The Vonage business solution is geared to SMB and as such they have a foundation plan that is targeted at the new company startup. The philosophy here is to bring all the necessary standard features, of which there are over 40, to run a SMB business into one streamlined cloud hosted VoIP solution.
Voyage envisages that if client startups start with a basic solution the company can keep costs to a minimum but yet reap the benefits of a business class VoIP solution. As the company grows, they more features can be added, as and when required, some free and some at extra cost. This is a valid business model for startups, as there is no restriction on adding features at a later date. The basic business plan, can be purchased using one of three plans:
1. Unlimited extensions
This is a bit of a misnomer as it gives the impression of a plan that allows unlimited extension for a flat rate. This however is not the purpose or meaning of the name unlimited extension, as it actually relates to incoming and outgoing call minutes. An unlimited extension can make an unlimited number of outgoing and receive an unlimited amount of incoming calls each month for a flat rate – at time of writing (Oct 2014) – of $39.99. There is a minimum order requirement of one unlimited extension and one company number as per the Terms & Conditions.
What you get with this plan is obviously the unlimited calls but only within continental USA and Canada, all other destination are subject to additional charges. The unlimited extension plan gives an extension the ability to support porting of an existing telephone number from the current provider. It can also support up to three devices on the same extension number, for example a desk phone, a home number and a mobile. There are also the standard type features such as call screening and call forwarding, voicemail to Email and the interesting feature Never Miss a Call. This feature allows the system to track you wherever you so that you always stay connected. It is their version of find-me/follow-me. Under great feature of this plan is the direct dial to emergency services and directory services that is rare with most VoIP services.
Vonage claim this is the most popular plan as it gives free calls and lends itself to more accurate financial planning and budgeting. Furthermore – international calls which are not free – are supplied under Vonage international VoIP plans which can be up to 75% cheaper than most competitors services. If the company makes many international calls, then this is undoubtedly a major incentive to using Vonage. However the unlimited service may not be for everyone as some employees in a business rarely make external calls, the utility of a deskphone to them is for receiving internal calls from colleagues. In which case, the metered extension option plan may be a better match.
2. Metered extensions plan
The metered extension plan is for those infrequently used extensions where employees make few external business calls. This option is to assist the company in saving money by using a cheaper monthly rate per metered extension. The external incoming/outgoing calls are charged at $0.03 per minute, which is one of the cheapest rates going. International calls are charged at Vonage’s own carrier rates, which are also the cheapest around. Internal calls are unlimited and un-metered, which should always the case with IP phones.
Metered extensions can only act as internal extensions they require at least one unlimited extension to carry the external business number, though they do support a direct dial extension number. Metered extensions also support screening and forwarding of calls, custom call tagging, area code support, and Outlook integration. It should be mentioned that all the features that come with metered are integrated into the unlimited plans. Unfortunately, there is no direct emergency or directory service calling from these extensions.
From a business perspective, metered extensions make a lot of sense for not everyone will make use or benefit from the unlimited free calls for the $39.99 service charge on the unlimited plans. With the Metered extension plan charging $14.99 per extension per month this can lead to large savings if extensions are identified and provisioned correctly. However what about those that are using BYOD – (bring your own device) or are working remotely, say from home.
3. Virtual extensions
The solution for BYOD employees and remote workers is the virtual extension. Many companies today are allowing employees to use their own mobile phones in the workplace for making and receiving business calls. This is not a desirable situation but it is a fact of business life. However a lot of the disadvantages of an employee using their own phone can be remediated via the Vonage Virtual extension. A virtual extension comes with its own direct dial number that can be passed to customer. When dialed the number is answered by Vonage and then forwarded to the employee’s mobile or home number, or whichever real telephone they have configured. Additionally, incoming call forwarding is unlimited, and they are seamlessly transferred via Vonage, which is transparent to the caller. It must be noted that this isn’t an answering service such as Grasshopper, which acts as an auto answer/receptionist it is simply a call forwarding service.
Virtual extensions plans are priced at $14.99 an extension per month.
Basic features of all Vonage business solutions
The features that come with all of Vonage small business solutions include:
- An admin portal – this is an online web based portal for easy configuration from anywhere.
- Call continuity – Vonage makes sure there is no interruption to the VoIP service even in a power cut.
- Call waiting – be alerted when another call is trying to get through to you whilst you are already on a call.
- Emergency assistance (911) – direct dial feature for security and safety.
- Directory assistance (411) – standard directory charges apply for this service.
- Multiple devices share an extension number – add a mobile, home or desk phone to the extension then be found where ever you may be by simultaneous ringing.
- Call tagging and announce – tag regular customer’s numbers with a tag such as a name and have it whispered when answering the call but before connection.
- Caller ID – see who is calling before answering, works best with the call tagging feature.
- Call screening – send a call to voicemail.
- Dynamic Caller ID – change the number of your caller ID on your outbound calls.
- Do not disturb – when configured callers go direct to voicemail.
- Voicemail – with customized greeting and multiple mail folders, password protected access.
Teleworking and Mobility
These features of Vonage are very important in the modern world of business as more companies are allowing employees to work from home as this saves considerable amount on office space and maintenance. For the employee, saving time and money of commuting is a definite benefit to working from home. Even if your company doesn’t have a teleworker or BYOD policy having these mobility features means that employees in times of bad weather or service outages can still work even though they cannot make it to the office.
Vonage make this viable through robust teleworking and mobility features such as:
- Work from anywhere – lets an employee work from anywhere there is a network or internet connection.
- Cell phone integration – can integrate with not just smartphones but also regular mobiles.
- Never Miss a Call – Configure the account to ring a home, office or mobile number.
- Call Pass – transfer an incoming call on your mobile to your Vonage deskphone.
- Business Mobile App – available for Android and iOS.
- Voicemail Transcript – have transcriptions of voicemail sent to email.
There are many productivity features built into Vonage that are available such as:
- Click to Call Me – a website plugin that allows a customer to click on an on screen icon to initiate a VoIP call.
- Conference Bridge – this is for conference calling that supports up to 30 participants.
- Dashboard – this is a good administrator or supervisor tool in a call center as it allows stats off every extension to be viewed under a single screen.
- Paging Group – another administrative tool that allows a broadcast of a message to a configured group or groups in the company.
- Click to dial – turns telephone numbers into links to click on to dial, works well with Outlook integration and Skype.
- Paperless Fax – send and receive Fax by scanning docs and sending via the Vonage eFax service, this is a nice feature that some VoIP systems cannot deal with, but it is hardly paperless.
- Unified Inbox – manage all communication such as email, voicemail, fax through one inbox.
- Outlook Integration – integrates well with Outlook so you can easily integrate contacts with the phone system and then click to dial.
There are also other features suited for specialist purposes such as training and compliance via call logs and call recording and call monitoring. In addition, there is a desktop application and a mobile app.
Desktop & Mobile Apps
The Vonage business solution is an application that comes free and it comes with an assortment of plug-ins that boost productivity. The plug-ins do not come free but are additional components charged at a monthly fee.
The typical features are:
- Screen pop-up – which is a heads updisplay alerting incoming calls
- Manage calls – place calls on hold, forward or even to record calls
- Intelligent integration – allows Vonage to integrate with Outlook, CRM, Finance and ERM applications to allow an agent to see current client status before connecting the call.
- Call Queues – this manages an agent to manipulate incoming calls and send calls to a expert agent
- Desktop plugins – this allows maximization of integration with third party applications
Examples of Desktop Plugins are APIs for : Bing search, Call history, Caller location and Google contacts. Furthermore, there are APis for Method CRM, Microsoft Dynamics, Salesforce, SugarCRM, Microsoft Outlook and Quickbooks.
The ability to integrate with other business applications is a major business feature as data is passed seamlessly between application and this mechanism provides for efficiency and productivity. This is one on Vonage’s best features as a business VoIP solution as it allows a business to collate and collaborate data from different segments of the business. Furthermore, it allows for close interaction between CRM, ERP and Finance application whereby a callers call ID can instigate an immediate retrieval of their customer history file. When a customer agent can see the customer history and credentials, they can answer the call using a personal greeting that can diffuse many angry calls. Additionally, by having the details and call history for an irate customer immediately on screen this assist the call center agent in assisting the irate customer. Consequently, they can by applying a personal introduction and then being knowledgeable with regards the customer’s complaint, the agent can prevent antagonizing the customer by having them repeat their complaint.
What is more, having a system that can identify an incoming call and provide an onscreen customer history allow the agent to answer a returning customer’s calls more efficiently as they have the clients call history before them. This is a fantastic tool for a business, which relies on a customer care or technical support function.
The fact that Vonage has integration with CRM solutions such as SugarCRM, and financial packages such as Quickbooks, means that the business VoIP phone system can be tightly integrated into the business. When a customer calls, an agent can see the caller’s current financial status, perhaps they have an unpaid subscriptions and the agent can address the situation verbally. Additionally technical support can review the customers fault history in order to determine a potential problem without antagonizing the customer asking the same questions over and over again.
Vonage is a market leader in international VoIP calls so any package that can supply those rates is wll worth looking at. Vonage has the basic features that are available with most competitors’ solutions. Where Vonage stands out is with their integration with other third party applications. This is a major thing in business as it can allow finance, admin and call centers to share information and collate reports. Very few VoIP solutions have the range of integration that Vonage has and that is a huge factor in why an SMB might want to go for them. Vonage is also extremely cost effective.
On the down-side they do lack some of the IP/PBX features that are common on open-source services, but the international call rates should mitigate any concerns that you may have.
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