Five reasons for Small Businesses to Switch to VoIP
VoIP, or Voice over internet Protocol to give it its full title, is a concept at the vanguard of the telecommunications industry which, if you havent already heard about, will become an increasingly familiar part of all our lives in the near future. But what is it and how can it benefit small business users?
The concept (which has a number of interchangeable titles such as Voice over Broadband, VoBB) actually covers a set of technologies whereby voice data is transferred in essence, over the internet. The service is distinct from the traditional telephony systems of the public switched telephone network (PSTN) which transmits both analog and digital voice data on a combined network of physical cables and wireless connections, using switch exchanges to connect the network together. In contrast VoIP transmits voice as digital data packets across internet connections, encoding and then decoding the packets at each end. VoIP packages can therefore vary in terms of the functionality they offer, often depending on the software that is supplied by the VoIP provider.
There are three main types of VoIP that can be combined within a single package, IP Phones (or VoIP Phones, which can be used just as traditional handsets), Software VoIP (which runs from a computer) and Mobile VoIP (or Mobile and Integrated VoIP). In fact you may already be very familiar with one example of this technology, an example of software VoIP which has permeated many of our social activities – Skype.
At a business level, users of a traditional telephony system need to implement a network and hardware, such as a PBX exchange, on site to split their incoming connection in order to provide the separate lines amongst their staff. However, with IP telephony such as VoIP, the service can use existing data networks to create the required number of lines.
As a consequence there are significant benefits to be had from switching your business to a VoIP service:
1. Improved Functionality
As briefly touched on above, a VoIP service can provide a business with many more communications options than a traditional telephone system. Most packages will include a software element which drives the functionality and which can be kept up to date remotely by the VoIP provider so that the business continues to benefit from the latest developments in the technology.
With enhanced software driven communication channels such as video conferencing and the fact that the service is not tied to a geographical location (e.g., colleagues can be accessible on simple extension numbers in different offices in different locations) businesses can cut unnecessary travel and costs and open channels which may have previously been difficult to access – without the need for heavy investment in expensive hardware.
Moreover a VoIP service can change and improve the way in which your business operates with many efficiencies to be had thanks to functionality such as the ability to dial simply by clicking on phone numbers on a PC, integrated computer based phone directories, self-managed caller ID and the scope to assign both multiple numbers to a single phone and a single number to multiple phones.
2. Improved Customer Service
By taking advantage of the extensive functionality generated by a VoIP service a business will no doubt enhance the way in which they operate and work with their customers, however using VoIP can also boost customer service in a number of more direct ways.
Handling of calls can be improved with features, such as ring groups, transfers and forwarding and even automated call handling coming into the reach of smaller scale businesses, ensuring that calls are dealt with by the right people in a timely manner. This can not only improve customer satisfaction but present customers with an advanced phone service at an affordable cost giving them the right impression of your business irrespective of its size. Previously this has been the reserve of big business with big budgets.
A company can even give its customers a free contact channel by supplying them with VoIP enabled telephones.
VoIP can greatly improve the flexibility of a business in a number of ways. One key area is the ability of business to respond and adapt to changes in personnel due to positive or negative growth. VoIP offers more cost effective scalability than traditional fixed line telecoms as you need only pay for the exact number of lines that are needed at any given time with less hardware to upgrade – depending on the package, the handset or headset may be the only the outlay required for a new line.
Whats more, many VoIP packages come with the capability for the business to use a simple piece of front end software to configure their network to their business needs as and when they need it rather than depending on third party providers
A VoIP product can also offer flexibility in the manner in which a business operates. Staff can work whilst being fully mobile, receiving their communications in a variety of ways – email, voice calls, instant messaging – on a variety of devices – smartphones (mobile VoIP), landlines – ensuring that they are easily in contact with colleagues and clients whenever they need to be. And all this using the same number, wherever they are in the world. Traditional phone systems, conversely, which rely on a physical network with physical exchanges connecting the relevant elements of the network, are often defined by their location.
This has further benefits for business in the event of an office or workplace becoming unavailable. A switch to VoIP will allow a business to set redirects to mobiles and handsets in other locations from any device with an internet connection. Therefore ensuring interruptions to customer service and operations are kept to an absolute minimum, without needing to physically access the office and manipulate any hardware in situ.
Last but not least of course is the fact that VoIP systems are fully integrated with traditional PSTN services so users will not have any trouble communicating with the rest of world.
4. Unified Communications
Unified communications is a term used to describe the integration of different communication channels which is made possible by the fact that VoIP uses the same data networks as other data transfers to handle voice data. As a result it may be possible using VoIP to easily switch between voice and instant messaging, receive voicemail messages into an email client, share and collaborate on documents through your VoIP software whilst discussing them on call and even integrate Customer Relationship Management (CRM) databases with telephone systems.
Switching to VoIP phones will arguably lead to a host of efficiency savings and operational improvements as a result of the aforementioned benefits, which therefore mean indirect cost savings. Improved communications in general, telephone and video conferencing in particular perhaps, can reduce the need for business travel and in the current climate that is an increasing expense.
However, there are also plenty more immediate savings to be had when switching; for example, the fact that businesses are able to use their existing data networks (no need for additional voice networks) and therefore potentially reduce the installation and maintenance costs of their network infrastructures. The only hardware needed are the phones/handsets, the hard work is done by software.
Furthermore, the actual costs of renting an equivalent of better VoIP service from a provider are likely to be significantly lower than a traditional service (due in part to the fact that this is a growing worldwide market with healthy competition). Whilst the services that are often considered extras in a traditional package will often be included in standard VoIP billing or be available at a far cheaper rate.
Whatever size of business you operate switching to VoIP can generate both cost savings and significant improvements in your operations and services. However, if you are a small business the switch to Business VoIP could give you that leading edge over your competitors and ensure that you are free to develop your business efficiently and dynamically.