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What is VoIP software
Voice over internet protocol (VoIP) software facilitates making phone calls over the internet. This digital phone service is more extensible and often more reliable than a landline public switched telephone network (PSTN, also known as plain old telephone service, POTS) provided by the local phone company.
Companies and individuals can access VoIP phones wherever there’s a reliable internet connection through a VoIP telephone or a computer. VoIP’s portability makes it particularly useful for companies with distributed call centers and sales representatives.
What’s the difference between VoIP and PSTN?
PSTN uses analog signal transmission over copper loops. Companies and individuals have used these landlines since the introduction of the public telephone system, and they remain mostly unchanged despite vast technological advances in communications technology.
Though PSTN is fairly reliable, it was created before cell phones and wireless internet usage became common for businesses and consumers. Compared with VoIP, landline phones are inefficient and not flexible enough for modern businesses. For example, PSTN uses copper wire, so when an individual makes a phone call, no one else can use that portion of the line. Call centers and companies that do most of their business over the phone must maintain many phone lines with PSTN—or they could purchase a single VoIP account.
And aside from voice calls and faxes, PSTN does little else. Today, instead of copper wires, the majority of Internet connections run on broadband and fiber optic cable. These connections send digital information over multiple channels, making VoIP cheaper and more versatile than traditional telephones. Contrary to PSTN, VoIP doesn’t require dedicated phone lines—just an internet connection.
VoIP for business vs. personal use
While many services offer free or cheap VoIP telephone and video conferencing software for individuals, many of these options do not scale for business use. Companies whose sales associates and call centers rely on telephones for the majority of their business tasks will need features and reliability not currently offered by consumer VoIP choices.
VoIP Software Comparison
VoIP service doesn’t require dedicated phone lines; it taps into your existing local area network (LAN) to provide telephone services. This means VoIP phones can provide sophisticated functionality and scalability to businesses, usually at a reduced cost.
There are two main types of VoIP phones:
- Hard phones are physical telephones that look and act like traditional office phones. Basic models have all the features of a normal phone, but high end models may include an LCD screen to make contact management easier. Sometimes called IP phones, hard phones connect to the LAN via ethernet cable.
- Softphones are not physical devices. These “software phones” are applications that enable VoIP functionality on a computer, tablet, or smartphone. Since these devices are not built for voice calling in an office setting, users will connect to the software via a headset with a microphone and speakers.
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Benefits of VoIP software
VoIP software does not rely on the copper wiring necessary for most PSTN telephone systems, but works over your LAN connection instead. That means VoIP systems don’t need the infrastructure used by landline telephone systems, including installing wires, running line on poles or underground, and repairs due to wear or weather. Instead, companies can access their phone systems through internet connections via wireless internet, cable, or fiber optics.
Volume can scale depending on bandwidth
Depending on your internet speeds and bandwidth capabilities, the call volume that VoIP software can handle scales quickly. In contrast to landline telephones that would need each new number hard-wired into the building, VoIP systems can scale to new computers or hard phones where agents can field calls.
VoIP services can provide encryption and security settings that keep your data safe from prying eyes when in transit or at rest. But companies who prefer more control over their data safety can host their VoIP system servers on-premise where they can add firewall protection and extra encryption on their databases.
Call recording for QA and training purposes
Companies that run their call centers and sales teams on VoIP software can easily record all or parts of representative interactions with customers. This gives teams specific examples to call out for positive reinforcement, training purposes, and quality assurance.
Call centers can increase the productivity of their phone banks by using call ordering tools that come with VoIP systems. Call ordering lines up call and connects them with the next available agent to reduce agent downtime and increase call volume.
Risks with VoIP software
Due to its ability to make mass phone calls and spam thousands of phone numbers with ease, VoIP calling has run into legal troubles in some countries. Check your local regulations to ensure your calling strategies remain within local restrictions.
VoIP tools run on servers, databases, and internet connections that need protection to guard against man-in-the middle and eavesdropping attacks. And because call centers and businesses often pass personally identifying information over phone lines, companies should be aware of the risks to their data. Companies can use a VPN or other data security protocols like encryption and firewalls to protect business information.
Common VoIP Features:
Calling, call forwarding, waiting, and recording
VoIP phone service manages connections quickly and easily through digital channels. Whereas wired phones require the user to dial numbers to make new and forward existing calls, a VoIP software will queue up calls from a dedicated list or a customer relationship management (CRM) software much faster than a human dialer could. And because VoIP software digitally processes all communications, the software can automatically save conversations to a database for company oversight and review.
Call management (ordering, monitoring, whispering, and barging)
Call management features on VoIP systems give administrators access to monitor calls remotely through silent call monitoring and even use call barging features to interrupt those calls and assist the caller.
Call whispering automates some of the information gathering for callers and shortens their scripts by playing a recorded message prior to connecting with the caller. And because VoIP works with predetermined lists of contact numbers pulled from the company database, administrators can use call ordering to keep the lines full with the most important calls first.
Conference and video calling
A perk of VoIP is that companies can easily extend the services to include conference calling and video calling. In conference calls, several parties can call into a single phone call. Video calling connects two to hundreds of callers over video and audio. The actual number of callers on a conference or video call depends on the VoIP settings and the internet bandwidth.
Text chat and messaging
VoIP software has the ability to follow up on phone calls with text messaging via SMS or other consumer messaging software found in stand-alone or social media services. Or companies have the option to bypass calls and send messages through text or message services.
Texting features often require opt-in from consumers, but they can greatly decrease appointment no-show rates for salons, medical offices, and other appointment-driven companies.
Find me and follow me (FMFM)
Find me and follow me features in VoIP software allow individuals to receive phone calls wherever they are. The VoIP software can be programmed to attempt to connect the caller with several different numbers in a series or ring several phones at once. Some systems alert agents to pick up a call with text messages or computer notifications. The company can configure their settings to notify agents on nearly any internet-connected device.
Companies with mobile workforces and distributed teams will find these features especially helpful, as agents can interact with customers from anywhere.
Voicemail to email transcription
VoIP can make voice recordings of voice mail messages for the company to listen to later, or those messages can be sent to the correct party in text format through voicemail to email transcription. While transcriptions are not 100 percent accurate, the VoIP provider will often pair the transcription with the original voice recording to provide further context.
Auto dialer / predictive dialer
An auto dialer or predictive dialer automatically makes phone calls via the VoIP connection from a list of preferred numbers. Many VoIP systems connect directly to an outside source of customer data including help desk, call center, CRM, or marketing automation software.
When someone picks up the call on the receiving end, the software then connects the call to an agent. Predictive and auto dialing gives administrators control over the phone numbers that each agent calls and ensures that the agents work through the maximum number of calls possible.
Automatic call distribution (ACD)
An automatic call distribution feature triages incoming calls and assigns them to available agents or agents with the appropriate speciality for the caller’s needs. These features often use an interactive voice response (IVR) tool to gather information from the customer to ensure they get assigned to the right agent.
Interactive voice response (IVR)
Interactive voice response features provide callers with a menu of options they can select through their phone’s numeric keypad. These features can be used to collect information about a caller and direct their query to the correct agent.
Shared line appearance
Shared line appearance connects agents and associates within and across offices. It allows teams to transfer calls from desk to desk seamlessly, and even lets agents pick up a call at a colleague’s desk.
An online fax will digitally transfer assets between two locations with or without a fax machine. Instead of using a physical fax machine to scan and send documents, the sender emails documents to the fax number. If the receiver does not have a fax machine, information sent to the fax number is digitized and conveyed as a digital message via email or a user portal.
800 and toll free numbers
VoIP services can assign several phone numbers to a single location, including 800 and toll-free numbers that customers can lease.
Emergency service numbers traditionally rely on location data from landline phones to dispatch the nearest emergency response team. This information is not necessarily available with internet phone systems, which rely on IP addresses instead of physical locations. Companies who only use VoIP and do not contract with a local telephone provider should look into adding 911 service features for their office locations.
Many VoIP providers offer access to administrative features through a mobile app. These apps may include the full range of features under the user’s contract, or it might provide a select few that are most helpful for the user.
VoIP systems produce hundreds of thousands of digital data points from call metrics to agent data. Administrators can access these data points in an analytics dashboard to understand the company’s usage of the VoIP features, track and improve the success rates of individuals and teams of agents, or better understand how their lists respond to different calling scripts.
VoIP software digitizes voice and text communications and send them over internet connections, which can leave those communications open to man-in-the-middle attacks and hacked databases. Companies concerned with the security of their data and that of their customers should contract with a VoIP software that provides data encryption in transit and at rest for optimum data security.
Pricing for VoIP service varies. Most VoIP vendors provide the same basic functionality, with the ability to add custom features. The monthly cost of your system will depend on the following factors:
How many locations do you have? How many phones do you need? Vendors may charge per phone, and multiple offices will add complexity to your system, which will be reflected in the price.
Premium features such as conference calling are often added on top of the monthly fee. Additional usage charges for long distance, call recording, or software for mobile phones may also impact pricing.
Industry regulations and legal requirements:
Industry regulations and legal requirements may affect which vendor you choose and the ultimate cost of a VoIP service. Businesses in the financial sector may require encrypted calling or other security features, while hotels may need to meet safety and privacy standards.
Call switching and line management is handled by a device called a public branch exchange (PBX) or key system unit (KSU). You can host this on-premise, or avoid the expenses of purchasing, installing, and maintaining the hardware by hosting it in the cloud. VoIP pricing varies among providers, but most VoIP vendors offer cloud, on-premise, and a hybrid approach. You may also require additional services such as SIP trunking, which can be included by the vendor or through a third party integration.
When VoIP systems have direct, unprotected connections to CRM software and databases, bad actors have greater opportunity to access customer data through malware, man-in-the-middle attacks, and other data security breaches. Check to see if your VoIP provider includes firewalls and encryption in the monthly subscription or as an add-on fee. You may want to look into adding your own IT security software for an added layer of protection.
Best VoIP applications by company size
Any business that needs to talk to customers or other employees can benefit from a VoIP system. Though enterprises often require more powerful tools than smaller businesses, the use cases across business sizes are essentially the same. Let’s examine some of them more closely.
A new business with no existing telephone service can use VoIP services to reduce costs and track expenses. A simple solution that enables phone software to run on employee computers should come with basic features such as voicemail and call routing. If employees use their own phones, look for a vendor that has a native mobile application. This will allow employees to login through the company account, which provides a branded experience call logs to aid reimbursement of employees.
A hosted public branch exchange (PBX) is a good choice for small or medium sized businesses that have little or no IT resources. If SMBs choose a provider that offers a cloud PBX, then hard phones that connect to the company’s LAN are generally the only hardware necessary. Companies with the resources (or preference) to manage onsite hardware should consider a hybrid solution that allows calls to be directed and managed between multiple phones.
Large enterprises need a VoIP system that can manage thousands of employees and remote offices. Companies with a mobile workforce not only needs hard phones on premise, but soft phones setup on their laptops or cellphones to use while traveling. Enterprises may wish to manage their own PBX hardware in each separate office.
Creating Executive Buy-In
Gaining buy-in from executives is a critical success factor for software approval and implementation. In order to get your software purchase approved, you’ll need to include data that shows stakeholders what kind of return on investment they can expect.
To do this, you can present industry research, statistics, or relevant case studies. Additionally, consider tailoring your appeal to address the concerns of each member of the C-suite. Below are a few talking points to get you started.
Financial executives will want to know the total cost of ownership and the expected return on investment of a new VoIP system. When making the case for modern telephony, be sure to mention the costs associated with your existing system compared to a new one. A modern VoIP system can not only help improve employee efficiency, but save on maintenance, fees, and expansion changes. Be sure to mention that sticking with an outdated system can actually cost more in the long term.
Integrating voice, video, and data on a single network can help maintain employees’ productivity across locations without compromising security or quality of service. The leader of your company is focused on growth, and VoIP allows you to simply add more lines as the team grows. Employees can also conduct business from anywhere, which means work isn’t dependent on where you are, but what you’re able to do.
Your IT specialists are committed to providing the technologies your company needs to work effectively and gain a competitive advantage. This means developing a unified communication system that includes office phones, desktop computers, laptops, tablets, and other devices. VoIP platforms can help integrate these internal communications while removing the maintenance and infrastructure burden from IT departments.
Choosing the Best VoIP Software
At TechnologyAdvice, our goal is to help businesses connect with the technology that best meets their needs. We’ve compiled product information, reviews, case studies, feature lists, video walkthroughs, and research articles on hundreds of leading IT solutions, all to make the buying process more straightforward for decision makers like you.
If you’re curious about any of the VoIP products or features listed in this guide, we’d love to talk to you. Call one of our in-house specialists for a free consultation at 877.822.9526, or use the Product Selection Tool at the top of the page to get a personalized recommendation.