VoIP may not be as current a topic as social media or mobile communications but it should be taken seriously by small business owners as a reliable tool to help with growth. Here’s how it could work for your business.
Being able to communicate effectively is critical to all businesses regardless of size, age or industry. A business which communicates well has a better chance of finding new prospects, converting them to sales or profits and expanding market share. However, many small businesses are often unsure of how to go about improving their internal and external communications in a sustainable and cost-effective manner.
Choosing the appropriate communications tools, or mix of tools, can be particularly troublesome. Businesses have more choice than ever before in how they interact with their staff, partners and customers. More mature technologies such as the telephone and email are being complemented and sometimes superseded by new tools in the online space. Some of these new tools like Voice over Internet Protocol, or VoIP, bring together old and new technologies to provide powerful and cost-effective modes of communication for both individuals and business.
What exactly is it?
VoIP may not be as current a topic as social media or mobile communications but it should be taken seriously by small business owners as a reliable tool to help grow their businesses. Put simply, VoIP allows you to make telephone calls via the internet. Rather than using the landline or cellular network, the VoIP software converts your spoken words into digital signals and transmits them online. As a result, VoIP users can call landlines or mobiles at dramatically lower costs than if they were to use their conventional phones. Calls to other VoIP users are often free, as is the case with popular VoIP applications like Skype. Previously, VoIP software was limited to desktop computers and headsets but now extends to smartphones, tablets and even newer fixed-line telephone handsets.
This means VoIP now offers some significant advantages over the conventional telephone network for business communication. VoIP costs less, so businesses using VoIP don’t have to pay for line-rental, flag-fall, and many other costs associated with maintaining a fixed telephone line. VoIP offers similar and often higher voice quality as fixed-line or mobile services, often alongside additional services like video-calling and instant messaging. Also, the increasing prevalence of mobile apps for VoIP means it has both the flexibility of the cellular network and the reliability of fixed-line calls. Businesses that use VoIP can minimise their operational costs, engage more intimately with their stakeholders and collaborate more effectively regardless of location.
What to consider first
To do this, however, the potential of VoIP needs to translate into the organisational reality of the business which can often be a highly costly process, not just financially but also in regards to how employees and clients react to the phasing-in of new technology. VoIP may be a good fit for some businesses but not others and every business owner needs to evaluate whether the technology meets their unique requirements before taking the plunge. If you’re considering using VoIP in your small business, we recommend considering the following:
- Why do I want to use VoIP in the business?
- Which benefits of VoIP are most important to the business?
- How will VoIP fit with the other communications channels we already use?
- How will my staff and clients feel about using VoIP?
The answers to these questions will not only help you decide whether VoIP is right for your business, but also how to proceed if it is. It’s important to remember that the benefits of VoIP, such as reduced costs or greater collaboration, are largely internal ones, and its ROI may not be immediately identifiable or quantifiable. That means clear and consistent goals on what VoIP should achieve for the business are even more important from the very start.
Planning and myth busting
For small businesses who decide to implement a VoIP framework, careful and rigorous planning is a must. One of the main myths around VoIP is that it’s cheap and easy to set up. That may be the case for individuals who only need to download some software and buy a headset to be up and running, but enterprise VoIP has a lot more factors to be taken into consideration. The choice of software is undoubtedly important. Paid options are not necessarily better than free ones and should be considered primarily on their features and merits. So too is the choice of hardware; businesses must pay attention to compatibility, voice quality, and reliability of the VoIP peripherals like headsets and webcams which they seek to purchase. Ideally, these peripherals will work across all channels of the business’ communications framework. A Bluetooth headset, for example, should be able to connect to an employee’s smartphone as well as their computer. Ensuring that hardware and software function seamlessly is critical to the success of any enterprise VoIP solution.
Another myth about VoIP is that it acts as a poor substitute for the quality and consistency of conventional telephony channels. That may have been the case when VoIP was a new technology and internet bandwidth was poor, but it’s matured to the point where a decent implementation will be on par or superior to fixed-line calls in terms of audio clarity, reliable service, and multi-user support. However, that perception still needs to be addressed and dispelled if any VoIP solution is to gain uptake within the business. The best way to do so is to make sure the organisation’s first experience with VoIP is as seamless as possible. That means minimising connection failures through rigorous testing, assuring full compatibility with existing channels and devices and providing training and feedback mechanisms for employees well before deployment. If employees can immediately see the value which VoIP offers them in their day-to-day activities, they’ll be more likely to support and contribute to its growth within the business.
On the flip side, IT professionals and managers need to make sure their skills are updated to fit the new technical functions and processes which a VoIP framework brings. Any VoIP implementation should be accompanied by business-wide technical support, and IT staff should be paying particular attention to feedback from their co-workers in the months immediately after deployment. They should also pay attention to how VoIP impacts on existing resources, including server traffic which may rise as fixed-line use falls, necessitating more spending on bandwidth and less on conventional telephony plans. As a highly adaptable communications channel, VoIP can meet changing needs of the business, but only if managers can pinpoint and respond to these changes.
The end goal of communication is to get things done well and efficiently. The closer a mediated form of communication comes to resembling face-to-face conversation, the more likely that participants will draw on it for more productive, creative and collaborative outcomes. VoIP can provide a sustainable and cost-effective communications channel for businesses and should be adopted by small businesses as part of a greater concerted focus on improving how individuals in the business deal with each other.