When I need a chuckle, but funny cat videos won’t help, I turn to videos of young people trying to figure out rotary telephones. Clearly, phone technology has changed drastically since the olden days, both in our homes and at the workplace. Besides being more reliable, new Web-based office phone systems that rely on Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) provide amazing flexibility that allows your small business to operate like a larger one.
If your business still uses landline phones, with a few smart phones thrown in for good measure, it may be time for you to take the plunge by exploring the magic of integrating all of your business phones with VoIP.
How VoIP Works
Without digging into the technical weeds, VoIP uses the Internet to digitally transmit and receive phone calls. The other party might also have a VoIP system, but you can communicate to landline and cell phones as well.
Once you add the VoIP software and any required devices for the service you choose, you generally just need a reliable Internet connection, a computer, and, of course, phones. The phones can generally be VoIP-compatible office phones, but smart phones can be connected, too.
The VoIP service that you choose will charge a monthly fee. They provide setup instructions and offer phone support to guide you through any issues that you may have. Most services also provide a variety of extra features, such as video collaboration, so it’s worth checking out more than one service to find the right one for your needs.
The Benefits of VoIP
Your company’s Internet already provides a long list of ways that it makes business life better. Here are some of the benefits that VoIP can add to that list:
- Full integration of all phones used at your business: Your employees can tie their smart phones into your company phone network. Customers, vendors, and co-workers need not know personal phone numbers to remain in touch, whether employees are in-house, on the road, or working from their home offices.
- Freedom of movement: That integration of phones can make a huge difference to team members who make sales calls or just travel frequently on business. They remain in touch with anyone who needs to reach them, almost as if they’re sitting at their desks in the workplace, waiting for the phone to ring. Of course, telecommuters have this additional benefit, as well.
- Easy conferencing: Many VoIP networks offer video conferencing. This makes video meetings easier — plus you don’t need to spend money on a separate conferencing system.
- More flexibility during power outages: Your building may be dark – and your Internet connection is down. But, that doesn’t mean that your customers cannot reach you by phone. There are many ways to set up your VoIP system to provide greater flexibility during a power outage than you’d typically have with a traditional phone system. Granted, callers can still leave a message, but switching to your VoIP smart phone app allows calls to immediately reach anyone with a smart phone.
- Great additional features: Conferencing is not all that’s available. In addition to allowing unanswered calls to automatically forward to another phone, many services even provide faxing options.
The Downsides of VoIP
There are trade-offs to many choices made in life, and VoIP systems are no exception. Hopefully, any VoIP provider will help you identify any potential downsides (and how to deal with them). The following are some minor — and more notable — issues that you need to discuss with any provider:
- A reliable Internet connection is needed: But, you probably have one, right?
- Proper setup is required: Before making the change, you need to examine your needs carefully to account for the number and types of phones that you will need to connect. A good list of your needs is the best way to identify most of the setup issues that you are likely to face. Since protecting files from loss is only part of a disaster recovery plan, don’t forget to think about needed backup systems. One example would be having a second Internet Service Provider available, or even a second facility with its own systems. When you have more information upfront, your VoIP provider will best be able to help you set up your system properly.
- Telecommuters may require more equipment to use their landline phones: A VoIP phone is required to directly connect traditional phones into a VoIP system. With the right adapters, however, virtually any type of phone can connect. Still, this is definitely something that you want to discuss with a potential VoIP provider.
- Voice/communication quality issues: VoIP systems have come a long way toward ensuring that voice communications are clear. However, there is a chance that there might be delays or jitter during calls (which you’ve probably witnessed if you watch TV interviews conducted remotely since the pandemic began). These issues may be caused by your equipment; but it’s frequently caused by your Internet Service Provider, which means that they’ll clear up on their own. Still, you may need to call your VoIP provider to learn the next steps toward correcting the issues.
- Tempting additional expenses: The systems themselves are generally affordably-priced, but you might be tempted to buy extra phones for more employees when you recognize the flexibility. This is probably a good problem to have.
A Funny Name, No Advanced Technology Degree Needed
VoIP may be a high-tech phone solution, but making and receiving calls are really the same as when you use a traditional system. Providers have done a good job making sure that setup is quite straightforward — and their support people know how to guide you through anything that seems confusing.
With all of the extra capabilities, you might find that your small business suddenly seems larger and more powerful. While this can provide you with a serious advantage in business, saying “VoIP” out loud can generate a few giggles. Still, it’s been a rough year, so a little laughter is a good thing.