Questions You Should Be Asking Any Prospective VoIP Provider

Too many times, we are pulling people out of bad provider situations that could have been avoided with either proper consultation in conjunction with a neutral VoIP expert. Or, due diligence could have been accomplished just by pegging a prospective VoIP provider with some simple questions that put providers’ feet to the fire.
Before signing on the dotted line, here are the items you NEED to get answered:
What kind of support do they offer? Any cloud VoIP company worth their weight should have 24/7/365 support. A bonus is if the support is all American based, but this comes at a premium, mind you. CallTower, the company we use for our own hosted Skype for Business VoIP needs, offers this.
What large customers do they service? Quality VoIP providers all have larger enterprise “wins” which they should be able to brag about. The actual names don’t matter as much as them being able to attest to owning such accounts. If the company stutters on its enterprise client list, be wary. Enterprises are definitely moving to cloud hosted VoIP, and you want reassurance that this provider is handling some large accounts that have their own reputations on the line.
Do I need any special equipment onsite? Some providers like to sneak in equipment requirements, like the need for session border controllers (SBCs), specialized servers, or other pricey gear which may not be discussed on sales calls. Be blunt on initial conversations and ensure that no specialized gear is needed beyond the core basics of what a VoIP-grade network needs anyway like a good firewall, switch(es), and desk phones. Specialized equipment usually leads into talk about pricey maintenance plans which are money makers for some sly VoIP companies.
Can their desk phones/soft phones work anywhere? This is hitting at the heart of the viability of their service as being accessible and usable anywhere with a data/internet connection. The best cloud-hosted VoIP providers all promise usability anywhere there is internet. But be precise on this question. While the likes of CallTower, RingCentral, and 8×8 allow you to truly take your desk phone anywhere you go, some VoIP providers qualify their statement by saying you need to be on your “home base” internet line aka your office.
What is the contract term? Cancellation fees? This varies by provider, of course, but you need to ensure you know your term details and what it will take to back out of an agreement. Cancellation fees are the last item any salesperson would ever choose to discuss without being asked.
Is pricing promotional or locked in? Many providers out there will use crafty promotional pricing to lure you in. Many of the cable providers are very guilty of this on their hosted phone systems (which I DO NOT recommend by the way). Get your pricing details in writing, and ensure you know how long a promotion is lasting, how many desk phone lines it affects, and what the new pricing will be post-promotion.
How many toll free minutes are included? Almost all providers advertise fancy toll free capabilities. But toll free minutes usually come at a premium in the industry. As such, get these details in writing and ensure you are getting the package you need if you are going to rely on toll free incoming calls.
How many fax pages are included? Faxing, either via ATA adapters to physical fax machines, or eFaxing, comes with limits on incoming/outgoing pages. Find out up front how much faxing you can do and across how many users/adapters. Many providers gloss over these details during discussions as people usually don’t ask for clarification here.
Do I get my own web-based administration portal? How easy is it? The best providers out there have rock solid web based admin portals you can use to configure your service. The not-so-great ones advertise portals, but they are buggy, messy, and usually require calls to support to fix issues caused by the cruddy interfaces. I’ve got a few providers I could name, but I’ll refrain here. Get a test drive on the web portal to see if it meets your needs. RingCentral and 8×8, two providers we love, have awesome web portals which allow clients to make any adjustments they wish.
How fast do they implement new technologies? This is key in distinguishing if the company is a market leader, or just one playing constant catch up. Many lesser hosted PBX providers are slow as molasses to implement software updates or make evolutionary leaps on their systems. This was one of the biggest factors which pushed us to go with CallTower for our hosted Skype for Business service, as other players we checked out were lagging far behind the curve in the software they were using.
Do they have a trial period? Don’t be afraid to take a test drive. All the best players in cloud VoIP have trial periods you can take advantage of. If a provider claims they don’t offer trials because their other clients don’t ask about them, or that they don’t have the ability to, steer clear. The major players we recommend to clients like CallTower, RingCentral, and 8×8 all have industry standard trials which allow any client to play with the system they are buying into before jumping two feet forward. You wouldn’t buy a car without test driving it; don’t treat your VoIP system any differently.
What does your SLA look like? While Service Level Agreements (SLA) aren’t rubber stamps for the uptime you will see from a provider, they do outline the kind of reimbursements/credits you are owed in situations of non-delivery or outages. A level of four 9′s (99.99% uptime) is the very least you should be seeking from a provider. This equates to about 52 minutes of downtime per year which is quite acceptable for most companies. Obviously, the more 9′s you can garner, the better, but be realistic and don’t pay hefty premiums to get a 100% out of a provider. It’s a baseline to use for comparison among providers for the most part.
Be sure to get input from key stakeholders in your organization BEFORE calling a sales rep, as you will likely build a question list with items that are custom to your needs. Fact finding up front is critical to avoid wasting time on providers who can’t match your requirements list.

This article excerpt, by Derrick Wlodarz, originally appeared here: http://bit.ly/1CLbzC4