Highly reliable, low-cost telecommunications services like T1’s and fiber have combined with hosted “cloud” services and advances in Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) digital phone systems. The result is hosted PBX services in the cloud. Over the last couple years I went looking for hosted PBX options for a couple of clients and after considering several competitors we selected Vocalocity.
|Voice Over IP (VoIP) – Image via Wikipedia|
Vocalocity made sign-up and set-up a breeze. As a reseller we walked through a well documented process to get our clients up and running. We went through a quoting process where the final quote and pricing was evaluated and then approved by the sales team at Vocalocity. With a quote, credit card, and a few approval documents (for number porting and such) signed Vocalocity had the account created within a day and had scheduled the number port from the existing Internet Service Provider (ISP) within a week.
Set up of the service was relatively quick and easy. All of the expected features where there, at least those you would expect from a hosted system. Even before the phones arrived we could go in and set up users, call groups, and voice mails. Unlike some competitors we were allowed to select any SIP phone we liked although they would only guarantee support on some of the more popular models. All the same, they had a great selection of quality, affordable phones available.
By the time we had phones to hook up we were ready to test the service. I highly recommend testing the service (any service, not just Vocalocity) for a a few days before you port your numbers. This gives you time to train your employees on the new system and work out wrinkles with regards to business process and functionality.
There were really not very many features that you expect from on premise systems that weren’t included, but everything was an additional cost. At times I felt like I was being nickel and dimed even though the actual total cost was very reasonable. Vocalocity could do some simplification and bundle more of their features in a base service to fix this although they may have to keep them a la carte to compete with the marketing of competitors.
There was some training, although it wasn’t extensive. As a partner we had dug in to the documentation and training videos ourselves and then provided training to our clients rather than just entrusting them to Vocalocity’s resources. It can be very beneficial to work with a partner that has performed Vocalocity installations and migrations before for first time clients. Maybe this has changed, but it would have been nice to have more personal training, not just documentation and web videos.
We used many of their features and found some we were missing and really wanted. Specifically, we were looking for the ability to select from multiple outbound caller ids for different phones on the system. We told their partner and support departments how important that feature was (along with several others) and were pleasantly surprised when they deployed those same features within a few months.
Support was good. The phone team all spoke English as a first language and were available when we needed them without excessive hold times. The documentation was good as well. The only caution I have here is that since Vocalocity doesn’t work directly with your ISP and doesn’t qualify line quality you may have mixed results with regards to reliability and call quality. Some competitors get around this by requiring you to purchase your internet connection through them… which has both positive and negative facets. Personally I preferred having full control over the ISP service.
I did hear a couple complaints from one client about billing issues. This was about the same time that Vocalocity hired a whole bunch new people and revamped several business processes. I have a feeling that they just got behind with the huge growth in their business. That doesn’t excuse dropping the ball though. I understand this has gotten better as they developed their new team.
On the whole I was happy with the choice to use Vocalocity and I would recommend them to small and medium businesses looking to move their voicemail/PBX system to the cloud… but only IF they have high-quality, reliable internet service.
Have you used Vocalocity? What was your experience like?
- Vocalocity vs. AT&T (quitecloudy.com)
- PR Resources: Vocalocity Gives SMEs Competitive Advantage (pamil-visions.net)
- A Better Telecommuting Option for Small-Business Workers (esbjournal.com)
How does a small MSP without a large staff do helpdesk, scheduling and answer the phones?
This is one of our major challenges right now. We currently forward our local phone line to a hosted PBX (via an 800 number) that then forwards to either my tech or myself depending upon which department (1 for sales, 2 for tech support, etc.) or which extension they choose. It has follow-me features so that it rings my cell phone first and then the tech for some things and my home phone for other things. It’s a great service (http://grasshopper.com/) but I’m the operator. Not a very efficient use of my time.
So, I’m looking for alternatives. I started looking in to a plain answering service, but it seems to me that if someone is going to answer the phones I want them to be able to do scheduling for techs and interact with my ticketing system to enter new tickets and forward people to the helpdesk. It might be useful to have them do personal assistant stuff as well. So if a tech is in the field and cannot get to the ticketing system, they could call this person and update a ticket over the phone.
There’s lots of other reasons to have a “power answering service” too. Of course this really points to hiring someone to sit in an office all day. That’s what companies have done in the past. I don’t want to do that. We do have an office, but it’s really just a place for our back-end systems to sit and for me to work outside the home when I’m not onsite at a client. I don’t want to put more warm bodies in an office. I don’t remember who it was, maybe Amy Luby, that was talking about telecommuting all their people. I think this is a great idea. Get together once a week for a staff meeting and then let everyone work from home.
The solutions I’ve come up with so far are either expensive or lacking. I’ve looked in to virtual assistants, but I hesitate to engage with one without a recommendation. I’ve asked my MSPU mentor for recommendations but they haven’t come up with anything yet. I’ve looked on the web, but it’s impossible to tell who’s good and not. I guess I could start interviewing them like I would an employee. Any recommendations here?
I’ve thought about talking to Synergy about doing helpdesk for ALL of my clients rather than just the one on my all-you-can-eat MSP offering. I’m not sure if they’d do that or not. They’re not really an answering service and I can’t imagine they’d do the non-helpdesk stuff.
Today I’ve been looking at automated call centers. I found AnswerNet and they say they can do what I need for $250 to set up and then $205/mo for 250 minutes of “operator” time. I’m also going to contact Successful Office and maybe XACT Telesolutions to see what they offer. I’d pay up to $300 a month for this type of service I think. The real question is how good a job will they do. It’d also be nice to have the other functions of a all center at my disposal… to do appointment call downs the day before and customer satisfaction calls the day after and such. We’ll see.
So, other options… get a part time person to work from home? Maybe an intern from the local community college? If I need someone just for a few minutes here and there but 8×5 I don’t see that working well.
How do other small businesses handle this? Give me your input.