The Changing Landscape of Communications

Updated: June 03, 2010

Many Agents are investing every available resource into their businesses to ensure survival. Instead of adding additional office space (and overhead), many are turning to remote employees or telework to expand staff but need to make this strategy transparent to prospects, customers and partners. And with competition for customers becoming stiffer by the day, small organizations are burnishing their image to look and sound like a bigger business. To facilitate these new strategies, many insurance agents are taking a fresh look at the way their business handles day-to-day communications.

Even the most basic businesses now require a set of capabilities that would not have been possible even for the largest corporations 20 years ago.—VoIP News

Traditional Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN):

Traditional phone lines from the "phone company" are costly expenses that in many cases restrict how your customers communicate with your business. These telephone lines, however, were historically required to get telephone service. This is no longer the case and many small businesses are considering Voice over IP. Some of the reasons are:

Cost. The high cost of a premise-based PBX network with powerful business communication features puts it out of reach for many small companies. That fact alone forces small business owners to choose between affordability and functionality. The choice many end up making is to start their companies with a few basic lines from the local phone company and limited communication tools that are inefficient.

Complexity. Traditional, premise-based PBXs require a business to purchase, install and maintain equipment on-site—adding a layer of complexity that smaller companies can't always manage.

Inflexibility. As a company grows, it can be hard to make a traditional phone system grow along with it. Adding a new office means adding a new phone system. If the new office is geographically distant, that new phone system could come from an entirely different provider with features that are not seamlessly compatible.

Limited functionality. The bigger a company grows, the more critical advanced communication and productivity tools become to its success. With traditional phone service, many of these tools remain unavailable to small companies unless they upgrade to a costlier full PBX.

VoIP: Changing the Way Small Businesses Do Business.

Small businesses no longer have to "make do" with phone systems and phone networks that were designed for fundamentally larger enterprises. Hosted Voice over IP (VoIP) networks are changing the way small businesses respond to today's communication challenges. VoIP technology uses the internet to transmit voice data instead of traditional phone lines. Any business with a quality broadband connection can use hosted VoIP to get a feature-rich phone system without the cost or management hassles of traditional phone service.

The number of residential/SOHO VoIP subscribers is forecast to top 225 million by 2013.

While there are premise-based VoIP systems, many small business opt for a hosted VoIP solution where the equipment and service management is hosted externally by the VoIP provider. With hosted VoIP, small businesses can get:

• Big Company functionality. Even small businesses today need sophisticated communication tools. Hosted VoIP can deliver business-class phone service at prices affordable to smaller companies, allowing them to enjoy features such as automated attendants, integrated dialing, voicemail and advanced mobility features.

Seamless mobility. With VoIP, phone service is delivered over the Internet—allowing business owners and workers to access the corporate phone system anywhere they go. A VoIP system forwards calls transparently.

Unified multi-site communications. Companies of all sizes struggle to maintain a consistent image and level of service across multiple offices. With traditional phone service, multiple offices mean multiple phone systems—often with differing features and service plans. Hosted VoIP provides one corporate phone system that can encompass many offices and provide consistent features and flexibility regardless of location.

Easier remote work and telecommuting. Allowing employees to work remotely is one way small companies are growing business without growing overhead. Hosted VoIP makes it easy for employees to work from home or remote offices—while still maintaining the impression that they are working from the primary corporate office. Incoming calls are easily routed from an organization's main number to individual employee phones, regardless of location.

Ease of management. With hosted VoIP, there is no complicated, on-site equipment to manage or maintain. Companies no longer need to dedicate essential resources to managing business communications.

Extensive productivity-enhancing features and flexibility-many unavailable with traditional phone service. Hosted VoIP leverages internet technology to give small businesses access to a wide range of innovative communication capabilities—including many that are unavailable with traditional phone service. With hosted VoIP, small businesses can maintain call history, utilize reporting to manage call activity, take advantage of virtual transfer capabilities that allow users to access VoIP call controls on their mobile phones to name a few. These features allow users to expand their communications capabilities and ensure they never miss an important call!

Lower calling costs. Significant savings can be achieved with free local and long distance calling, a benefit of most unlimited calling plans. Additional long term savings come into play with free inter-office dialing (through extension dialing), which allows you to connect workers in remote offices or teams that are geographically dispersed. And most VoIP providers don't charge extra for features such as voicemail, three-way calling and fax services.

Limited dedicated equipment to purchase and maintain. With hosted VoIP, the service provider hosts and maintains the network and equipment, not the customer. The only dedicated equipment needed by the customer are phones.

" One of my goals is to expand by either opening a satellite office or purchasing another agency. Being able to tie the two offices together through one integrated phone system will be invaluable to me." - Agent

Do your own ROI Analysis:

You may require additional hardware to support Hosted VoIP such as: Phones that support a VoIP standard called Session Initiated Protocol (SIP), Power over Ethernet data switch and a router.

These are the hard dollars. It is difficult the establish the cost of lost business or missed opportunities due to customers or prospective customers unable to get in touch with someone when it counts.

Almost all small business VoIP services will show a clear ROI when compared with traditional telephony services.—VoIP News

Top 5 Productivity Features.

In addition to cost savings, small businesses are adopting hosted VoIP to gain access to productivity features that are either not available on traditional phone systems or not affordable to small organizations. Hosted VoIP solution offers dozens of standard and customization productivity features—from call management, auto attendant, faxing, and voicemail to administration and a web portal. Some top features are:

Find Me/Follow Me is a personal locator that allows users to define how incoming calls are routed or forwarded to them, ensuring important calls are not missed.

Virtual Transfer lets users access call management features while on a call, including transfer, call recording and send to voicemail.

Voicemail to Email Integration allows users to receive voicemails as email attachments in a .wav or mp3 file format.

Dashboards displays records of a user's most recent incoming, missed and outgoing calls, and lets users click-to-call any number, listen to voicemails, read faxes and more.

Auto Attendant greets callers and directs them to the appropriate party, eliminating the need for a live receptionist and ensuring an efficient calling experience.

Small businesses are using VoIP productivity features to monitor employee activity, manage call volume, prioritize calls and deliver more responsive customer service.

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