Key Features to Look for in Every VoIP Product
Today's blog comes from TechnologyAdvice, who provides great tips on purchasing and evaluating technology. The advice given below is supported by ShoreTel, who believes that everybody should carefully evaluate their needs and available products before purchasing a new business phone system.
Purchasing a new VoIP phone system is a big deal for large and small businesses alike. It’s a purchase that will directly impact team productivity, customer relations, and core business operations.
However, buying any enterprise technology solution involves inherent risk. What if you sign a contract and decide 90 days later that the product isn’t right for your needs? What if you fail to recuperate your investment? In order to avoid buyer's remorse, it’s important to consider the following factors when selecting a VoIP phone system.
VoIP Software Comparison
The key to a successful purchase is a careful VoIP software comparison. Once you’ve lined up your shortlist of products, try to identify which vendor offers the best value for a price that fits your budget. There are many different factors that should shape your final decision (implementation, compatibility, customer support), but software features are very important.
Will the software do what you need it to do? Will it support business goals in the short and long-term?
The answers to these questions will largely be determined by which features a given solution does or doesn’t offer. As you evaluate vendors, try to draw up a side-by-side comparison chart for “out of the box” features (features that don’t require third-party add-ons or additional licensing costs).
Most Important VoIP Features
Let’s take a look at some features that are par-for-the-course in VoIP software. Since these features reflect where the market is headed, they can serve as a litmus test for long-term value.
If the solutions on your shortlist don’t have one or more of the following, consider crossing them off:
Mobility: A modern VoIP solution should, at the very least, provide mobile access through a device-optimized web interface, and at best, through native apps for specific mobile platforms. This gives your employees and managers access to data and communications away from the office and increases team productivity.
According to IDG, the U.S. mobile worker population (which includes mobile professionals, occasionally-mobile workers, mobile non-travelers, telecommuters, and mobile field workers) will surpass 105 million by 2020.
Unified Communications (UC): Unified communications is an approach in which all corporate communication channels (voice, chat, video, mobile, email, fax) are part of a single integrated suite. When connected to the right business processes (e.g. help desk ticketing), UC can dramatically improve productivity and provide greater flexibility to customers (89 percent of consumers say they’d like more than one channel option for customer support).
Try to find a software vendor that offers VoIP service as part of a larger UC suite. This will give you the option to add channels without manual integration.
Auto Attendant: Also known as an IVR (interactive voice response), an auto attendant helps callers reach the right extension or employee by navigating through a recorded menu. That means a fewer number of inbound calls will require a live operator or receptionist, which saves your company time and money.
For example, instead of asking an operator to route them to the returns department, a caller can select returns by pressing a DTMF (dual-tone multi-frequency) number on their phone or by saying the word, “returns.”
PBX: PBX stands for “private branch exchange.” A PBX used to be a gargantuan piece of analog hardware used to manage traffic between internal dedicated lines (trunks) and shared external lines — essentially, a switchboard.
While you still have the option of going the hardware route, many businesses opt for a “hosted” or hybrid PBX system. A hosted PBX (sometimes referred to as “virtual PBX”) lets you outsource maintenance and operation of the branch exchange to the cloud. The hybrid route usually requires a small, digital voice switch but lets you manage trunking online.
Analytics: The level of analytics you need will depend on how you’re implementing the software. If you run a dental office, you probably don’t need to benchmark call efficiency KPIs, but it might still be a good idea to record calls for compliance purposes.
If you run a call center, on the other hand, you’ll need to track agent and team-specific metrics such as average handle time and schedule adherence. Look for a VoIP system that provides call recording and built-in reporting tools to support your unique objectives.
Compatibility with Third-Party Apps: Last, but not least, it’s important that your VoIP software can exchange data with other critical business systems, either through native integration or API (application programming interface).
In a call center environment, that might be your CRM database or your help desk ticketing software. Here are some common app integrations to look for:
- Sage ACT!
- Microsoft Dynamics CRM
Keep in mind, you aren’t necessarily looking for a product with the most features; you’re looking for a product that offers all of the features you need and integrates with systems you already use. These seven are some of the most important features in modern VoIP, but they aren’t the only ones. Make sure you conduct a thorough needs assessment to identify unique or industry-specific features that should also serve as criteria.
Aleksandr Peterson is a technology analyst at TechnologyAdvice. He covers marketing automation, CRMs, project management, human resources, and other emerging business technology. Connect with him on LinkedIn.