Alternative solutions to a traditional phone system like hosted PBX, VoIP, and cable are no longer “out there” ideas for small businesses. Many business owners are aware of the potential cost savings and increased flexibility that these solutions provide, but aren’t sure what to do next when it’s time to decide on a provider. Of course we suggest, as always, that you discuss your options with your own local IT consultant, but the following Q&A with Bruce Chatterley, President and CEO of Speakeasy gives some points to consider when deciding on a VoIP provider.
There are many VoIP service providers. How should a business owner pick the one that’s best for them?
While small businesses are interested in the benefits VoIP provides, chiefly cost savings and enterprise-class features/functionality, some are immediately intimidated by the technology, fearing it too technical or disruptive to adopt. We’ve found that addressing this knowledge barrier and making the benefits very clear prompts adoption by small businesses.
The key factors that prompt businesses to select VoIP include office relocation or expansion, need to upgrade or replace existing systems and/or dealing with distributed workforces. Several factors that businesses should consider when selecting a VoIP provider include:
- Single Provider: Businesses can save time and money by selecting a one-stop shop for their telecom needs. Consider a provider that offers a broad spectrum of VoIP, broadband and managed services all under one roof.
- Customer Support and Satisfaction: Select a VoIP provider that has 27/7/365 customer support to ensure that your Internet and voice connections are functional without the costs of hiring an IT staff. The quality of this support is also critical.
- Financial Stability: Many businesses are concerned about VoIP providers that may be new or unstable.
- Rich VoIP Features: Select a provider with features that take full advantage of VoIP’s functionality, including find me/follow me, voicemail as e-mail and Remote Office to support a mobile or remote workforce.
To date, the most recognized VoIP providers are known for their residential VoIP service, such as Comcast and Vonage. However, businesses, especially small businesses, have unique needs. Guaranteed, high-quality phone and voice service is critical – businesses run the risk of frustrating and even losing customers if the quality of their communications is inconsistent or if the access is unreliable.
I’m sure not all VOIP companies have the same financial health. How should one be able to tell the financial health and future sustainability of one VOIP provider over another?
The last thing a business wants to do is work with a company that has financial problems. Businesses owners are too busy tending their own companies to worry about whether or not their technology suppliers will be functional tomorrow.
This is an important consideration when assessing VoIP options, especially given the history of early stage, smaller, financially unstable providers. Our advice is to research the history of any company you’re evaluating, its current state of business and any affiliation with larger companies to help determine long term viability. It’s also beneficial to evaluate the strength of a company’s customer base and look into what market size and vertical industries they serve to find similarities with your own business.
Speakeasy, which has been delivering leading-edge broadband technology for more than a decade, was acquired by Best Buy in April of 2007. As a part of Best Buy, Speakeasy is probably the most financially stable alternative to the ILECs (Incumbent Local Exchange Carrier, which is basically a local telephone carrier for a specific area) and cable providers because the company is owned by a multibillion-dollar company.
The Best Buy partnership provides assurance for our current and potential customers that Speakeasy is a proven, trusted service provider. The trust and viability issues are especially important in the VoIP market, as consumer confidence has been tested with the shakeout and sometimes abrupt failure of smaller, less established competitors.
What about Cable as an option? I know many cable companies are also selling telephone service.
Cable is primarily known for residential service. Businesses need a provider that understands their needs. No two businesses are the same, and Speakeasy’s years of service to the SMB market gives us the experience to understand. Our service bundles offer business class VoIP, broadband and managed services in single-provider packages.Additionally, cable providers generally do not rate favorably in terms of customer service, and their heavy focus on the residential market means they have less experience in providing business solutions.
When considering vendors make sure you know what Service Level Agreements (SLAs) they are offering, which defines the guaranteed uptime and speeds provided, For instance, Speakeasy offers 99.99% SLAs on T1 and Business Ethernet service and robust service guarantees on all products. Cable generally does not offer this same level of service.