As a rule, I get to the conclusion over the course of my post or at the end. For this one, I will give you the answer at the beginning. The sad truth, my friends, is that to get to the right VoIP provider you are probably going to have to kiss a few frogs in order to find a prince of a service provider.
As a provider of Lead Management Software and Telemarketing Software we have thousands of customers that have tried and are using every provider under the sun. We are integrated with most providers meaning we can auto dial over their platform, launch their soft-phone, record calls and so forth. This journey of working with VoIP providers is about five years in the making, and here is what we have learned from all of the customer feedback, testing and research. When a prospect or customer asks who we recommend, we usually tell them that they will need to try a few to find the one that provides the best quality at the best price. Yes, we have a few we recommend as a starting point, but history tells us that what works well for one company works poorly for the company next door.
The question that begs to be answered is “why?” Why is quality so different from provider to provider, location to location, cheap to expensive? To answer the question we need to take a brief look at how VoIP works. For the purpose of this discussion we are going to address hosted VoIP rather than on-premise VoIP solutions. Most of the service providers range in price from $14.99 per month to $39.99 per month. Hosted providers include such companies as Vonage, Vocalocity, Ring Central, Toktumi and several others.
In a nutshell, VoIP is the converting of voice (audio) to data, moving it across the Public Internet and converting it back to voice on the receiving end. As these converted data packages make their journey from sender to receiver quality can be lost. Along this journey are what we call “hops.” There may be several hops and routers along the way. Each hop represents the risk of losing quality. The more hops the greater the risk. For example, if I trace my path to CNN’s web site I go through 30 hops to get there. Since I am only populating a website there is no harm and no foul. The page will load and be displayed properly even if it is a bit slow. Now, imagine your voice data package making a trip of the same distance. Along the way it can encounter a hop that is having performance problems and this will cause “jitter”. Jitter is best described as the all too familiar sounds of breaking up, echo and poor call quality.
Many people think that if they have good bandwidth to their office that it will ensure a high quality of VoIP call. Once again, if you are traveling over several hops and any hop is having issues it is likely that the quality of the call will suffer regardless of your bandwidth. Additionally, if your bandwidth is great and all of the hops are functioning without impairment but the person you are calling has limited bandwidth and they are on VoIP, quality will suffer. The same holds true for the micro world inside of your PC if you are using a soft-phone and a USB headset. The quality of headset, the components of the PC, and the number of applications running can all affect the quality of the call.
Selecting a provider
I said you would need to kiss a few frogs. Here is why. Your calling pattern (how many calls, where they are going, and the geographic location of the person who places the calls) will impact your opportunity to get the best quality. Some companies can select the lowest cost provider and end up with great quality. Others have to move up stream and pay a little more to get a quality standard that meets their expectation. I wish there was an easy answer that would predict outcome, but even after thousands of users, it remains a mixed bag.
Some helpful hints in making a selection:
1) Determine what providers work with your lead management or telemarketing software. Take into account your specific needs: auto dialing, click to call, recording, etc.
2) Select at least two providers to test. Many offer a free trial.
3) Set realistic expectations. The $14.99 service is not going to have the same quality of customer service as the $39.99 service. Don’t expect great service. VoIP operates on razor thin margins. This is not the old Bell or AT&T.
4) Review and understand their “fair use policy.” Some providers limit you by minutes and some by minutes and dials per day. Some let you violate usage while others strictly hold you to it.
5) Be sure to switch services between your test users. Don’t let one sales person test company x and the other test company y. Swap them half way through the trial period.
6) Have your testers track dropped calls, low quality and so forth. You are going to have a decision to make. You want hard data.
7) Don’t fool yourself into thinking that an extra $10 per month is not worth the quality. It is. A low quality call often kills the sales opportunity regardless of your great offering. Additionally, if you are always on the phone having to complain it is worth the extra $10 per month for quality and a customer service department that can resolve issues.
8) Do your research and listen to what others have to say. Visit http://www.voipreview.org/all-providers-reviews for reviews.
The final take-away is do your homework, test, compare and don’t let price be the only driving force in making a decision. Quality still rules the day and in many cases $10 more in cost has a far greater return than $10 saved. If you can bag a low cost provider and nab the quality, then that is even better.