We continue our exploration of the communication triumvirate this month by exploring phone service—taking a holistic view of phone service and your phone system so you can increase the efficiency and functionality of your communication services and reduce the cost of running your business.
The movement away from traditional phone service toward Voice over IP has meant that the local network and Internet connection, which previously had little to do with phone traffic and voice quality, now take on a major role in ensuring consistently clear communication for your business. Additionally, phone service providers are no longer the primary source in delivering telephony features to the end user; VoIP phone systems themselves now offer much of that functionality. This shift is accompanied by a change in cost structure.
Before the advent of VoIP phone systems, businesses depended on the phone company to augment their systems with capabilities. Phone service providers have developed a host of functions over the years including caller ID, call blocking, call waiting and hosted voice mail. Each of these components incurs add-on fees to your monthly phone service expenditure. Today, quality VoIP systems have changed the landscape offering those functions (and more) as built-in features so businesses need not be “nickel-and-dimed” with monthly phone service fees ad infinitum.
VoIP implementation opens up a nation (literally) of possibilities in giving your business greater penetration in markets all over the country. Businesses have the ability to purchase phone numbers cheaply, for pennies a month, in markets where they make or receive many calls. This capability boosts operations efficiency, customer service and call tracking. It allows businesses to save the cost of 800 numbers and exhibit a local presence in their key markets. Correspondingly, customers may feel more comfortable dialing a local number for their vendor’s products and services. Whether a business purchases phone numbers to give the appearance of existing in local markets or actually has physically remote offices, VoIP technology can tie these entities together to ensure a consistent customer interface, seamless backup between locations and efficient management and tracking of the entire call flow process.
As your phone system now interrelates to the Internet, a firewall is critical to ensuring security for the voice assets in your business. VoIP is another application on your network, and a well thought out plan for your overall network security should cover VoIP also. Many security measures that are appropriate for traditional phone systems also apply to VoIP, such as using strong voice mail passwords, restricting privileges on extensions that are in common areas, and training users on phone call “phishing” scams. Read more about ensuring a healthy network in our previous Quarterly Newsletter.
Making the shift to VoIP provides a great opportunity to get in touch with your true phone system requirements. To determine the appropriate bandwidth your business requires, it is useful to have a good understanding of your current call volumes and breakdowns of local, long-distance, incoming, outgoing, domestic and international calls. You will need to determine whether devices that require analog phone service such as modems, fax machines, credit card machines, security alarms, elevator phones and door access devices can be migrated to VoIP. These devices should be identified ahead of implementation so they are addressed in your conversion plan.
Whether your business supports two phone lines or two hundred, having the right configuration ensures that your customers are not met with busy signals, conference calls take place as needed, and remote users are seamlessly integrated with your phone system.
Alternate Access consults with our customers to help them determine bandwidth requirements and the phone service (and phone system) features that best fit the business. Our comprehensive understanding of phone service offerings can help avoid common pitfalls that businesses face and often find room for cost-savings. The phone service contract is a prime example.
Many companies don’t realize that a transition to VoIP can be done in phases. For customers who are locked in to long-term contracts with phone service providers that preclude using VoIP for external communications, there is still an opportunity to implement VoIP internally and save on wiring cost in your implementation. VoIP enables more efficient use of your infrastructure because you no longer need two separate networks for voice and data – making it easier to manage too.
In addition, various options abound for how local, long distance and toll free calls are billed, and often businesses do not take the time to determine whether a measured rate (based on duration and distance) is better or worse than a message rate (based on volume) or a flat rate for their business. The answer is, “it depends.” In fact, we frequently talk to companies that renew their phone system contracts as a matter of course, without reviewing the charges, and end up continuing to pay their old rates, which are substantially higher than current ones. So if you are jumping at a short-term deal from your phone service provider and not conducting due diligence on your contract, you may be shortchanging yourself for the long run.
Here are a few examples of how Alternate Access can achieve cost savings for customers:
Example #1: We have a longtime customer who we installed nearly 10 years ago with an analog system. Over the years they have used the same phone service vendor and each time their contract comes up for renewal, they automatically sign it and keep moving along. Recently we conducted a phone service audit for them and were able to realize a 4-fold reduction in their expenditure. Their phone service savings means they will have a payback period of 5 months with their upgraded VoIP system that provides all the functionality they are accustomed to and more.
Example #2: We recently worked with a client who spends $1133 on a month to month contract with his phone service provider. By implementing a new, VoIP phone system with full functionality from Alternate Access, we can save him $300 a month, including BOTH the cost of the phone system and phone service, and the company will have faster Internet service to boot!
Example #3: Unfortunately, one prospect signed a 3-year phone service contract before coming to Alternate Access. He got locked in to a $1500 monthly phone bill. Had he come to us before signing his contract, we could have shown him a way to cover his phone service and the cost of a new phone system for just $850 per month.
Each of these customers fell victim to the way that Local Exchange Carriers to do business. Their prices are typically rigid and high, making any reduction in services or termination of a contract costly or impossible.
What these customers lacked was not only the knowledge and discipline to decipher their contracts, but more importantly the insight to take a holistic view of their communication costs. We can help companies understand how implementation of a VoIP phone system and selection of the appropriate phone service vendor and contract options can increase functionality while potentially lowering ongoing communication expenditures.
Most phone system sellers know phone systems. Phone service vendors know their phone service. But, the relationship between your phone system and phone service is integrally related. Alternate Access knows phone systems AND phone service. We take a holistic view of your telephone communications to help customers select the right service and avoid contractual pitfalls that lock them in to long-term costly plans.
If your current service contract is nearing expiration – preferably 120 to 90 days out – it behooves you to speak with us. We can walk you through your phone service considerations and review your contract options in the context of your phone equipment needs. We can help you weigh short-term gimmicks that appear to lower your price but have long-term consequences, and help you get the best service for the dollars you spend. It is not unusual for customers to save 30% to 50% off their recurring phone charges once they implement recommendations from Alternate Access.