Overcoming the Challenges of Alternative Phone Systems


I wrote a blog last week about the importance of customers being able to easily reach actual person in a small and medium business. Unlike larger corporations that offer products or services that are not easily replicable, SMBs might find customers skipping them outright for more accessible competitors should the search for contact details be too tough. I left off with a promise to talk about alternative phone systems, which I shall cover today.


There is no doubt that the advent of IP-based voice technologies has dramatically transformed the playing field -- not just in cost paradigms, but has in expanded possibilities for voice communication. However, there are some challenges inherent to these alternative phone systems that are not initially apparent.


People failing to switch on their soft phones


An obvious advantage of software-based phones, or soft phones, is savings in terms of reduced hardware expenditure. In addition, the combination of soft phones and laptops makes for a mobile-equipped workforce right from the get-go. Well, that's the theory, anyway.


A common problem that management tends to overlook is the fact that users might opt not to enable their soft phones for various reasons. The reasons might range from mis-configuration or various software problems to even deliberately switching it off in order to be uninterrupted.


And yes, I have actually witnessed this happening at an organization where practically all the phones were soft phones. Instigated by external complaints, a snap investigation of data culled from the switchboard one morning revealed that just 20 percent of staffers in the office were logged in via their soft phones. Things improved after management intervention, but my point is that clear guidelines should be established and enforced when it comes to soft phones.


Repercussions of slow network connectivity


Despite undeniable strides in technology, one common weakness remains where digital voice communication is concerned. Due to their IP-based nature, transmissions of voice over a computer network are extremely susceptible to poor network connectivity. Indeed, the quality of digital voice calls can swiftly deteriorate as a direct result of traffic congestion on the local area network or slow Internet connectivity.


Larger corporations will probably already own the requisite high-end networking gear that can prioritize voice traffic above the normal network chatter to pre-empt against poor performance. For SMBs without the above-mentioned equipment, I would recommend that they wire up a separate network dedicated for the IP phones. Such a solution will obviously not be optimal in every situation, but would be far cheaper to implement in most cases.


To wrap up this series, I will touch on some pointers for SMBs looking into implementing an IP-based phone system in my next blog, so stay tuned.