6 Things to Consider Before Choosing a Business VoIP Service for Your SMB

You have decided to upgrade your small to midsize business (SMB) to a business VoIP (VoIP) service but you’re wondering where to start. There are a bunch of amazing business VoIP systems out there, but each one has a different set of features and a different pricing structure so choosing can be difficult. Fonality is our Editors’ Choice for business users, but that doesn’t mean you should automatically run to their website to buy it. In fact, systems such as RingCentral offer voicemail transcription which Fonality only offers at the highest price tier (you can add transcription services at the other price tiers for an extra fee). So you’ve got to do your homework to make sure the VoIP service you choose is the right one for your particular business.

With that in mind, and to help you celebrate National Small Business Week, we’ve compiled this list of six things you need to consider before choosing a business VoIP system for your SMB.

1. Plans and Pricing

We might as well start with the most important characteristic: cost. What good is choosing a business VoIP service with all of the bells and whistles if you can’t afford it? Fonality starts at $19.99 per user per month for its barebones system. This gives you access to unlimited calling, basic queuing services for incoming calls, and an auto attendant. If you want to add more advanced services, you have to bump up to the $24.99 service or to the $34.99 one (which includes video conferencing). Again, Fonality is the cream of the crop when it comes to business VoIP, so this is the highest price you should pay if you’re not looking for any specific customizations or add-ons. RingCentral offers similar (though not exact) basic and intermediate pricing, but it also offers a $44.99 per user per month plan that includes HD videoconferencing for up to 50 users at a time.

VoIP tools such as Citrix Grasshopper and Microsoft Skype for Business are primarily geared toward videoconferencing, so you’ll pay much less per month. You can still make calls from a hardware desktop phone, but you’ll pay extra for this feature. With Grasshopper, you won’t be able to transcribe voicemail messages, and your system won’t automatically record every call for posterity. These are great services for companies that do everything from their laptops or tablets, but they’re not as good as RingCentral and Fonality for companies that handle a high volume of incoming and outgoing calls.

2. Smartphone Integration via Custom Applications

Your staffers are probably on the go at least some of the time, so you’re going to want a VoIP service that can travel with them. Unfortunately, not all VoIP providers offer mobile apps that deliver the same value and services as the desktop apps. All of the systems we reviewed offer solid mobile apps, but be careful as this isn’t an industry standard. Most VoIP services will offer call forwarding, which is a handy way to get calls delivered to your workers when they’re on the road. Those systems without a dedicated app won’t be able to create a log for these calls nor create voicemail transcripts if the call isn’t answered.

3. Call Routing and Call Management

Fonality offers extended services similar to what you’d find at a call center for a big box retailer. These options let you do things such as route calls from one rep to another after a few rings, provide a touch or voice menu, or hold calls within a queue until they are answered. Obviously, your videoconferencing-focused VoIP systems won’t deliver this kind of value. If that’s what you’re looking for, you should definitely choose a traditional desktop, phone-based VoIP solution.

4. Integration With Third-Party Productivity Apps

If you want your sales and service reps to be productive while on calls, you’re going to want a VoIP service that integrates with third-party apps. RingCentral, for example, offers a healthy dose of extensions, including Desk.com, Dropbox, and Google Drive

RingCentral’s extensions also include Microsoft Office and Zendesk. Fonality also offers integrations, including Box, Salesforce.com and most Android apps. Make sure you run down the list of integrations before making your decision. If one of the VoIP providers jibes better with your software ecosystem than the others, that’s probably your best bet, especially if you handle a high volume of sales and service calls.

5. Support

As with any product, the level of service you’ll receive is crucial to how well your service functions. Fonality offers 24/7 phone support, live chat support, and email ticket support for customers who experience issues. RingCentral offers 24/7 phone support for customers with plans for two or more users. If you’re a single user, you’ll only be able to get someone on the horn during 13-hour blocks Monday through Friday. RingCentral also offers 24/7 live chat support. If you run a global business with round-the-clock needs, you’re going to want to find a service provider that can guarantee your queries will be answered immediately (or at least in a timely fashion). If they can’t offer that, you might want to look elsewhere, especially if your phone system is the main method of communicating with clients.

6. Unified Communications

Your VoIP service provider can also be a one-stop shop for all of your communications needs. This means integrating your chat functionality, conference calls, emails, phone calls, video calls, and voicemail within one app. All of the services we reviewed offer this level of service, but not every VoIP provider will do this for you. This means you’ll be running disparate systems across your SMB, with no way to keep track of who received which message, on which device, and through which medium.

This isn’t necessarily a must-have feature, but it’s something you’ll want to consider, especially if you have employees who are using multiple forms of communication to contact one another. Think of it this way: You can use Microsoft Outlook, Microsoft Skype, Microsoft Dynamics CRM (customer relationship management), and Microsoft ERP (enterprise resource planning)-all on a Windows Phone-to conduct all of your communications, without ever leaving the interface. You can also do so without paying multiple bills and worrying about tying the apps together on the back end.

Hope this solves where you start when you think about Business VoIP.


Six Tech Trends to Know Heading Into the New Year

As we look back at 2016 and gear up for a new year, it’s smart to brush up on new trends in the legal industry. By new trends, I mean new technology, because the terms have become almost synonymous.

Technology has impacted our profession dramatically in recent years, and it continues to do so at an accelerating pace. If you’re not on the technology bandwagon, you and your firm will have a hard time staying afloat.

This fact isn’t a revelation. We’ve known for decades that success in most industries comes down to adopting new technology. But doing so in the legal profession comes with its set of challenges.

First, regulations make change difficult. Second, sometimes it’s hard to know which new products and approaches in the legal industry have value, and which are just hype.

Those challenges aside, firms that don’t embrace technology will have trouble attracting the best new legal talent. The revenue at law firms clinging to old school ways will drop off as a new generation of clients takes their business to new-school, tech-savvy companies.

What does it take to join the ranks of the new-school? There are six major trends to be aware of going into 2017.

Social networks

Social networking is the cornerstone of legal industry marketing. This fact shouldn’t be a surprise. Rainmaking has always been about networking, relationship building and word of mouth. It still is; these techniques in their offline form still build practices. But if you’re not working the online component, too, you’re at a catastrophic disadvantage.

Social media has become a factor in how clients choose attorneys, according to a survey taken this year by FindLaw. In 2017, take steps to ramp up your social presence on your website and blog, on LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter. Doing so will maximize your online presence and help you grow relationships over time.

Your clients, prospects, and leads are online and checking social media regularly. Being part of the social media landscape isn’t hard, but there are right and wrong ways to go about it. Invest in expert help this year. Set a goal to get your social marketing plan up and running in 2017.

Virtual Law Firms

These are firms that can operate anywhere: A lawyer’s home, a satellite office, even from inside a Starbucks. Many lawyers have closed their downtown offices and work remotely. Technology lets them do this without hurting service or quality. Remote work can reduce overhead and travel time while increasing flexibility and improving work/life balance. Plus, you have the option to rent offices or meeting rooms as needed.

The leap to virtual doesn’t have to happen overnight. Experiment by working remotely one day a week and see how it impacts your productivity and revenue. It may very well provide the edge your firm needs to succeed in 2017.

E-discovery

Electronically stored information (ESI) is now considered discoverable in court. ESI includes e-mails, texts, instant messages, voicemails and other electronically stored information. What you need to know: This technological reality has changed the face of litigation. Lawyers can (and should) use digital services to access all types of records. And we need to remind our clients that their deleted texts and e-mails are retrievable.

Legal process outsourcing

Outsourcing legal work to a vendor, law firm or overseas resource has become an increasingly favorable trend for law firms. Streamlined by new technology, LPO continues to cut expenses and reduce workload overflow. It can be a huge factor in scaling your business and managing workflow. LPO technology firms that market to the legal industry are on the rise. They’ll be coming after you in 2017 to present their case. When they do, listen.

Reviews and testimonials

Adding positive reviews to Google+, Yelp and Avvo is critical to growing your business and managing your reputation. 72 percent of consumers said they trusted companies more when they have positive customer reviews, according to a BrightLocal survey in 2014. The number of people reading online reviews is increasing, so take steps to post reviews in 2017. If you can’t get customers to go on record, that’s OK. According to the data, consumer trust increases even when the reviews are anonymous.

Portals and online document repositories

Cloud-based online document repositories provide secure, on-demand access to records for you, your clients, and your team members. You can store, organize, view, and change files.

More customers want instant gratification and access to their documents and records. It’s relatively easy to set up, makes for a better consumer experience, and can save you time from fielding emails and sending attachments. Make sure your clients have this access in 2017!

So there you have it. Six new trends that aren’t entirely new, per se, but are increasingly important as our industry ventures forth into the brave new world of 2017.

Lawyers like to err on the side of caution. Many of us are slow to embrace new technology or rock the boat. Historically, we get hung up asking ourselves whether we can afford to take such risks.

But what we need to be asking is: Can we afford not to?

At the end of 2016, the answer is a resounding no.