The article below is reprinted with permission from www.getvoip.com. The article originally appeared here authored by Nick Campanella.
Committing to a contract with a business VoIP provider isn’t easy. And it’s understandable you’re concerned about locking yourself into a three-year contract with a business VoIP provider. Three years can be a long time if you’re not getting the quality service you signed up for.
To ensure that, we’re going to break down ten crucial things to consider before signing a three year contract with a business VoIP provider in order to make the most out of your phone system and improve the overall user and customer experience.
1. Cancellation Policy
Like we just said, three years can be a long time if the service you signed up for isn’t meeting your expectations. It can also be a costly three years if there’s no way of backing out of a contract. Some providers might hit you with cancellation fees like cell phone companies, so it’s imperative to understand what it costs to cancel if need be.
Knowing the policy is also key to determining when the best time to leave a contract is. If you’re a couple months away from renewing your current contract, but you’re not sure if it’s best to wait out the remaining time or to cancel immediately, this is what makes knowing what you’re signing up for so important. Depending on your current situation, it might be better to either wait it out or to cancel and save some money.
If an agent seems hesitant about going over the cancellation policy, that’s should be taken as a sign that you might want to reconsider your options. However, most providers are transparent about pricing and will be happy to share that info.
2. Consistent Upgrades
Cloud-based VoIP providers have the benefit of easily updating their features on a regular basis in order to remain competitive. This comes particularly in handy when we’re talking about security. Cloud-hosted business VoIP solutions have to adhere to specific protocols that ensure their service is offering the best possible securities features to prevent security breaches and data theft. Vonage, for example, clearly outlines this in their FAQs.
The reason to look into how often a business VoIP provider upgrades their service is because it’s telling how much they prioritize the user experience. Companies today separate themselves from their competition by offering a better experience. If they’re not highlighting how often they’re updating their service, it could be an indicator that your best interests aren’t the top priority. And if you’re considering a three-year contract with that provider, the lack of usability will be a significant detriment to your company.
Always be sure to go to the provider’s website and check out their blog. They might even have developer notes that mention the latest software updates.
3. Scalable Pricing Plans
It’s also imperative to understand how much the plan you’re going to sign up for costs. Even better, you should know if you’re going to be locked into that initial price. Three years is a long time in the tech industry. Trends, features, and functionalities are all changing rapidly in conjunction with the effort to improve the customer experience.
If you’re a startup and you predict your business will need more to stay competitive, it should be clear that you can upgrade your plan at any time. Or, at the very least, there are add-ons you can purchase to personalize the user experience. Priorities change as your business grows. The plan you lock yourself into shouldn’t keep you from meeting the specific needs of your customers.
4. Service Level Agreements
If you have the three-year contract in front of you, one of the most important things you need to look for is a service level agreement (SLA). Business VoIP, SaaS, and UCaaS solutions sell themselves on the service they offer through their software. We know VoIP functions through the internet rather than standard telephone lines, which is why it’s important to ensure, in writing, that there’s an agreed-upon level of service that must be provided.
Business owners understand that outages happen from time to time, or that their business VoIP phone system can only be as good as the infrastructure they’ve invested in. However, if, a business notices they’re not getting the level of service initially agreed upon, they have every right to go to the SLA and either demand their money back or get the service they paid for.
If you find yourself not receiving the level of service in your contract and your provider isn’t helpful, you can contact the FCC and show them your SLA. From there, they might decide that your case is enough to legitimize your complaint.
5. Features and Functionalities
The services you sign up for typically come from the features available to you. Again, if you want to find out more about what each provider offers, all you have to do is go to their features page. From there, you’ll see what’s offered with each pricing plan. Usually, there’s a big gap between the cheapest or free plan and the highest plan. That’s why scalable pricing plans are so important.
Not only should features and functionalities be scalable with price, but they should also be updated frequently to ensure the highest quality user experience. Some features and functionalities to not sacrifice on in 2019 are AI-powered communications and analytics, live chat, CRM software integrations, and APIs.
If you already use CRM software and you don’t plan on switching to another provider, find a business VoIP provider that integrates smoothly with what you already use.
6. What Competitors Offer
Don’t feel obligated to rush into signing a three-year contract without knowing what you could get for the money you’re willing to spend. There might be another provider out there who offers just as many features for either a significantly lower price or without needing to sign a contract. Then again, having a contract ensures companies stay true to their word.
When you know what the competition is offering, you give yourself the opportunity to negotiate before you sign the contract. It’s not a guarantee, but providers typically want your money, and they’ll go out of their way to ensure you are offered a personalized experience. If they’re willing to put that in writing, you don’t have to worry about the legitimacy of their offer. And who knows? If you find yourself really loving your VoIP phone solution because of that one feature, you could always scale up.
Don’t just go for the lowest price. The most important thing to remember is that when you’re choosing a business VoIP provider, it has to fit with your business’ current goals and strategies.
7. Customer Support Options
As businesses aim to regain the trust lost from their customers, they’re offering more support options to make the experience smoother and more transparent. This means they’re going to offer multiple channels to connect with them. It might also mean, though it’s not industry-standard yet, they offer 24/7 support. In general, the more they offer, the better. If you see anything about omni-channel, be sure to ask about that.
Omnichannel customer support is a major business trend in 2019, which means that businesses are offering their customers the ability to use multiple channels simultaneously to offer a more personalized customer experience. Business VoIP providers are offering the same thing to their customers. If, for example, you’re a business owner and you have trouble with the app, you should be able to open the app while you speak to a support agent at the same time so they can troubleshoot the issue in real-time.
VoIP providers typically have a support page on their website. From there, you can access FAQs, their knowledge base, a blog, and more. Pick a plan with quality customer support before signing that three-year contract.
8. Up-Front Costs
Startup costs are typically a driving factor in determining whether or not a business VoIP provider is right for a business. Before you sign a three-year contract with a business VoIP provider, you have to understand what the upfront costs are. If you don’t read the fine print, or if you don’t ask the sales agent any questions regarding these costs, you can lock yourself into a three-year deal where you’re paying way too much.
This isn’t to say that VoIP providers are looking to rip you off. The easier it is for you to see the cost of signing up for a business VoIP system, the more likely that the provider is confident in their ability to offer a powerful user experience. Even if there was a surprise you weren’t expecting, a good provider will break down what happened and why while trying to find a solution.
Also make sure your business is ready to switch to a business VoIP solution. This means you have or are buying VoIP phone systems, you have a strong internet connection, and you have a computer.
9. Stable Internet Connection
It goes without saying that you need a stable internet connection in order to successfully use a business VoIP system. But what does that even mean? As you’re probably expecting, it depends. But it’s pretty straightforward. Your internet provider could make a difference as well as how many devices that use wifi in your office.
For starters, you want to know how much functional bandwidth your company gets. Some companies like to say, “Up to 200 mbps,” whereas others say, “200 mbps,” which is a huge difference. It only takes 500 kbps to support 1 concurrent phone call. 30 mbps can handle up to 67 concurrent phone calls while taking other internet use into account. For video chats and conference calls, you could use multiple mbps. Again, this all depends on what kind of business you operate. Smaller teams and startups can get away with less, but bigger companies need much more to avoid any issues.
10. Hardware Warranty
It’s also possible that the hardware you receive with your purchase of a business VoIP system can be damaged upon arrival or break. If you’re paying good money for a service, and you need that hardware to function properly, you have every right to ask what their warranty policy is like.
There will, of course, be fine print, that you should ask to go over with an agent so you understand exactly what you get. Some warranties might cover everything within the first year while others might only cover things that are out of the user’s control, like faulty wiring. So first, pay attention to how long the warranty is good for, then look closely at what exactly it covers.
Cisco’s website allows customers to look up what kind of warranty they’re covered under based on the product they purchased. You can search via SKU number or product family. Their policy is also clearly listed for you to review at any time. Try to find providers that are transparent about their policies.
The Final Word
You might still be wondering why you need a contract in the first place. The primary reason is that it ensures you’re guaranteed the features and functionalities advertised on a provider’s website. Some deals seem too good to be true, and more often than not, they are. However, you receive legal accountability by getting the features advertised in writing when you sign a contract.
Three years can be a very long time in the tech industry if you sign a contract without considering any of the variables we listed above. These ten crucial things to consider before signing a three-year contract with a business VoIP provider will ensure you keep your business’ needs front and center. A good contract will give your company the ability to scale and adapt to the changing times. Our final piece of advice is to be skeptical of any business VoIP provider who doesn’t offer any of the features, functionalities, or policies we listed above.