Archive

Archive for November, 2010

VOIP Telephone System

November 1st, 2010 6 comments

New Office
On October 14th we moved into a larger office and as part of that move, we needed to address the best way to ensure uninterrupted phone service. Perhaps, where you live, this means calling up the local phone company, they click some buttons, and now your phones magically start ringing at your new location. In Ocala, this is far from being so simple. Our local copper line phone service is provided by Sprint who, because of such a bad reputation, renamed themselves Embarq, and then when that didn’t work, sold out to CenturyLink. This company, no matter what they name themselves, is the worst company I have ever had the mis-pleasure of dealing with. I don’t exaggerate when I say that every single time I had them modify my service they would break my ability to receive phone calls.

Change Is In The Air
Sensing the opportunity to break free from the shackles of Sprint/Embarq/CenturyLink hell, I started investigating VOIP systems.  VOIP stands for Voice over IP and allows phone calls to be placed over the internet. VOIP can offer significant cost savings over traditional phone services, however, it does require a high-speed connection to the internet. I must confess that I have dabbled with VOIP in the past and the quality, at that time, was still lacking. I knew though, that it was time for a reevaluation. I fired up my trusty FireFox browser (with NoScript extension) and Googled “VOIP for business” and was astounded, confused, and a bit intimidated at just how many vendors there are. Aptela, 8×8, GrassHopper, Vocalocity, RingCentral and the list goes on and on. Their product offerings can be anywhere from very similar to wildly different. Their pricing can be unlimited or metered. And with all that, it’s next to impossible to figure out who the market leaders are in this space. With too many variables to process in my head and being naturally inclined to build spreadsheets, I fired up Excel to start documenting specific comparisons.

Decision
In the end, my spreadsheet made the choice for me. I decided to try out Aptela. They offer a reasonably priced unlimited voice package and their negative reviews online were few and far between. As a side note, whenever I’m researching a vendor/product I always Google the name of the product with the word “sucks” after it. I find this is the quickest way to get a ballpark estimate of real world feedback. I talked to an Aptela rep, and really liked their business practices which are similar to ours. They don’t require long term contracts, only month-to-month. If you don’t like the service, you can return the equipment for a refund within 30 days. With that peace of mind in place, I ordered our VOIP phones and received them in just a few days. The installation was straight forward and preliminary testing for quality passed our very unofficial “can you hear me now” tests.

Jumping In With Both Feet
With the move to the new office we forwarded our old phones to our new phones and never missed a beat. We now have more options and bells and whistles than we ever had with our old low-tech PBX. With our old PBX we had 5 lines. If all 5 lines were in use and someone needed to make a call out, they had to resort to their cell phone. With the VOIP systems, every extension has it’s own line and we never have to wait to dial out. The old PBX had a simple ring-down wherein if line 1 was busy, line 2 would ring, if line 2 was also busy, line 3 would ring, etc. We had one message if nobody answered and calling the auction-emergency number meant that our customers had to write down and dial a separate number. With the new VOIP system we set up an auto-attendant where customers Press 1 to talk to sales or support, or press 2 if they are having an auction emergency. The sale and support department is manned by dedicated support staff. The auction emergency department rings all workstations, the call is identified as an emergency phone call, and furthermore, if nobody answers in the office, the phone call auto-forwards to a dedicated 24-7 cell phone.

Other Nifty Features
The phones will literally work with any high speed internet connection, so even though we all work in a single office, it is completely feasible for us to have remote workers across the country all answering the phones exactly the same as they do now. You can configure extensions to automatically follow you, so that it rings the office 5 times then automatically forwards to your cell phone, or you can have it simultaneously ring your office phone and your cell phone. Administrators can monitor phone calls so that if one of our reps needs help on a phone call an adminstrator can listen in and talk directly to the Auction Flex rep without the customer hearing. This causes fewer delays for the customer getting the information they need while simultaneously building the knowledge of the representative.

Good Riddance
In short, I am absolutely thrilled with the VOIP service thus far. I can’t wait to cancel the Sprint/Embarq/CenturyLink service and tell that miserable company they no longer have me shackled. With VOIP we are now leaner and smarter and more flexible than ever. We can easily adjust our phone system to meet the needs of the company (imagine that). These baby-bells with their woeful customer service and antique phone systems are relegated to a by-gone era and will go the way of the Corvair. I have seen the future, and it is undoubtedly VOIP.

Categories: Uncategorized Tags: