The good, the bad, and the (kinda) ugly of switching to VOIP for your promotional products business

In the quest to create the workplace of the future, one of the last bastions tying us to the office was the phone.  Sure, we all have our mobile phones nowadays, but a lot of the time clients prefer calling your office number to reach you.  This means constantly having to retrieve messages when you are out of the office and having to use cell phone minutes to make calls.

Enter VOIP.

For those not familiar with the acronym, VOIP stands for Voice Over Internet Protocol – it basically means that your phone call goes over the internet rather than traditional phone lines.  The major benefit of this is that your phone can be with you not only when you are in the office, but anywhere there is WiFi.

We recently transitioned over to VOIP from an old PBX system.

The good

VOIP does three key things:

  1. enables the team to work from anywhere
  2. reduces costs
  3. makes administration of the phone system easy

I have found that having everything at my finger tips has made things very easy and means that any changes to any aspect of the system can be made remotely.  Transferring calls, adding people to conference calls are all done with the click of a button rather than having to remember Feature sequences

I didn’t want to have to call our PBX administrator every time I needed a new voice mail box added or when we couldn’t figure out the random keying sequence required to make a modification to the auto-attendant. With VOIP, all of this is done in a browser environment and is very simple to manage.

The bad

The transition process wasn’t seamless so I thought I would share with you some learning if you’re considering embarking on this adventure.

  1. Do a small test case first – have one person sign up for the service and try it out to make sure call quality is good, that your internet speed is sufficient to carry the call and your data requirements, and finally that the set up process and interface is good. We made the wholesale switch with the entire team and had some call quality issues to begin with.
  2. Don’t change everything over at once – we changed our internet provider and our phone provider at the same time and this made things very painful. One process was inevitably holding up another and we ended up being significantly delayed overall. It created a huge amount of complexity that could have been avoided by doing one at a time.
  3. Understand from the provider you choose who handles what part of the infrastructure that needs to be in place. There’s a primer below for those of you, who like me, end up unwillingly playing the sys-admin role because there is nobody else to do it.

The kinda ugly

If you are in an office environment with multiple people, your tech infrastructure probably looks something like this:

 

network-diagram-sm
Image source: NSL Voice and Data
  1. modem is plugged into your internet connection – either cable, DSL or (I shudder to think), dial-up
  2. router  connects from your modem to a switch
  3. switch – this allows the internet connection to be distributed across all the computers plugging into the connection
  4. patch bay – this is where all the wired connections (LAN ports) the computers are plugged into terminate. Connections then go from the patch bay to the switch in order to connect the internet to all the LAN ports so the computers can plug in

This is where things got ugly. To set up VOIP, there needs to be some configuration done on the router to allow for the audio to pass both ways.  This involves “triggering ports” and potentially adjusting firewalls.  Make sure you know who looks after your router and can do this for you.

We ended up in the frustrating situation of having everything set up and being unable to hear audio on the calls because changes needed to be made to the router and our provider was not responding.  There was a fair amount of being bounced between the VOIP company and the hosting company before we found out exactly what needed to be done and got it accomplished.

The wrap

In the end, despite the implementation process being a bit ugly overall, the end result was worth it.  Key wins in all this:

  • the flexibility to work from anywhere
  • the ability to receive voice mail over email
  • the freedom to connect it to our mobile devices so we can call out long distance on wifi and have it seem like we’re in the office
  • the bonus of being able to talk on a wireless headset while walking around the office (which is actually really fun)