Finding companies with the right breadth and depth of experience is an important step in making sure you end up hiring the right hosted PBX provider, and if you choose a company with an impressive and relevant pedigree you’re going to avoid most of the pitfalls the emerging IP telephony market is going to throw your way. But if you want to make sure you end up with a truly great hosted PBX provider then you’re going to need to dig a little deeper and start asking some questions, working out a total evaluation letting you know whether or not they’re the real deal.
How Much Access is Enough Access?
First, you want to make sure they offer the provider can offer you nationwide (and international) access. Even with great hosted PBX providers you might run into a case where they don’t offer coverage for some very remote areas, but overall you want to make sure your new provider is going to offer coverage for major metropolitan areas and anywhere you know your organization is going to need to have phone numbers in.
It’s often enough to simply ask your potential provider about their coverage, but do yourself a favor and dig a little deeper than simply asking them if their coverage is good enough or not. Is 911 service available in all areas where you have remote employees? Every provider will tell you they offer phenomenal coverage, but the “devil is in the details”. Ask them where they cover, but also ask them where and which services they don’t cover. Ask them about their data-center, specifically how many they have, where they’re located, and if these data-centers are located nation-wide or are at least cover your organization’s service area. Make sure all of those data centers utilize premium bandwidth and ask for the details on their claims.
Why is it so important to get this in-depth with your service provider when it comes to their network? Simple- you want to make sure they not only offer coverage everywhere you need to contact, you also want to make sure that coverage is of equally high quality from one region to the other. Telephony technology lives and dies on the quality and reliability of its signal, and a hosted PBX provider can only ensure these network characteristics if they’ve invested intelligently in their infrastructure.
Keeping Numbers the Same
As a quick note you also want to make sure your provider will be able to transfer your organization’s existing phone numbers over to your new service. This sounds like a no-brainer but not every IP telephony company will offer this feature. If your organization is even remotely established then changing telephone numbers just isn’t something you want to consider, let alone go through. Think about all the media hits and mentions that list your organization’s phone number. Think about all the fliers and advertisements you’ve launched with your existing phone numbers on them. Think about how your website lists your existing phone number, and think about all the business cards out there with your organization’s phone number on it. Finally, think about all the clients who have your organization’s phone number saved in their phone or their contact sheet who will reach a dial tone if you change your numbers when you switch your telephony services. Make sure you work with a service provider who lets you not only keep your existing numbers, but also supports transition that involves no downtime for your business.
Maintaining your phone number ties right back to the most important characteristic you’ll require from your hosted PBX provider- reliability. In fact, reliability is so important that it’s arguably a more essential characteristic to optimize than quality. When in doubt go with the provider who offers the highest level of reliability, even if there may be another less-reliable provider out there who gives you slightly enhanced call quality. Reliability trumps quality, and any hosted PBX company worth their salt will tell you the same thing.
A big component of reliability lies in the support you’ll receive from the hosted PBX company you end up hiring to handle your telephony needs. As a general rule one of the main benefits of hosted PBX is the fact your organization won’t need to handle the day-to-day details of maintaining, upgrading, fixing, and generally dealing with your telephony’s system infrastructure. Yet when you move your telephony infrastructure out of your own premises you’re losing a certain level of control over the nuts-and-bolts of your phone system, so you better make sure the provider you hire will do at least a good a job taking care of the equipment as you or your staff would have.
One way to make sure you’re hiring a hosted PBX company that takes great care of its infrastructure is to visit that provider’s offices. Not every PBX company will be receptive to this request and not every company will have offices located a convenient distance from your own offices, but if you have the ability to visit an IP telephony provider’s facilities you’ll do yourself a favor if you take advantage of this opportunity. A PBX company can say whatever it wants about its infrastructure but a trip to their facilities will give you the best possible understanding of what will be going on with the guts of you telephony system if you decided to sign on with them.
In addition to the care they take with their infrastructure you also want to make sure the hosted PBX company you hire provides a high level of support and triage when something goes wrong with your VoIP phone service.
“Guaranteed 100% Uptime” is a Myth – Plan For It
Listen- some hosted PBX companies are significantly better than others, but no provider is perfect. It’s important to accept this reality now, well before you start looking for a provider. Any hosted PBX provider promising 100% universal uptime is a little delusional. If you take on a long-term working relationship with a hosted PBX company than at some point you’re going to run into some sort of problem. It might be a signal outage but it might also just be a little latency or a small drop in voice quality. Whatever it is – expect it to happen eventually, so rather than trying to find a “perfect” company instead look for a company that does everything right when things go wrong.
And what does it mean to do “everything right?”
To start, the best hosted PBX companies will make sure your organization is ready to even use some sort of IP telephony solution. They’ll make sure you have enough bandwidth pulsing through your network to work with their system to a satisfactory degree.
Prevention may be the most important step in avoiding hosted PBX problems but you also want to make sure the provider you sign on with has a plan in place for fixing problems that slip through from time to time. You want to make sure they have multiple communication channels where you can immediately reach them in the event of a service problem. You want to make sure those channels are open during the times when your phone lines need to be open (during your business hours or 24/7, depending on your needs). Ask the provider the average amount of time it takes them to both respond to and fix service problems. Ask them how they respond to various service problems, and when you ask for references as for contact information for clients who have recently experienced problems so you can contact those clients and get a direct answer regarding what you can come to expect when things go wrong with your telephony systems.
Cutting the wheat from the chafe in the emerging world of hosted PBX isn’t difficult. You need to avoid the cookie-cutter imitators likely to flood the market in the coming years. You want to avoid the big-name telecom oligarchs who have no real experience in the market. And you want to perform due diligence to make sure the company you sign on with is as reliable as you need them to be- both when things go right and when things go wrong. It may seem like a hassle, but it’s better to make sure you sign up with the right service provider from day one rather than finding yourself in a bind because you rushed too fast into signing a contract.