If your phone system is more than five years old, it may be time for a new one. Voice over Internet Protocol, or VoIP phones, offer a wealth of productivity-enhancing features at a very affordable price.
What is VoIP?
Voice over IP is a generic term that means phone service runs over a data network instead of phone lines. Running over a data network, just like your computers, means more information can be sent back and forth. These systems generally cost less to operate and have far more features than a traditional phone system.
The phone signal itself can come in several ways, and this can cause some confusion. A small system may still use traditional phone lines, otherwise known as POTS (plain old telephone service). Businesses that have T1 or fiber lines for Internet often use PRI service that is delivered as part of that service. The other option is what’s called a SIP trunk. This is an Internet-based connection, and it can also be provided over a T1 or fiber Internet connection. Some phone systems are “hosted” as a cloud service, and these usually use SIP trunks. However, with a hosted solution, the provider handles the SIP trunk, and all you need is an Internet connection to link to their service.
A huge number of features are standard with a VoIP system. Typically these include call waiting, call transfer (to any phone, even your cell), 3-way calling, do-not-disturb to silence your phone when needed, call hunt to ring several lines at once, and scheduled call forwarding so that calls ring different places depending on the time of day. That means you can take the office with you and have calls sent to wherever you are, including your cell phone or home office.
Another feature you find in VoIP systems is an auto-attendant. An auto-attendant takes the place of a receptionist by automatically answering and routing calls. You can set up routing based on department, person, time of day, etc. The caller will make selections that route them to the appropriate person. While these can be very efficient from a business standpoint, bear in mind that many people hate navigating complex menus of phone options. Keep the options as clear and simple as possible so that callers can get where they need to go.
VoIP systems nearly always use a web-based interface for programming. This is far easier than most old-style PBX phone systems. You will be able to program your auto-attendant, call routing, voicemail boxes, user extensions, call forwarding, etc. With a more intuitive interface, nearly anyone in the company can take over management of your phone system. It doesn’t require someone with extensive technical skills.
Another great feature with many VoIP systems is unified communications. Voicemails and faxes can be sent directly to your email inbox. Voicemails will include an audio attachment so that you can listen to the message, and faxes are usually sent as a PDF document that you can open up and view. Some systems even transcribe voicemails into text so that you can quickly read them.
The more sophisticated systems take this a step further, with instant messaging, video chat, and video conferencing. Many offer integration with Outlook to see if you are in a meeting and even whether you are active at your computer. That way others can see your current status. You can also adjust your status to “do not disturb” if you are busy and need to prevent interruptions.
Long distance features vary by system and provider. If you make a lot of long distance calls, look for a service that offers free long distance. You can also link together offices, including home offices, so that calls between them don’t use long distance minutes. Fees for international calling also vary widely.