As Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) has entered the mainstream, most businesses are aware of its primary benefits: cost savings, ease of use and flexibility. There are also many customizable features that can pay dividends quickly.
When looking for a VoIP provider, it’s important to ask how they’ve upgraded their services over the past year or so. You want to work with a provider that is adapting to the current business landscape and can tailor services to meet your needs.
“If they are selling a standard, proprietary system that hasn’t improved, they are using off-the-shelf technology and you won’t be able to receive tweaks or necessary upgrades when you need them,” says Alex Desberg, sales and marketing director at Ohio.net.
Smart Business spoke with Desberg about using VoIP for integrated marketing efforts, the importance of portability and the move toward virtualization.
What are some of the things that make VoIP an attractive option?
When we demonstrate what our services can do during the demo stage, clients often have an ‘aha’ moment when they see a characteristic that enables them to do their job better. One of the major attributes is timely reporting of how their phone systems are being used. Businesses can take a look at an entire day’s worth of calling and examine how their employees are using the phone system as well as how customers are using the system.
Retail customers can incorporate this knowledge to integrate marketing into their phone service. For example, car dealerships want to know where their customers heard about them, what they’re inquiring about and when activity is the highest. Traditionally, the dealership would have to wait until the end of the month to get a full, detailed report of the calling patterns.
Many car dealerships use custom phone numbers based on the marketing outlet — a newspaper ad is assigned one phone number and a radio ad is assigned another. With VoIP they can see who called what phone number and what time they called almost instantaneously. Let’s say the dealership ran a morning drive commercial on radio and they received calls from 9 a.m. to noon on Monday. This is a pretty strong indicator that people are responding to the radio ad rather than the print ad, which doesn’t appear until Wednesday. The business is able to see a payoff in their advertising, which makes for good marketing decisions.
What are some of the overlooked capabilities that VoIP has to offer?
One of the most overlooked aspects is having the freedom of not being tied to a specific geographic location. Sometimes we forget that VoIP-hosted phones can be unplugged and transported to any area with power and Internet access.
Recently, we worked with a customer who wanted to reduce overhead costs by moving into a smaller office space. They were concerned because they had a number of employees who performed vital functions, but couldn’t be accommodated with the new layout. We helped them realize that their customer service people could work from home as flexible telecommuters because they didn’t need the traditional office infrastructure to do their job. The client was able to reduce their office size, which reduced their overhead. Their employees love the freedom to work out of their home offices and they still do their jobs well.
How can standard VoIP services be tweaked to meet the needs of an individual business?
We are in the ‘what if’ business. If a customer comes to us with a request, we can accommodate it 99.9 percent of the time based on the huge amount of capabilities of our system.
For example, the ability to change the system based on what time of day it is can be very beneficial to certain types of businesses. Insurance companies have set business hours, but their clients may call them after hours with insurance questions or claims. In the past, insurance companies would have to leave a message that instructed callers to hang up and dial a 1-800 number. Our VoIP services allow the insurance providers to transport or forward numbers as wished depending on the time of day. We work with a number of insurance companies and this is typically one of the top features they request.
What impact have customer requests had on the services you offer?
Our goal is to serve the current needs of our customers. We are continually being asked about smartphone integration. Recently, we implemented a new service that allows a cellphone and a desk phone to work together as a single extension for a user. In the past, users of our VoIP services have had the ability to have calls directed to their desk phones forwarded to their cellphones. Now, we have incorporated a third-party application that allows customers to receive calls simultaneously on their desk phones and cellphones.
What’s next with VoIP?
So many customers are going virtual with their phone and computer systems. With virtualization, no one will have a static desk anymore. Everything will be traveling with you, whether it’s an iPad and a cellphone or hoteling, where you sit down at anybody’s desk, log in as yourself and all of your services come to that desk. This releases you from a single piece of equipment and enables you to access what you need from wherever you are.
Alex Desberg is a 20-year veteran of launching and marketing Internet technology. Most of his technology tenure has been with regional and national providers. At Ohio.net, a wholly owned subsidiary of Doylestown Communications, Desberg has been the development spearhead of a mature VoIP product line designed for business application and brings his support and knowledge to the B2B environment.
Insights Telecommunications is brought to you by Ohio.net