When most people hear the name Vonage they likely think of the company that was an early leader in providing voice over IP (VoIP) services to consumers, enabling millions to say goodbye to far more costly landline services.
Now that same company is vying to become a leader in unified communications (UC) services for business customers, and is gaining traction in a specific market: companies with lots of relatively small locations. Retail stores and chain restaurants are prime examples, companies that may have thousands of locations but only need 10 to 20 lines at each, says Clark Peterson, President of Telesphere, a Vonage Company, a UC-as-a-Service company that Vonage acquired late last year.
Turning Small Fish into Big Fish
Telesphere is now part of the Vonage, which has been offering UCaaS solutions for about 18 months. Vonage for business likewise was targeting smaller locations, but Telesphere gives it the ability to handle large companies with hundreds or thousands of locations, Peterson says.
“When you have that many locations, the big thing is how to unify all those offices under a common provider,” he says, and get control over managing and financing them all. In the past, these types of companies would have a series of regional managers each handling perhaps 10 or so locations, doing their own research and going with whatever provider proved to be the best fit for that area.
“Large companies look like a small fish in a whole bunch of different provider pools across the country,” Peterson says. With Vonage for business companies can go with a single provider and reap the financial and technical benefits that entails.
Businesses Find Technical Benefits of a Single UC Provider Across Sites
Vonage for business also brings technical benefits to the equation. For one, all sites are on the same UC platform, which supports voice, video (ideal for training and team meetings), instant messaging, presence and collaboration tools such as desktop sharing. That provides for a more seamless experience for users trying to communicate between sites in different regions.
It also enables benefits such as speed dialing between offices and speak to dial by name. “You can dial anyone in the company just by saying their name,” Peterson says, noting the system is based on a company directory that lives in the cloud. The same system can be used as an interactive voice response capability for incoming calls, allowing callers to dial by saying the name of whoever they want to talk to, he notes.
Another benefit that many customers like is the ability to have an overflow call center in the cloud. “For many retailers telephony is their main way of doing business. They can’t afford to lose calls just because all the folks in the shop are busy,” says Sanjay Srinivasan, CTO at Telesphere, a Vonage company.
With the overflow service, such calls go to a cloud-based contact center, staffed such that each call is answered as if by someone local to the caller. With such a service, companies don’t lose any calls because no one is available to answer the phone or, even worse, because the caller gets a busy signal, Srinivasan says.
Customers also get analytics capabilities that would have been far more difficult to provide under previous piecemeal telephony services, he says. They can get hard data on missed calls, for example, differentiating between calls that simply weren’t answered and those that got busy signals. That helps companies determine if they need more bodies in a given location or can simply take advantage of the overflow call center.
Ease of Deployment and Use is Paramount for Multi-Location Retail UC
In verticals such as retail or restaurants, there’s typically no IT expertise on site so the solutions have to be simple to deploy and manage.
“We’ve made significant investments building back office systems so we can deliver customer portals and easy onboarding,” Peterson said. The fully mobile portals enable features such as the ability to do moves, adds and changes from an iPad as well as monitor the health of services, view trouble tickets and get billing data.
Onboarding is likewise a simple process. For customers that already have broadband service to the location, which most tend to, “we can turn them up in a week the majority of the time,” he says.
Vonage for business does offer various bandwidth services for those that need it, however. They include private voice and data lines as well as Internet connectivity. Site-to-site virtual private networks are also available, based on MPLS technology that removes the usual complexity involved in configuring IP-Sec-based VPNs among multiple sites, Srinivasan says.