardware for example, conference solutions, DECT devices, door entry systems, voice announcement systems and all of the peripherals and spares that go with them. One of the most commonly requested items are headphones - you can see a great range on our site here.
All this means that however you want to answer the phone or communioate there is a solutuion for you.
WHAT SUPER FEATURES DOES VoIP GIVE YOU?
You get a great system that can get bigger or smaller at any time
VoIP gives a system that’s able to grow with your business. If a new employee joins your company and needs an extension setting up immediately this can easily be added to your existing system without any need for extra lines or rewiring your office. It’s also true of the reverse and if for some reason you wish to lose an extension this can be simply taken off your account.
Your people can work from home or another office or anywhere
Because of the way VoIP works employees can appear as though they’re in the office from any location across the globe. This opens up the option of remote working for many employees. Remote working has many benefits both for the employee and the business such as lower cost and increased productivity.
Employees working from home can save the business money in many areas such as property costs, travel expenses, office equipment and furniture.
Wherever your businesses are, they are connected for free
Many businesses operate out of more than one location. With an old fashioned telephone system each location needed its own phone lines and phone numbers so it was often very difficult to get one phone number to ring in more than one location. With VoIP one number can ring in multiple offices around the world at different times if needed.
You can use your phone system with computer software
A VoIP phone service can easily integrate with other software in your office to improve efficiency. VoIP can be set up to work with databases and booking software so all the information needed can be kept in one place. It also means names and numbers can be popped up on the screen of your computer when you have an incoming call.
SPECIFIC FEATURES THAT ANY GOOD VOIP SYSTEM SHOULD HAVE
UNLIMITED OPPORTUNITY - THE BENEFITS
Any time, any place, anywhere thats the power of VoIP
Increase efficiency when you talk - really
- People like talking to people. Voice calls can do things that other methods of communication find very difficult
- Complex situations can be summarised very quickly when people talk
- Misunderstandings are minimised, trust and rapport are established
Customers want to be able to talk to real people when they choose to make a purchase. Inevitably this means they all choose to make calls, at the same time, whenever is most convenient for them. The inherent flexibility in VoIP systems means that you can choose to meet this challenge as you wish. Maybe, you turn over more phones to be in the sales department when the peaks happen. Maybe, you outsource traffic to home workers.
The more time your people spend doing unproductive things the more money you waste. A VoIP phone system lets you look at the telephone activity of all your users in real time. You can slice and dice the data in any which way you choose. If the analysis shows you are calling one supplier a lot, then you can arrange to do business more efficiently with them - maybe use email.
A VoIP system provides ease in navigating and configuring the setup and maintenance process. You can monitor and change call logs, network configuration settings, in fact anything. It also gives you access to change any PBX extension and voicemail settings.
A hosted VoIP system means that all of the computing is done remotely in a server farm in the Cloud. This means that you do not pay for the electricity to run an old PBX 24 hours a day. So you save energy and cost. Additionally because multiple sessions are hosted simultaneously on the servers they use a lot less energy than they would do if everyone had their own dedicated PBX.
THAT'S THE WONDER AND THE GLORY OF VOIP
VoIP is the future happening now. VoIP phone systems are continuing to develop more features to meet the needs of business today and into the future. The great thing is that as they develop everyone gets the benefits without the continual cycle of replacing the phone system every few years.
To improve your communications now the single driving technology is VoIP.
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