Small business owners can sometimes feel like they’re taking on the world.
They wear all the hats and balance all the roles, from the day-to-day routine functions to marketing strategy and cost projections. And they do it with tighter budgets and fewer flexible resources than larger entities — which means their communication’s system needs be at maximum efficiency.
You don’t need us to rattle off all these communication hiccups. They’re the kinds of common communication challenges anyone in the business world knows all too well: reaching and interacting with employees, answering questions promptly, contacting subject-matter experts, holding relevant meetings, remaining accessible to customers and processing important correspondences, all in real time.
In an increasingly mobile business communications environment, these challenges compound. Growing amounts of remote workers and geographically scattered vendors and clients are only the tips of the iceberg. Small business communications must also contest with the cost of numerous communication platforms, network reliability, in-house communications infrastructure and streamlined phone and computer systems — all user-friendly and straightforward to maintain.
The solution — one that’s growing rapidly in the small business world, is Voice over internet protocol (VoIP), otherwise known as cloud-based phone systems.
The high cost of hardware and its maintenance goes away when you deploy VoIP. You need only select phones and connect your service and you’ve got a feature-rich, leading edge phone system with features and capabilities which up to now, were only available for large business.
Yet that’s not their only advantage. We discuss the ins and outs of this contemporary communication solution below, including how VoIP functions, how their providers work and best practices to get your voice network operating at peak efficiency with innovative features that have real business impact.
How VoIP Improves Small Business Communications
Unlike traditional phone telecommunications, VoIP uses an internet connection as the platform to place and receive calls. It’s a cost-effective and more dynamic solution but it is important to note that not all cloud providers are the same. Using best practices to set up your new cloud voice network is crucial. You want to make sure that you are dealing with an experienced company that has a record of success.
A well-designed cloud-based system takes into consideration all aspects of your business: priority clients, work at home staff, collaboration internally and with clients as well as basic, reliable functionality. In some mission-critical businesses, such as health care, it often becomes necessary to have a recovery strategy to deal with outages in advance.
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Since most features are extension-based, the phones and functions can be tailored to the needs of each staff member. From video calls to transcribing voice mail to text, to simply twinning your mobile phone with your desk extension, there is something for everyone. Each extension can be as sophisticated or as simple as the user dictates.
Some of the advantages of a cloud-based phone system for your small business are:
- Robust voice, video and messaging features unified into one: Quite simply, VoIP saves time and energy for all your employees. From accessing field representatives and remote workers in small business to the broad challenges that onsite staff manage, consolidating voice and video calls plus messaging into one platform simplifies communication and is easier to use. No longer does each person have several phone numbers – one number is all that is needed.
- A professionally hosted service: VoIP providers host their services, meaning they house and manage the software and hardware needed for this technology themselves. For small businesses, this is particularly attractive, since it alleviates the need for in-house IT specialists or another third-party service to keep the network up and running. What’s more, if any problems occur – network malfunctions or other issues, it’s the responsibility of your cloud-based provider. Merlin Communications manages this process for you.
- A more reliable communication network: VoIPs tend to be more reliable forms of automatic communication routing because they’re not all housed in one exclusive location. It’s a form of “geographic redundancy,” the industry term employed for a decentralized setup that leads to fewer service disruptions. All of a providers’ VoIP servers are identical mechanically to one another, yet they’re strategically located throughout the country. This prevents regional outages or disaster scenarios from taking down your communications.
- Experts fit a unified system to your small business: The best VoIP provider will have more than a few turn-key telecommunications packages in place. Instead, they will offer consultations, audits, training and product installation alongside routine management and servicing. With the sole end goal of solving your front- and back-office communication challenges, this team will tailor products to your exact small business communication challenges. Need to reach remote employees quickly?Want more effective customer service hotlines? Need simpler points of contact with a traveling sales force? Providers are built to do this — and more.
Setting Expectations and Educating Your Team
Business communication strategies are only as good as their implementation.
In other words, it’s one thing to adopt “improved” communication procedures and technology in your small business. It’s another to get all your employees acquainted with and using it successfully because they see the advantages.
Beyond just being an exciting new set of phone systems for small business, VoIP — when successfully implemented — significantly reduces operation times, minimizes employee frustration, and leads to better project management and command of goods and services. Let’s face it, if something as simple as daily conversations between employees is inefficient, how can you ever create a legitimate pipeline that fosters real business growth?
The best VoIP providers will not only sell you a phone system and suite of services. They will work with you in a multi-stage process of expectation setting, product education, usage and installation so you can grasp the full capabilities of your unified system. Ongoing support is also important.
- Upfront Consulting and Phone Service Auditing
With VoIP cloud-based providers sitting on the pulse of the contemporary telecommunications industry, they can address the gamut of your unique and key communication challenges.
Merlin Communications is uniquely positioned to do so.
Beginning with a comprehensive communications review, providers should be able to evaluate your current data, circuits and internet networks alongside your current phone company. They can review service bills and contracts, then explore your existing small business communication processes to identify inefficiencies and bottlenecks and discuss your wish list. Finally, they should propose recommendations or consolidated products that better deliver what you need.
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- Installing New Small Business Internet Phone Systems
After issues have been identified and solutions packaged, you can begin implementing your VoIP system.
This should begin with clear product identification. At VoIP’s core are a suite of digitally optimized, cloud-hosted or voice-over-IP phones from leading manufacturers. Yet your package can also include hybrid technology and additional devices, such as:
- Paging systems
- Audio conferencing extensions
- Laptop and desktop integration
- Structured cabling for voice and data wiring
- Video and visual recording suites
- HD displays and projectors, linked with your calls
- Plus a whole line of other cutting-edge small business telecommunications products with complementary products
Small Business Communications Challenges
- Employee Training and Education
Employee buy-in behind your new, integrated technology is the next step in your transition. However, achieving that buy-in is less about promoting the products themselves and more about providing comprehensive, qualitative training and resourceful education on how to use them.
Even if employee training seems boring or redundant, they are imperative at this stage. In fact, this is the exact sort of business need you should be using training sessions for — and employees will take note, especially considering all the broad communication challenges onsite staff manage every day.
- Administrative training provides system oversight and in-depth programming and functionality instruction. Your VoIP provider should be able to provide administrative training so you can properly understand system software, updates and troubleshooting. You should be able to make your own simple changes from a web-based dashboard.
- User training encompasses all personnel who will be utilizing the VoIP system. This includes on-site, remote, full and part-time employees with relevant communication needs, showing them how to enact their new extensions or phone numbers and connect necessary devices.
- Continued System Support
Finally, establish with your VoIP provider servicing expectations, touch points and consultations for the best-continued telecommunications support. This will bookend the initial installation process and allow a one-touch process for any issues that arise.
- The VoIP provider will ensure each employee knows, when mobile, how to quickly connect and access your small business phone system.
- That access will encompass all package communication equipment. From phones and tablets to home office technology — they all operate as part of one fluid system.
- The VoIP provider can further provide back-up and recovery services, in the event of damaged communication devices, interruptions or as part of an pre-designed disaster-recovery strategy.
Keeping Everyone on the Same Page
The list of VoIP features and affordances; included in your new, unified communication system will make everyone’s office lives easier.
Whether employees are traveling, stationary at their desks, out in the field or engaged in coordinating numerous conversations at once, a cloud-based VoIP solution ensures everyone is literally and figuratively on the same “digital” page. It does so through a few key, customizable solutions:
- Domestic and international calls. VoIP comes at a fraction of the price traditional phone companies charge. In fact, small businesses that make the switch to cloud-based VoIP can save themselves 40 to 45 percent on domestic business calls and up to 90 percent on international calls.
- Voicemail and email integration. Seamlessly find and manage any communication files within the unified network, just with a few clicks. This would previously take multiple steps — or even multiple technologies — without cloud-hosted, integrated products.
- Interoffice paging, conferencing and message forwarding. Whether it’s a voicemail you need to forward to a fellow employee or a video conference with numerous, geographically remote constituents, VoIP can handle it.
- “Find Me” or “Follow Me” technology. Business extensions can be incorporated into your network to make connecting with remote employees seamless. This is particularly attractive for small businesses with field representatives, outside sales teams or many off-site workers.
- Video extensions. You can now schedule mobile video conferences to elevate your contemporary communications suite, with the same user-friendly experience.
- Call and ring groups. Automatically group individuals into teams that can all be reached with the push of a button. These ring groups are saved and make coordinating meetings, messages and conference calls that much smoother.
- Call directories. Quickly and conveniently locate a specific individual within the network. All network numbers and ring groups lists are housed in a firewall-protected database only employees can access.
- Contemporary call centers. VoIP is exceptionally adept to revolutionize your customer care and support lines. You can create new customer portals with both voice and digital features, delegate customer call attendants to relevant employees and set up more effective multi-channel customer interactions.
- Call logging and recording. Real-time recording of calls and videos for training or documentation purposes, accessible to those staff with permissions enabled.
- Virtual phone numbers. You can establish an immediate, local presence in new customer areas or growing markets without physically having to be there. Phone numbers can be assigned to your system from literally anywhere – globally.
- Caller ID, call forwarding, auto-assistant, call queues and more professional phone-call management features. To make managing all external business inquiries as professional and efficient as possible. Making a good first impression can be lasting.
Planning for the Future
Perhaps best of all, VoIP communication technology sets you up for future business growth in a way traditional phone systems simply cannot.
Communications systems and their networks need to be dynamic, ready to scale up seamlessly as your small business grows. And by dynamic, we mean a full set of custom features at your disposal, ones that are straightforward and easy to use.
With the right VoIP partners, you can plan not only for now but also for your business’ mobility over the next decade:
- VoIP is inherently scalable.If you add staff, experience leadership transitions, expand your business or add new locations, your network effortlessly adjusts with it, without any need for significant additional infrastructure. Since everything was cloud-based and decentralized from the beginning, communication is scalable by just logging in and adjusting information into your network software. If you can put data into an Excel sheet, you can put data into a VoIP.
- VoIP is money saving. Your budget — today and tomorrow — will experience greater flexibility and asset allocation using customized VoIP solutions. It is a premium and proven benefit of VoIP providers, and one that the sooner you adopt, the better.
- VoIP is mobile. Businesses of all scales will fail if they cannot cater to the on-demand, instant-gratification mindset of today’s consumer. Customer-support channels and branding touch points cannot afford to be stagnant. VoIP offers a mobile, real-time solution where you can set up instantaneous channels and broad messaging that’s able to manage mobile “micro-moments” and keep your customers feeling cared for. As long as you are connected to your IP, you are connected to your business.
- VoIP is a disaster-recovery shield. With the physical core of your network off-site, you can continue services even in the midst of outages, disruptions or worst-case scenario physical disasters. A well-planned recovery system protects you from any disaster that would threaten your ability to communicate.
- VoIP is the inevitable communications future. Today’s business world faces unprecedented trends in employees and consumer communication tastes alike. As the remote workforce continues to grow and consumers have come to expect instantaneous, on-demand accessibility to brands and support, the need for a communications system that matches all this intensifies. The small business world, therefore, needs to pro-actively outpace these demands. VoIP is primed to do so.
Communications Technology for Small Businesses Made Simple
At Merlin Communications, we partner with you to implement new technologies to address the specific interests and needs of your business.
We bring you the right people with the right tools, all to help you streamline successful, cloud-based technology and communication expectations. See for yourself what our small-business friends say about our VoIP work, or request your own free phone-system evaluation.