Cloud-based communications solutions continue to be a growing trend in the business world and are on their way to becoming the norm, not only for large corporations but also for small businesses with big communications needs.
In today’s high-pressure world, a phone system is a lifeline to customers, suppliers and colleagues.
Like their larger competitors, small businesses need a professional phone system that’s reliable, flexible and scalable.
However, they also need it to be more affordable and easier to setup and manage without having an IT department.
A cloud-based phone system can deliver significant ROI for a small business by improving efficiency and productivity as well as reducing costs.
While many people are familiar with consumer types of VoIP services, such as Skype and Google Voice, many business owners don’t understand the benefits or what to look for when choosing a complete cloud phone system.
Naveen Gupta, Chief Product Officer at RingCentral offers a list of do’s and don’ts when evaluating solutions:
- 1Internally review your operations. Before a company begins to research for providers, small business leaders need to internally assess the company’s needs and the features staff must have in a business phone system.
Include a wish list of features that would enhance operations further. To help with this, do an internal tally of how many in-office, mobile and remote employees need phone access.
Evaluate whether or not they use their own mobile devices for work. It’s also good to look at the company’s customer base and see how they prefer to communicate with the staff. For example, are they younger and do they prefer text messaging to making a phone call or sending an e-mail? This is all good information that will help you find the right fit.
- 2Research. There are many providers out there – from well-known brands that have incorporated cloud-based phone systems into their existing hardware-based phone systems to new, cloud-only companies. During the research phase, identify needs, determine requirements, and ask important questions – can the system easily scale as the company grows? How much does it cost in an initial investment? Is the system easy to manage so that you don’t need IT skills or an IT department? Do they have 24/7 technical support? Etc.
- Look for all-inclusive monthly costs, full range of features. The company’s monthly costs for a cloud-based phone system should be comprehensive – unlimited calling and faxing and all the functionality expected from a business phone system for both in-office as well as mobile and remote employees. These features include integration with mobile devices and desk phones, auto-receptionist, multiple extensions, inter-departmental calling, on-hold music, etc.
- Look for innovation. Cloud companies are redefining the way businesses communicate today and in the future. So be sure to look for companies that aren’t simply mimicking the old ways of business communications. Ask them about their recent innovations. Do they integrate text messaging within the phone system so employees use their professional business number to text from their personal mobile devices? Do they integrate with other top cloud solutions such as Salesforce and Dropbox? Can they install and manage their entire phone system from a smartphone or tablet? Do they integrate with LinkedIn, Facebook or other social media? And if not, what are their plans to do so?
- 5Evaluate cost savings. Another key advantage of a cloud-based phone system is the potential for significant savings. Be sure that a provider is able offer a complete phone solution that includes voice, fax and text. Then compare costs of a cloud-based provider and a traditional hardware-based PBX system side by side. Here’s a useful calculator that can show you the cost difference: http://www.ringcentral.com/office/roi-calculator/index.html. On average, RingCentral customers are able to save around 50-60 percent within the first year of implementing its service; for many this equates to thousands of dollars per month.
- Don’t blindly choose the big brand-name provider. Outsourcing any vital business service ultimately comes down to forming a trust relationship, which is why many small businesses find it reassuring to choose a large, well-established vendor. But many discover — some, unfortunately, too late — that brand-name vendors are not at the cutting edge of innovation when it comes to cloud business communications. They also tend to provide impersonal, inflexible and one-size-fits-all products and services at a high price point. For small businesses, this could be a costly mistake equivalent to a loss of tens of thousands of dollars.
- Don’t think of mobile devices as an afterthought. Most businesses today have mobile and remote employees that work just about anywhere. They carry their smartphones and tablets in their handbags and pockets and use them multiple times a day. And they often use them for business even though they must reveal their personal mobile identity to customers and colleagues. Be sure to choose a provider that makes mobile devices integral to a cloud phone system so that you can empower employees to use their mobile devices for work without compromising your company’s brand and professionalism.
- Don’t think that you need three business contact numbers. The typical employee’s business card has three different contact numbers for the desk phone, mobile device and fax machine. This makes it complicated for customers to get in touch with employees. It can also make a business look unprofessional if employees are using their personal mobile numbers for work. Look for a provider that lets employees use one business number on any device – desk phones, mobile devices, PC – for all forms of communication such as voice, fax and even text messaging. This means that your business cards can have just one number listed in addition to an e-mail address.
- Don’t choose a provider with only one data center. This leaves your data vulnerable to loss and service interruption in the event of natural disasters or other unforeseen catastrophes. To prevent significant data loss, choose a provider that houses its core technology infrastructure and global network in data centers in multiple locations; even further, look for data centers that are co-located with major U.S.-based telecommunications carriers to ensure the fastest response times and interconnected services.
- Don’t require in-house technical expertise. Another one of the key benefits of a cloud-based phone system is the ability for anyone to set up the phones. You shouldn’t need an in-house or on-site IT expert to be able to install your cloud-based system. Look for simple, hassle-free options that require as little time on your employees’ part to implement.
Naveen Gupta is the chief product officer at RingCentral (http://www.ringcentral.com/), a cloud-based communication services provider,