Virtual phone systems are here to stay: they perform well and are cost-effective. Five to ten years ago, virtual phones were unknown by most IT professionals. Today, they are a sensible solution for expanding businesses large and small.
Any component of a business phone system that uses the Internet to facilitate voice communications is considered to be virtual. Virtual components can be incorporated into an existing premise-based phone system such as a traditional PBX, or systems can be entirely virtual and cloud-based. A fully virtual system grants all of the features of a fully-featured PBX, for example, but without any onsite components other than the user handset devices.
The two general types of virtual phone systems are SIP (session initiation protocol) and POTS (plain old telephone service), but there is a great deal of overlap between the two. SIP is a protocol designed to support a wide range of features for business handsets. Virtual phone systems that use existing POTS handsets such mobile devices must provide all their features via star codes and voice-prompts.
Virtual phone systems are ideal for small businesses looking for the features of an enterprise phone system without the cost of installing and maintaining an on-premise phone system. This allows small businesses to benefit from many of the same specialized phone features as larger ones. These systems may also offer premium features such as mobile integration, CRM integration, and auto attendant.
Virtual – also called hosted or cloud-based – phone systems are a great alternative to on-premise systems, which require dedicated, access-controlled, and climate-controlled office space with network access and uninterruptible power. On-premise systems are usually private branch exchanges (PBX) with proprietary operating systems and bus structures. Configuration changes are made by adding boards to the controller. Service requests may require an outside technician. Calls made within such a network may be higher quality than calls that traverse the public Internet, but virtual phone systems address this issue by offering private trunks between their networks and business systems, creating a virtual private network that includes a business to the systems that connect it with the telephone company.
With a virtual phone system, maintenance is the guaranteed responsibility of the provider. There is no hardware beyond the phones themselves and maybe a router switch. Signing up with a virtual phone service grants a dedicated local number customers will use. When customers and vendors call this main number, they are connected to the virtual phone provider’s cloud servers where they can interact with an auto attendant. Calls to specific extensions initiate a call to either a desk phone or a mobile phone.
The type of phone system chosen should support the type of business it serves. Is it a transaction-based business, or does it relies on relationships for growth? Transaction-based businesses such as retail have relatively straightforward telecommunications needs. Other businesses rely on gaining and cultivating relationships and connection with clients and associates is a priority. Does the business need to forward calls to a mobile device? Is there a call center, even if it is only two people? These are some of the factors to consider when selecting a phone system.
Several websites review leading virtual phone systems, and it is important to research your options before committing to a large investment. Because many of the vendors have similar features, a crucial distinction is the quality of their customer service. Check customer ratings and testimonials on websites that collect them and make sure to take note of any negative feedback.
Use the following table to help you organize information and help guide your vendor selection. It covers the main criteria used by most reviewers. Remember to consider the type of business you have and focus on the features you need.
|• Guaranteed Call Quality|
|• Redundant Data Centers|
|• Virtual Auto Attendant|
|• Call Routing|
|• Remote Access|
|• BYOD & Mobility|
|• CRM Integration|
|• Third Party Awards|
|• Customer Reviews|