By Greg Kolb
Hosted phone systems have exploded in popularity in the past decade. In 2008 nearly 80% of all new PBX lines installed were VoIP. For enterprises looking to make the transition to VoIP, the process can seem intimidating, so I have compiled some quick tips to help guide you before, during and after you set up your hosted VoIP system.
Know What Questions to Ask
Asking the right questions before you nail down a provider could save you precious time and money. While evaluating services from potential providers you will want to discuss their infrastructure as well as their network capabilities.
I urge anyone considering a hosted VoIP system to first look at a provider’s infrastructure. While other issues can be solved with software fixes or changes to process, nothing will prevent an outage due to overloaded gateways and single points of failure in a provider’s infrastructure. To help mitigate these outages, providers should have geographically diverse voice servers and other methods of redundancy in place so that even if one network goes down, your calls will still connect.
Once you are comfortable with your provider’s infrastructure your network should be carefully evaluated. Your VoIP service will only be as good as your WAN connection(s) and LAN. You should take into consideration:
- Number of users per site
- Amount of data being consumed
- Type of data being consumed
- Local redundancy requirements
- Concurrent call volumes
You should also evaluate your bandwidth, latency, jitter and packet loss on your circuit(s). An overloaded network will quickly lead to dropped calls and voice quality issues. Only once these questions have been answered should you sign a purchase order. Upgrades to your network could play a major role in your project’s timeline and overall cost. From my experience, not all sites need extensive upgrades or any upgrades at all, but this is a critical step that any professional provider will help you evaluate during the sales process to ensure successful implementation and customer satisfaction.
Use an Experienced Provider
You may have the latest and greatest of features available on your new hosted VoIP service, but who can you trust to ensure its functionality is utilized in the most efficient manner? An experienced voice consultant will learn about your business culture, your business usage needs and your customer communication needs to properly develop call flows in a manner that will get the most out of your system. They will also assist in designing and programming essential call routing that will help direct callers to the appropriate contact.
Prepare for Disasters
Disaster recovery is often the most overlooked capability I come across when evaluating system setups. Whether you need to close for a snow day or plan for the total loss of a business location, a little preparation will make all the difference if and when you need the capabilities. You will want to know how quickly your business can recover if a physical location is unable to accept calls due to a disaster, where the calls will be routed, who will answer those calls, what equipment is needed and where that equipment will be stored. Developing a solid disaster recovery plan for your voice communications can be fairly simple and will be well worth the effort when you need it.
Keep Your Employees in the Loop
I have found that the smoothest phone system conversions take place when your employees are kept in the loop. Notify all phone users that a new system will be installed well in advance of your installation date; explain the benefits, outline how it will benefit your company or organization, and remind your employees to retrieve all of their voicemail messages from the old phone system before their phones are removed. When employees are informed they normally see the benefits of the change and have a more positive attitude toward it, which will play a major role in a successful implementation and help minimize illegitimate user complaints and lost productivity when it’s time to go live. User training is crucial to the successful implementation of a new system. All users should understand basic phone functionality and be shown call flow documentation so they understand how calls will be routed. I typically recommend each site assigns primary contacts that are responsible for understanding the system prior to going live, and they should be assigned 10-15 phone users to teach and be available to for questions.
Finally, many companies don’t take full advantage of tracking their most powerful sales and customer service tool – inbound phone calls. Tracking reports can tell you who is calling, where they found your number, whether or not they’re being connected to a representative in a timely manner, when your peak call hours are and which employees are performing on the phone. Whether reviewing reporting statistics in real time or taking a few moments to review an automated report, you can get a quick snapshot of what staffing and call flow changes may need to be made to increase efficiency.
Making any company-wide change like this can be stressful to everyone involved, but they are required for our organizations to continue to grow and be successful. Follow these tips and your transition to a hosted VoIP system should be a smooth and painless process.