Growing businesses in the UK are faced with a whole raft of challenges. Managing cash flow and customer debts, improving sales and market effectiveness, and coping with external factors such as the state of the economy, the high cost of insurance, taxes, red tape, health and safety, lack of bank lending, competition within the UK and from abroad, transport issues, employee skills gaps and shortages… the list just goes on.
One way of alleviating a few pressure points is managing operating costs and improving staff performance. Using innovative communication systems such as VoIP is one of the more popular ways to achieve this. Don’t underestimate the costs you might save by using the Internet to route your calls cheaply to a telephone anywhere in the world.
In an independent study by Vanson Bourne, almost seven out of ten UK businesses said they would start using VoIP telephony services within the next twelve months. Some 41 per cent of UK companies are already actively using VoIP.
The main driver for this trend is the dramatic cost saving in comparison to traditional telecom providers. The study found that 68 per cent of UK businesses switched to VoIP primarily to reduce communication costs. No surprise – VoIP calls are at least 50 per cent cheaper than standard BT tariffs. In a mid-sized business, this can lead to enormous savings over the course of a year, particularly for call-based sectors such as charities, call centres and telemarketing companies.
Further, VoIP allows staff greater flexibility to work from home or from another location. For instance, using a special SIM card to extend an office phone to any 3G mobile handset. Suddenly you carry your desk phone in your pocket.
These factors can become crucial for expanding businesses. VoIP allows businesses to scale operations without the burden and expenditure of a physical office space in an overseas location. When using it right, VoIP options such as audio conferencing, call recording and ‘virtual receptionists’ who automatically route calls, create a virtual office almost anywhere in the world.
Despite the benefits, some businesses worry about the disruption that may arise when making the switch. To minimise this risk, a business can run a small pilot concurrently with their existing service. If you want, you can still use your existing BT telephone or fax number by forwarding voice/data across to the new VoIP number. As soon as you’re comfortable with the new system, start porting the existing number to the VoIP provider. This will remove the need to update business stationery, website details and contact existing customers about the switch. Separating voice and data traffic using different broadband connections is important – it ensures that there is always sufficient bandwidth to devote to voice traffic, and a backup connection, should one broadband connection go down.
Most VOIP devices are simple to use as they resemble BT handsets and BTDECT phones. Some basic training may be required so that staff are familiar with the extra functions such as call transfer, putting calls on hold, and collecting voicemail but this can be done over the course of a lunch break.
If you’re considering a move to VoIP, here are some steps to take to make sure it will be a smooth transition:
- Evaluate how many BT lines you have in place at the moment;
- Evaluate how many you need to keep. For example, a single dedicated broadband line for voice, a separate broadband line for data, and a dedicated port to manage facilities such as fax capability, alarm systems and PDQ requirement;
- Do you need to integrate VOIP into your existing phone system, or will you install a new PBX?
- Do you need new PBX onsite or hosted by the VoIP provider” Hosted cloud solutions are usually the most hassle-free and cost-effective option. And what kind of handset should you select?
- Draw up a plan for onsite installation. Switching over to VoIP normally takes around two weeks, depending on the scale and complexity of the project; and
- Beware of hidden costs. Set-up costs are dependent on the provider and their pricing structure, so remember to ask up front.
Tan Aksoy is Chief Executive Officer at Telappliant, a VoIP provider to UK based SMEs.