In this article, we will discuss some of the key points you should look for when evaluating a virtual phone system.
- Evaluate your business requirements: This is the most important issue, make sure the virtual telephone service matches your business needs. Some virtual services such as Grasshopper are perfect for SoHo and small businesses but are not suitable for large businesses where products like RingCentral would be more appropriate. Therefore, when evaluating the service and feature sets make sure the service provider can match all of your needs. This is a crucial step and should be done long before requesting quotations etc and it will save considerably on wasted time and money. Some of the features you should be looking at are the number of concurrent calls you expect as well as the number of extensions (users) and their respective usage.
- On-premises or Cloud based service: Another key point is whether you want an on-premises solution, which is basically a server that you will host or a cloud based service, which the service provider hosts and maintains. There are pros and cons to both of these with larger businesses preferring the control of an on-premises solution and SMB’s preferring to offload the maintenance and support burden to the cloud service provider. Another benefit for the SMB is that with a cloud based solution there will be no upfront capital costs in buying a server and perhaps a router.
- Consider basic communication features: When first evaluating the solution make sure the basic communication features you require are covered. For example, do you need only inbound call management? What this means is the service provider will provide call answering on a given business number, an auto attendant service to provide a menu of options, and a call forwarding service to redirect the caller to a mobile phone or home landline. This might be sufficient for an entrepreneur or home worker but will not meet the needs of an SMB that requires desk phones and outbound calling features. There it is imperative that you ensure the system matches both inbound and outbound calling requirements.
- Consider advanced communication features: the basic communication features are a must have but you may want to explore all the advanced communication features that are available and will be beneficial to the company. For example, unified communications combine the benefits of VoIP with Video, messaging, presence, with valuable collaboration tools, such as sharing your desktop with others on a call.
- Does it support Mobility: BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) is now an almost ubiquitous practice with employees operating off their own mobile phones and devices. Therefore, it is crucial that the solution can work with mobile devices for not just inbound call transfer but dealing with outbound calls. Most services can handle inbound calls and transfer them to a mobile or a landline but the employee also needs to return calls from their mobile using the business number as the caller identity. Some virtual telephone providers handle this quite well whereas others don’t support outbound calls or faxes. Others such as Grasshopper, provide a limited outbound service from a mobile application but no support from a landline.
- Vetting the service provider: there are many service providers out there supplying cloud virtual telephone services so it is vital to do your homework and research them diligently. This is not always as easy as it first appears because although there are a few market leaders with excellent service histories they also tend to be very similar and it can come down simply to where their respective support centers are located.
- Total Cost of Ownership: If you decide an on-premises virtual telephone system is best suited for your business, you will have more control but also have a considerable upfront investment to be made. Cloud hosted may be initially cheaper but those monthly fees increase gradually and it is only about 3 years before the cloud hosted service is more expensive that the on-premises service. So do your sums and see what the true total cost of ownership will be between 3 and 5 years.
- Total Cost of Technical Support: If your company already has on-premises technical support then this is unlikely to be a problem however if you haven’t then a cloud, hosted solution is going to be better for you as the maintenance and support burden is on the provider. You might want to consider how that support philosophy sits with your other IT strategy.
- Ease of Customization: A virtual telephone system should have a web-based portal for administration. It should be clear and easy to use and you should be able to customize or add extensions easily without having to resort to customer support.
- Simplicity and Price: Two important features you really want to get. A virtual system that is simple to operate, configure and also cost effective. Sometimes, the price can be hard to evaluate due to different price criteria, so it can be like comparing apples with oranges. Some virtual hosted use a fixed price per extension whilst others charge by minute usage so you need to know your usage patterns if not you could end up with a very expensive system.
I work for a small business, and as we are expanding we are looking into new telephone services. This is a great list of key points we should consider. I really like #9, about ease of customization. We want to find a service that we can fit to our need, and not have to change to fit the phone! Thanks for the information!