When considering a business class VoIP system one of the first conundrums to consider is what features and functions are required considering that each vendor offers a myriad of functions and feature options. Indeed so comprehensive are some vendors feature packs that it can be a challenge just to make sense of them, and what benefits they might bring to the business. Moreover, some features are essential whilst others are highly specialized and only of use under specific circumstances. Subsequently, it has become difficult for IT and the VoIP stakeholders to differentiate, validate and justify the functions and features that are required and those that would be nice to have. For example, some of the high-end hosted IP PBX systems have extensive call center features, but those are overkill for an SMB with no contact center facility. Alternatively, an SMB with extensive customer care and technical support might not need a fully featured contact center but might benefit from some of those features such as advanced queuing and CRM / Outlook integration.
Therefore, because requirement differ from one organization to another even in the same vertical market space, in this article we will look at what features you really must have for a balanced business solution that will cover the requirements of typical startups, SMB and larger organizations.
The 10 Essential Features:
- Extension Dialing
- Auto Attendant/Receptionist
- Voicemail to email
- Advanced Call Queuing
- Advanced Call Forwarding
- Web-based Administration
- Music on hold
- Voice and Video Conferencing
- CRM integration
- Call Screening
1. Extension Dialing
VoIP extension dialing allows employees to call other employees wherever they are located using the internal local extension number – usually a four digit number. Extension dialing makes call transfer faster and more efficient and can make multiple work locations, such as employee’s homes, remote offices, mobile workers, even employees in other countries, all appear as if they are working within a single location.
2. Auto Attendant Receptionist
An auto-attendant come receptionist uses IVR to greet callers and offer them a menu of options, such as ‘Press 1, for Sales,’ etc. This feature provides the business with an enhanced professional image and reflects well with first time callers, as the image projected is that of a large organization. This feature is especially useful for startups and SMBs where there is no ‘real’ receptionist and the VoIP system handles incoming calls via call forwarding.
3. Voicemail to email
Another very useful feature for business is sending voice messages to email – either as MP3 sound files or by having voice messages automatically transcribed to text. The advantages of sending voicemail to email in text format is that messages is that the recipient can be check their messages silently in meetings or presentations without causing any disruption. Moreover having all your messages in one location, email, means you are less likely to miss any important messages.
4. Advanced Call Queuing
Call queuing is a desirable feature for businesses that use group extensions, for example an extension for the sales or service departments. In situations such as this, it is important that if all the sales or support agents are busy on calls that other incoming calls do not go unanswered. Instead, these calls will be queued and managed by the system, by providing on-hold music, and by keeping the caller informed of their call status, wait time and position in the queue.
5. Advanced Call Forwarding
Businesses today are heavily reliant on mobile employees working from home or their mobile phones. This is especially true now that BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) has become an accepted business practice. Employees’ no longer wish to be tied to a desk phone, furthermore that is not efficient business practice, employees’ need to be mobile but contactable via the organizations phone system. Advanced call forwarding facilitates this as the VoIP system can forward calls to any phone such as a home landline, a mobile phone or a desk phone in a client’s office. This ability for the VoIP system to find the employee by calling a configured list of phone numbers either sequentially or simultaneously provides employees with the freedom of mobility to do their job yet still remain contactable, as if they were on their desk extension.
6. Web-based Administration
One of the advantages of hosted cloud based VoIP systems is that they facilitate secure web administration of the VoIP system. This is very important for efficient administration and management of the VoIP system. An administrator can create, edited, or delete an extension from any internet capable device and from any location. Furthermore, administrators have the freedom to run, compile and deliver reports by email to stakeholders at anytime and from any device or location.
7. Music on Hold
This is an old feature but still an important one. However, with modern VoIP systems administrators should look for the ability to select custom music to play when callers are on hold. Most systems allow for custom music though some have strict copyright restrictions.
8. Voice and Web Conferencing
Not so long ago, voice and video conferencing was only available to very large organizations. However, VoIP technology has brought voice and video conferencing to the startup and SMB. Moreover, conferencing is now considered a vital business tool that can improve efficiency and reduce wasted time, for example, the time spent traveling to meetings. Furthermore, voice and video conferencing although in many cases considered an extra is still cheap and simple to implement and operate. However, this feature creates value and opportunity beyond hosting remote virtual meetings it has tremendous capabilities for supporting remote team collaboration, presentations and distant learning training programs.
9. CRM and Business Application Integration
Another feature that was once only available to big organizations is the integration of business applications with the phone system. With VoIP, this is now possible as both applications run on IP so are readily integrated. Although CRM and business applications is often an advanced feature it can be highly productive and of great value to the business. The VoIP system can identify incoming callers and pop up their customer history record onto the agents screen allowing the agent to have all relevant information at hand whilst they are on the call. Applications such as CRM, Outlook and Billing systems are routinely integrated, greatly enhancing business efficiency and productivity.
10. Call Screening
The ability to screen incoming calls is another necessary business feature as it allows the employee to make decisions on how they will handle the call. For example, if the caller is a friend or relative they may wish to divert the call to their mobile phone. Call screening can be accomplished in several ways from simply displaying the caller ID on the employees phone display, to more complex methods such as looking up and identifying the caller via a database and whispering the name prior to the call being connected – all this is transparent to the caller. Call screening is a necessary feature in business systems as cold calling, and persistent and aggressive marketing from vendors can be a serious waste of time and patience.
These are the top ten features, which I would strongly recommend any generic VoIP business phone system should support. Some may be more important to your business that others, but if you consider future business growth then most of these features will prove to be advantageous and of value to a business regardless of their size.