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Sunday 26 February 2017

VoIP: Speak easy

Mon, 22 Feb 2016 | By Sue Weekes


It’s hard to believe that Skype — a computer application for communicating over the internet using video or voice, whose name has even become a verb — first appeared on the scene back in 2003

In the years that followed consumers and businesses were keen to take advantage of the communications nirvana it seemed to offer: potentially free chat with anyone anywhere in the world, internet connection permitting. Skype brought liberation from costly phone charges and a taste of telephony of the future.

Fast-forward 13 years, and voice over internet protocol (VoIP) telephony, which uses the internet for voice communication instead of a traditional phone line, is big business.
The VoIP services market is predicted to be worth more than £93bn by 2020, according to Transparency Market Research.

Many recruitment agencies, especially small to medium-sized ones, have already made the switch. For those yet to make the move, the growing number of suppliers can make it a bewildering market. Guy Deterding, managing director of Kamanchi, an IT service provider for recruiters, says if the cost case for migrating to VoIP is compelling — “and it generally is” — it is often the first solution they look at that “gets the nod”.

The typical cost model for VoIP is little or no upfront cost and a monthly fee per employee/s and a low per-minute cost. Providers are usually transparent about their costs on their websites, so research pays off.

A single user monthly fee can be found for as little as £2.99, then rates of 0.5-1p per minute to landlines and 8-8.5p to mobiles. From the same supplier, a multi-user option for five and 10 people is £5 and £7 per month respectively. Just like traditional telephony, cost will depend on a number of factors such as usage but in theory it should save money. And, of course, there is no line rental fee.

The flexibility benefits are as important as the cost savings to most recruiters though. Rob Walton, chief executive of VoIP business phone provider VTSL, agrees that giving consultants the opportunity to work from anywhere, on any device, just like they are in the office, has huge appeal. “And VoIP also connects multiple sites together on one network, so recruitment firms with more than one office are able transfer calls on a network regardless of location,” he explains.

Walton adds that VoIP’s geographic and international numbering capabilities are also greatly valued by recruiters as it means a recruitment consultant could make a call to a candidate in Germany from a German number, even though they are based in London.
“Our recruitment clients use this to open up new markets without having to set up a physical office,” he says.

Roger Vigilance, marketing director of internet telephony company Vonage, agrees that being able to choose your area code is one of the most popular features with recruiters. “It means from one location you can have several numbers and reach out to different parts of the country or world. Or if you are based in Manchester but want to present a London number, you can,” he says.

“If you are mobile, you can effectively take your desk with you as people can call the landline but you answer on a mobile. There is a lot of agility that comes with VoIP.”
Some agencies, which have already installed VoIP, are failing to exploit its potential though. Neil Barrall, director of telecommunications service provider Telecoms World, believes this is because of how VoIP has been marketed: mainly pushed on price with cost-effective calling being its unique selling point.

Barrall describes this as merely its “side effect”. He goes on to say: “At its core, VoIP is a next-generation, feature-rich communication tool that has the ability to enhance every aspect of how an industry operates and communicates. In an industry where communication is key, harnessing the potential of VoIP encourages natural conversation between agents, clients and candidates.”

Barrall explains that the aim should be “to remove” the telecoms from the equation altogether, allowing communication to simply flow. Soft phone applications that free recruiters from their desks, click-to-call features that make telephone key pads obsolete and real-time wall-board analytics that make it easier to track key performance indicators are among the features he cites which facilitate this. The Akixi call statistics plug-in for VoIP is one of the most popular features among its recruitment agency client base.

When it comes to looking for a supplier, Walton says it is imperative to find one with a track record in the recruitment industry and one that delivers network services as well as telephony. “Also check that the VoIP platform is fully featured, well-supported and constantly updated,” he says. “And get a demo. See for yourself if the features are easy to use and that the phones are intuitive.”

Quality can be an issue if your broadband line has to cope with a lot of data and voice traffic at the same time, so it is important to assess your usage requirements before meeting with a provider. Walton admits that IP telephony does sound different to an analogue telephone system but this “doesn’t mean it is bad or unreliable”.

If your current broadband line isn’t good enough, a number of options are cheaper than a leased line, such as Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line (ADSL) and Fibre to the Cabinet (FTTC). “Which is best for you depends on the number of employees you have, phone usage and use of real-time applications,” Walton says.

Barrall also emphasises that much depends on the size of the business and says FTTC opens up smaller businesses to the advantage of VoIP without the need of a leased line. That said, he warns that your traffic will be travelling along the tube with that of others, so there is the possibility of congestion. Those with heavier usage may need to consider FTTP [Fibre to the Premise], he says. “This only carries your web traffic, allowing you to maintain a high quality of service while operating over 50 users at a time.”

In future, VoIP could become more integrated with recruitment software products, although Deterding adds that some recruiters tend to pick up on the advantages of tighter integration with the CRM only after they have installed it.

More forward-thinking recruiters have already seen the value of the integration, says Raymond Pennie, founder and director of Kyloe Partners, which is Bullhorn’s first European system integration partner.

“The mix of ease-of-use and calls being easily added to the CRM makes the phone easier to pick up,” says Pennie, harking back to Barrall’s earlier sentiments about removing the telecoms system from the process.

He adds that the introduction of Skype for Business as part of the Microsoft Office 365 software tools and services has had a major impact on industry decision-making. He is also keenly awaiting the introduction of Bullhorn’s Pulse Talk, which will use predictive intelligence to prioritise call lists, to its own CRM that will fully integrate VoIP into the recruitment process.

The idea of changing a telephony system may seem like a big step for some agencies but it is certainly time to explore the opportunities VoIP can offer. “BT and other European carriers plan on phasing out ISDN [Integrated Services Digital Network] by 2025,” says Walton.

“So the world is definitely going VoIP. Even if you are still using a traditional system, it is more than likely your recipient is using a VoIP line.”

Getting the most out of VOIP

Decide what you want to achieve with VoIP, such as getting different area code numbers to build business overseas

2) Consider which features are important to you, such as a virtual receptionist or a call statistics plug-in

3) Assess your usage requirements before meeting with a provider

4) Find out whether your broadband connection is good enough for what you want to achieve

5) Consider the benefits of integrating VoIP with your CRM

6) Ask for a demo of all the features

7) Quiz the provider on the support and service package

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