Learn how to find a business-class hosted voice service that will support your company without breaking your budget
The market is crowded with providers that offer inexpensive or even free hosted voice services—all of them claiming to be the ideal telephony solution for small business. But many popular Internet-based public phone services, such as Skype and Google Voice, are more appropriate for people making personal calls from their homes to families and friends.
As a small but growing company, you need a business-class voice service that will support your business and your customers; however, you also need to be conscious of the cost, balancing the price with the quality of the service. Here are five things to look for—and look out for—when choosing a hosted voice service.
1. High-quality phone service. The most important aspect of any hosted voice service is the call quality it delivers. You want a service that doesn’t drop calls and that is as reliable as plain old telephone service (POTS). In addition, you want calls that are clear and continuous with little to no jitter, which introduces a “choppy” audio signal as a result of delayed or dropped packets as your voice travels across the Internet.
In general, the quality of the calls depends on the service provider’s network. A service that uses a private network for voice and that doesn’t also carry other types of Internet traffic will be much more reliable than one that uses the public Internet to carry phone calls, like Skype.
2. Guaranteed service levels. Consumer-grade hosted voice services don’t provide service level agreements (SLAs), which guarantee a certain level of service quality and offer resolutions in the case of a network outage. Business-grade voice services, on the other hand, have SLAs written into every contract and might include such information as the number of dropped calls or dropped packets the provider deems acceptable. An SLA also details how the service provider will apply a refund to customers’ accounts and how quickly they can expect to have their service up and running should it go down. Guaranteed levels of service mean that you’ll get a voice service you can rely on.
3. Service redundancy. A business-class hosted voice service will provide redundancy, which means that the provider’s network has equipment that will take over in case the original equipment goes down. This keeps the voice network up and running and your voice service online, meaning your customers can still reach you.
It’s important to remember, though, that your network may fail, too. You’ll want to build in some redundancy on your end. If you contract with a cloud-based hosted voice service, make sure you have the provider’s software and a soft phone application installed on a computer outside of your office. Also consider having a single public switched telephone network (PSTN) line installed in your office along with a telephone that doesn’t require electricity. In the case of a natural disaster or a simple power outage (and a dead cell phone), you’ll still be able to dial out.
4. Business-class features. Many consumer-grade hosted voice services aimed at small businesses boast cheap or even free phone calls, but they don’t deliver many features beyond a dial tone and one or two lines. A business-grade service offers a greater variety of features, and you can generally choose as few or as many as your company needs. Look for telephony features that will support your business, such as auto attendants or a directory service to route customer calls to the appropriate person in your organization. On the higher end, you can also get mobility features such as single number reach, which will forward calls from a work number to a mobile number, as well as unified communications features like integrated voicemail and email.
Be sure to check out the IP-based phones each provider offers or integrates with. Simple services may only have a soft phone, which is an application on your computer that you use to make and receive phone calls. Soft phones don’t have as many business features as an IP phone, such as the Cisco SPA300 Series IP Phone or the Cisco SPA500 Series IP Phone. IP phones like these offer a variety of features, including speakerphone, call transfer, conferencing, intercom, call history directories, and company directory access.
5. Network assessment service. A business-grade service provider will offer a network assessment service to ensure your company’s infrastructure can handle a hosted voice service and deliver high-quality calls. Many small businesses need help upgrading their network to support VoIP traffic, and a business-class service provider will be able to accurately determine how much traffic your local network can support, if you need new routers and managed switches to run a hosted voice service, and how to deploy the hardware and the service to run at peak performance.
What features does your company need from a hosted voice service?