If you're a small business owner looking to upgrade your phone solution, one option you will surely come across is a cloud telephony system. This is quickly becoming a popular choice for business owners and small firms thanks to the wide range of features and high-quality calling experience it can offer, as well as its flexibility and affordability for small and growing businesses.
So what should you be aware of if you're ready to take the step from legacy, copper-based landlines to a modern cloud VoIP phone system?
The first step should be to understand how cloud telephony solutions for businesses work, how they differ from the legacy tools firms may be familiar with, and what you'll have to do to prepare your business for it.
A cloud telephony system refers to an internet-based, or IP, solution where your provider hosts all the technology such as servers needed to route and manage calls. Instead of using traditional copper phone lines, voice calls are converted into digital format and sent via the same cables used for your broadband connection to a central server in the cloud.
Cloud communication may often be used as a synonym for cloud phone solutions, but it actually encompasses a wide range of services. For example, it may typically include video conferencing technology, which can offer a range of advantages when chatting with colleagues or customers. Instant messaging is also covered under this banner.
Often, these services, including voice, video and text connectivity that rely on third-party cloud providers, are grouped together as part of a unified communications platform. This allows employees to easily switch from one medium to another, resulting in higher productivity and better customer service.
In many cases, cloud telephony is used interchangeably with VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) technology. However, while the two terms are very similar, they don't always refer to the same thing, so it pays to be aware of the difference.
Essentially, VoIP refers to any phone system that uses a digital internet connection to make and receive calls. While in many cases, it does use cloud computing technology to do this, it's not always a requirement. Some firms use an on-premise VoIP service where they manage all the infrastructure such as the servers themselves. However, this is often not suitable for small firms because of the cost and complexity involved.
With cloud services, on the other hand, this is all taken care of by the provider, leaving small firms free to run their own business without having to worry about phone connectivity or maintenance. Using a cloud telephony service - which you may see referred to as hosted VoIP - lets you turn any device with an internet connection and a microphone into a phone, as well as access a range of additional features.
For end users, a cloud phone system should not look or function any differently to a traditional landline-based system. Employees will still be able to use handsets to make and receive calls in exactly the same way as before, while customers and other partners dialling in will not notice any change.
However, business owners will find they have a much wider array of features and functionality to improve their communications and project a more professional image to customers and partners alike.
Cloud phone systems use digital technology, routing your voice calls using the same infrastructure as your broadband connection. When you make a phone call, it is treated like any other data packet, though it is usually given the highest priority to ensure a seamless experience. This means they can be accessed from anywhere there's an internet connection, including via mobile data networks.
One factor to be aware of is that unlike copper landlines, which get their power from the cable, desk handsets for cloud telephony do require a separate mains power supply, which means you'll need a contingency plan in place should you suffer an electricity outage.
However, if you don't have your own backup power supply to help with disaster recovery, most hosted VoIP services can overcome this by rerouting calls to another site, or to mobile devices, in order to maintain connectivity.
One major benefit of cloud telephony services is that, for the most part, they are plug-and-play. Because all the servers are hosted by the cloud provider, there's no need for any on-site infrastructure beyond a good internet connection.
This means that small businesses will not have to wait around or pay for an engineer to visit in order to install their services. Instead, you simply select the hosted VoIP package, tariff and numbers you want and you're all set - often completely online now!
However, the only thing you may need to do is check that your existing desk handsets are compatible with VoIP service. Most modern devices have this capability, but you may need to buy replacements if you're still using outdated hardware. Alternatively, you can take advantage of 'softphone' capabilities, which let you access your phone service via a mobile or browser-based app on any suitable desktop, laptop or mobile device.
Another key benefit of opting for hosted cloud telephone systems is that you'll often have access to a wide range of features that would not be available using legacy services. This can let you create a full-function contact centre, connect remote and home workers to the same network, or gain deeper insight into the performance of your communications.
Some of the features you can expect to see as part of a good cloud telephony system include.
These are usually very easy to set up and manage, with very little technical knowledge required. In many cases, a small business owner can simply log in to a web-based dashboard, from where they can control every aspect of their business communications.
Cloud services offer numerous advantages over a landline-based phone system, in terms of cost, ease of use, reliability and features. What's more, it ensures your business communications are fully futureproofed, as they will be the primary method of communications for the majority of firms once legacy landline networks are switched off during 2025.
If you haven't already investigated cloud calling solutions, you will need to do so sooner rather than later. But in addition to preparing for the legacy switch off, there are several other signs you could benefit from a hosted business phone system. For instance, if you can answer yes to any of these questions, the chances are you should be thinking about moving beyond a traditional phone system.
Cloud telephony solutions for business enable small firms to compete on a more even footing with larger competitors, as well as present the right impression to customers, whether you want to appear as a trusted local business or demonstrate a global presence.
For instance, the call handling features offered by a cloud service can help small firms build a full contact centre, with customised menus, call forwarding and integration with business applications. This ensures customers reach the right employees, and that your workers have the right information to hand when they do.
Elsewhere, being able to choose your own number and answer calls from anywhere, on any device, means you can also appear connected to the community by using a local number, or opt for something more metropolitan, such as an 020 London number, to present the right image for your business.
The financial benefits are another key advantage of cloud calling. Adopting a hosted VoIP system can typically offer a small business significant cost savings when compared with legacy phone services. In many cases, a landline might set a small business back around £30 a month just for line rental, before the cost of calls is added on top of this.
With a hosted VoIP service from the likes of bOnline, on the other hand, you can expect to pay as little as £12.95 a month per user (plus VAT) for a full-featured cloud telephony service, which includes unlimited national and international calling and a whole host of additional functionality, from advanced call handling to sophisticated reporting tools. Many of these features would either be completely unavailable with legacy tools, or come with a hefty additional price tag.
With so many cloud telephony providers out there, it's vital you make the right choice for your business' needs. Navigating this market can seem complex, but if you know what questions to ask and what you need from a provider, you can quickly narrow down your options.
There are a wide range of hosted telephony providers out there, from big names like BT and Virgin Media to dedicated VoIP services and even large tech platforms such as Microsoft Teams. Therefore, it pays to do your research before making a decision.
While low costs are important, headline figures shouldn't be your only consideration. You also need to look closely to make sure there aren't any extra hidden fees, such as for extra features or maintenance charges that may be hidden in the small print. Customer service matters too - taking a look at online reviews can quickly tell you if a potential partner is falling short in this regard.
You shouldn't have to do anything in order to switch your phone service to a cloud telephony solution, as this should all be taken care of by your provider. Because all the infrastructure is hosted in the cloud, there's usually no need for on-site installation work or an engineer visit, and you can typically get set up in a matter of minutes.
All you have to do is select the package and tariff you want and plug in your IP-compatible handsets, or use a web browser or app to access the telephone system. If you want to keep your existing number, this is also a very simple process - just let your provider know you'd like to port over numbers when you sign up and they'll take care of it for you.
As well as questions about extra fees, cancellation procedures and installation processes, there are a few other questions that you should get clear answers to before you sign up to a service.
Making sure you're not locked into a lengthy contract with an unsuitable provider is essential, so be sure you know exactly how long you're signing up for and what fees will apply should you have to leave.
Reliability is another important factor. Make sure your provider can be open about their performance in this regard and determine if the guarantees they provide meet the needs of your business. A few minutes of downtime may not sound like much, but it could be very costly for some small firms. Ask questions about what contingencies are in place should there be any service disruption and what compensation you may be entitled to for outages.
Making the right choice for your business telephony should set you up well for many years to come. For small firms, a cloud-based phone system will allow you to deliver better customer service and more flexibility for your employees, all at a monthly cost that works for you.
Learn more about bOnline's cheap hosted VoIP services for small businesses and what options are available.