While many businesses are considering or making the switch from Plain Old Telephone Service to hosted VoIP, some may even be asking—is a phone system necessary at all?
It's an interesting question, especially for a small business or a technology-focused one. Online communications have come a long way since its inception and continue to evolve. Teams can collaborate using free services such as Google Hangouts, Skype, appear.in, and Join.me, and employees are increasingly more likely to utilize their own phones for work. But is it enough to supplant a phone system altogether? Let's analyze a few reasons some may think so.
1. "We don't need to make calls"
Depending on what your business does, or what your role within the business is, it's possible that all of your outgoing communications are done online. I could preach to you about the value of speaking to people with your voice rather than your keyboard, but doing that through a blog post would be a bit ironic.
The biggest counter-argument that could be made may be that it's not only your needs that need to be considered here. You need to keep your customers (and their incoming calls) in mind.
You might have an email address set up for feedback and questions or a ticketing system and forum set up for issues, but what if an important client requires a more human interaction? Well, there are available options outside of a phone system (and I'll address those next), but giving your customers a choice when it comes to incoming communications can go a long way.
2. "It's too old school"
Hey, I get it - phones have been around for a long time. Some people (especially those who have grown up through the boom of the internet) may see phones as outdated technology, but having a business phone line is more important than they may realize.
Whether you like it or not, the idea exists that "legitimate" businesses have phone lines. Just offering the option to speak with a real person can add an important layer of trust between a business and a customer. Emails can be automated, online identities can easily be made up and shared - which is why a customer may feel better about investing their resources in a business whose employees they can actually speak to.
Of course, you can always list a personal cell phone number on your site, but answering with a non-professional greeting or voicemail recording could reflect even more poorly on your business than if you hadn't listed a number at all.
Compatibility Issues among Alternatives
As previously mentioned, there are alternatives when it comes to "personal" communications. It's possible to have an audio or video call without the need for a phone. However, when you look at those options, compatibility becomes a concern.
For example, you and your co-workers may have your computers and software configured so that you can call each other with no issues, but is it guaranteed to work if a client wanted to communicate the same way? Would they possibly need to update a plug-in, download a different browser, create a username or troubleshoot their microphone just to communicate with you? Do you think they would be willing to walk through a set of instructions just to speak with you?
These online services are improving in this regard, but it will take a lot of development and even more widespread adoption in order to become a competitive option with phones that "just work".
Hosted VoIP isn't a typical Phone System
One last thing to keep in mind on this point is that the "I" in VoIP stands for Internet. VoIP phones may have the same basic shape and buttons as those of previous generations, but the service is driven by software that has grown alongside the web and is still being innovated today.
With a Business VoIP system, you can set up an auto-attendant, monitor your queues, send your voicemail to email, integrate call records with your CRM and much more. If you go Hosted, you don't even need any hardware on your end—you just configure your system through a web interface.
3. "It's not worth the cost"
Even if you aren't blown away by arguments in favor of having a phone system for your business, it may just be important to note the low cost of business VoIP, as low as $50/month.
If you're even considering forgoing a phone system, it's safe to assume you have low call volume. In which case, it would make sense for you to use a metered (usage-based) plan rather than an "unlimited" one. Rather than paying $30+ per person or phone for "unlimited" calling, you can pay roughly $0.03 per-minute for calls you actually make (not including SIP-to-SIP calling - e.g. calls among your employees).
Phone system hardware can potentially be expensive, but going Hosted means you don't have to own a PBX, and softphones and browser phones can effectively replace desk phones for little to no cost.
Even if the benefits don't materialize themselves in the tangible form of incoming calls, the improvement to your business' professional image by offering that avenue of communication to your customers may very well be worth $50/month.
Does this mean a business without a phone system is destined to fail? Of course not! If your business is truly focused on closed-system communications, here are some of the non-telephony methods we use and recommend:
- Instant Message among employees: Slack
- Project co-ordination among employees: Basecamp, Lighthouse
- Customer Support: Zendesk
These (or similar) options may be enough for small software companies, businesses with fewer than five employees and no need for extension dialing, small real estate offices or contractors that use their own mobile phones, etc.
Ultimately, you will have the best understanding of what is or isn't needed for your particular business. I just hope this has brought points to your attention that you haven't previously considered, so that you can make an informed decision.