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VOIP Telephone System

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.

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.

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  1. April 8th, 2011 at 23:00 | #1

    we are just in the beginning of researching phone systems for our new office and this helps. Our situation is that we are expanding to an adjacent building and would like to have one phone system for both buildings. it is looking like it is going to be expensive to run cables and all the other pieces and parts.. could this be eliminated with the VOIP and how expensive are the phone systems?? and do the VOIP reps come to your site and explore and explain options? thanks for your help..

  2. Brandon
    April 11th, 2011 at 08:34 | #2

    @Chris Dudley
    VOIP has pros and cons, which I can elaborate on further now since we’ve been VOIP for ~6 months now.
    Pros for VOIP:
    1. More versatile and customizable.
    2. Works with any high speed internet connection
    3. Can be set to “follow you”: forward to your cell phone or simultaneously ring your cell phone.
    4. A little bit less expensive, but not enough to really factor in the decision.
    5. Super easy to add lines
    Cons for VOIP:
    1. Not as 100% reliable as the phone company
    2. “Techie” know-how needed (yourself or your computer tech)

    In our case we just had the phones shipped to us and we configured them ourselves. We never had any on-site visits by a sales person or tech person, and I don’t even know if that is an option. The best feature about our VOIP is that we’re not at the mercy of Embarq’s incompetence. We can literally plug our VOIP phones into any high-speed internet connection and it works. In the future, if we move our offices, this makes life very easy. If we want to enable someone to work from home, we send a phone home with them! VOIP systems work for you. With classic analog phone systems, you’re at the mercy of the TelCo.

  3. May 11th, 2011 at 17:02 | #3

    Oh how true! We also are in Centurylink purgatory–but we can’t get anyone to give us high-speed internet in our area (including Centurylink, who we rather not deal with anyway) Right now we are using an internet card from Verizon, but our usage is limited and if we go over the limit it is extremely expensive. Who is your internet provider if you are in Centurylink land like us? If we go with satelite, would that support VIOP for our business?

  4. Brandon
    May 12th, 2011 at 08:23 | #4

    COX high speed internet is typically very good if it’s available to you. Satellite is not a good solution for VOIP for a few reasons: 1) upload speeds are very slow 2) subject to interruptions on rainy days 3) has higher latency.
    If you can’t get solid high-speed internet then I’m afraid your stuck in CenturyLink purgatory!

  5. Rob Devlin
    September 6th, 2011 at 15:27 | #5

    I bet that rep you signed up with at Aptela was fired with all the rest when Vocalocity bought them a couple of weeks ago. They immediately fired every single rep, among other people, despite many of them having quite long and profitable tenures with the company. I talked to the rep I had worked with, and he was there 3 yrs and just had a baby and was exceeding quota. He was a great guy and took great care of us. He was not even given a chance to compete for his job.

    What is being positioned as a merger of two competitors is really the hostile takeover by one company that modeled itself after the other, got more funding, and basically killed off their main, much older, competition on the east coast. The systems are not compatible I am told, and Aptela really will probably not exist much longer. All new deals apparently are being routed to Vocalocity’s reps in Atlanta and are going on that platform (which I understand is nowhere near as developed as Aptela’s was). Ask your new Vocalocity rep why a solution that works wherever you plug in your phone was not offered to reps that were producing for years at Aptela?

  6. Brandon
    September 6th, 2011 at 15:48 | #6

    @Rob – I’m not as enthused with Aptela as you appear to be. They have had numerous service interruptions in the 12 months we’ve been with them. At this point I would NOT recommend them to anyone else. Here’s hoping that the Vocalocity deal somehow results in a more reliable phone service. If it doesn’t we’ll be looking for another provider.

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