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Hosted IP / Cloud Phone Systems and Services

Got HOSTED?

(Also known as Hosted IP Telephony, SIP service, Cloud Telephony, and several other aliases)

It’s amazing to witness how an industry can morph and change itself so rapidly. Cloud Computing is alive and well and is rapidly extending its reach into voice communications. Perhaps your company has deployed a “Hosted IP phone service” or is considering a move to having its voice communications hosted. The below information is intended to be an awareness session on how your Message On Hold service will behave in a hosted world. The functionality will most likely be a different experience in the way that it operates as opposed to how your service may operate in a traditional “customer owned” phone system world. Much of the experience will be highly improved if you select a Hosted IP provider that has designed their service to favorably support on hold messaging. The answers are in the details, and the details are numerous. We’ll touch on them here.

For purposes of discussion, we’ll use the term ‘Hosted IP’. By ‘Hosted IP’, we mean that the software powering the phone system is NOT physically residing at the customer’s site. Conceptually speaking, Hosted IP is a subset or offspring of cloud computing. The hosting solution software is typically housed at the provider’s ultra-secure site and connects to the customer’s phones via an Internet / Router configuration. Most providers bundle Internet, LD, local services, equipment (occasionally) into one monthly price on a per user basis. Some providers require the customer to purchase any equipment that is required on site to support the application such as phones and routers. We’ve seen pricing range from as low as $15 per month (per user) up to as high as $80 per month. Pricing can vary due to feature and bandwidth requirements on a per station basis. So who are the ‘providers’? They can be:

  • Traditional carriers like Verizon, Windstream, Century Link, Comcast
  • Hardware manufacturers like Mitel, NEC
  • Interconnect companies that sell hardware often create their own Hosted IP services
  • Hosted IP companies that specialize in Hosted IP Telephony such as Fonality, Vocalocity, Star2Star, Aptel, Smoothstone, and hundreds of others
  • Payroll companies (we’re not sure why, but we’ve seen it)

How Hosted IP can maximize and seriously enhance Message On Hold as a business and marketing tool.

First of all, it should be noted that nearly ALL Hosted IP services offer free music on hold audio files that can play to callers on hold or in queue. Some Hosted IP services have a nice selection of music options. Others fall short. Regardless, for most companies, the benefits of a properly written and produced On Hold Messaging service can easily supplant music as the best choice to offer your callers that are on hold or in queue.

How ‘On Hold’ is different in a Hosted IP environment.

You’ve just called your bank for the 4th time this month. You are placed on hold and notice that you can whistle or hum their On Hold music in your sleep. Why? It wasn’t this way in the past, was it?

You call your doctor’s office for the 5th time this month and are put on hold. Their On Hold Messaging program tells you about the new doctor that has just joined the practice. It’s the same initial and opening message you hear EVERY TIME you call them. It’s also a bit garbled and scratchy sounding. Now instead of being educated by the information, you are getting annoyed. Why?

Here’s why. The bank and the doctor’s office recently installed Hosted IP telephone systems or a system that houses the audio as a file on the system. In the past, when you called these businesses, your ‘on hold’ experience was a bit more engaging and varied. The music changed from time to time, and you heard different messages. It seemed like the time you were on hold was shorter than it is now.

That’s how it may have worked in the early days of Hosted IP. As new emerging services, the engineering and design of these services did not take into consideration the variables associated with how on hold messaging works best. The good news is that as time passes and Hosted IP technology matures, many providers continue to build in capabilities that fix the above issues. The end result is that their efforts significantly improve the ‘on hold experience’ of callers. An ideal scenario for the client that uses on hold messaging is to provide a service that:

  • Varies the content and messaging so as to keep repeat callers engaged.
  • Plays messages from the beginning of each message as opposed to dropping the caller into the middle of a message in progress. This is only an ideal scenario if the messages can be arranged to play in a shuffled or random manner.
  • Is easy to manage and change (simple on some Hosted systems, while tough, expensive or impossible on others)
  • Reduces costs (Hosted IP eliminates the need for 3rd party player equipment)

The message on hold industry identifies with a standard called MFSP. MFSP stands for MULTI-FILE SHUFFLE PLAY. Hosted IP providers that are designed with this capability provide the most flexible opportunity for their clients to maximize message on hold potential. What is MFSP specifically?

MULTI-FILE means that the host can accept and store more than 5 separate audio files (the more the merrier) and make them available to callers on hold. SHUFFLE PLAY means that the host can allow for the files to be presented to the caller in a random or shuffled manner, much like we are accustomed when we program our playlists on our personal music devices to shuffle songs. As a quick side-note, there are scenarios (contingent on the profile of the caller) that are best suited for multi-file, top-down play (MFTDP) so that the client can present the most important messaging as guaranteed to play, and in a sequential order. An even bigger bonus is if the Hosted IP provider can provide either MFSP or MFTDP.

With MFSP, the end result is that callers will hear messages (files) from the beginning of each message. When a message concludes (and assuming the caller is still on hold), the next message will start playing from a playlist, and of course, from the beginning of that message. This offers a much more eloquent and professional On Hold experience for the caller in most scenarios. While most companies will naturally aspire to deliver low hold times, industry studies suggest that a caller can expect a hold or queue time from 25 seconds up to several minutes in some environments such as a call center, parts counter or doctor’s office. On Hold Messages are typically designed to last between 18-25 seconds, so in a long hold time scenario, a caller may hear several messages. A repeat caller will become more annoyed over time if they are presented with the same messaging, in the same order every time they are in queue or on hold. And while the general public may scoff at the idea of being on hold, the benefit of waiting is that they will eventually be served without the complexity and frustration of dealing with voice mail messaging, note-taking, texting, chatting, or endless telephone tag. A good service minded company knows its clients’ tolerance level for having to ‘wait’, and will manage to that end. An effective on hold messaging program is designed to help reduce call abandons, hang-ups, and occupy the caller with important and relevant information as they wait.

Another benefit of MFSP focuses on the aspect of MULTI FILE. Many Hosted IP providers that support MFSP also allow the capability for those MULTIPLE FILES to be assigned to different departments. Here is an example. Callers on hold in an automobile dealership’s SERVICE department could hear messages concerning winterizing their vehicle or anything associated with servicing their automobile. These callers are most likely existing clients to the dealership. Callers to the SALES department could hear on hold messaging more appropriately designed for that audience, to include financing specials or other SALES related topics. This is a prime example of target marketing that can really for a company.

There are challenges. Be aware…

Some Hosted IP solutions offer serious challenges to properly configuring On Hold Messaging content for the end-user customer. Success depends completely on the host software’s ability or the host’s willingness to load a customized audio file. Many traditional business phone system owners that move to hosting services don’t find out until after the migration to the hosting service that they have lost their customized On Hold capability completely. As of this writing, we are aware of several Hosted IP providers that are NOT yet favorably designed to support the loading of customized on hold messaging audio files within their systems. The result is the loss of a revenue producing tool their traditional phone system provided with relative ease. Unfortunately, the subject of Message On Hold is often not a point of discussion during the sales process between the client and the service provider as it is often assumed to be a standard offering. Or, the provider may assume that their canned music offering will suit the client. It is important for the customer to be aware of these potential shortcomings, and to cover them with their potential providers in advance.

Let’s talk a bit about audio quality. The internet was not initially designed to carry voice traffic very well. Over the years and decades, serious progress has been made to prioritize voice packets and improve the performance and quality of a voice phone call. However, it should be noted that many Hosted IP applications travel on a smaller bandwidth pipe than the larger bandwidth pipes (regular phone lines, T-1) we enjoyed in past years. While these smaller and cheaper pipes technically can carry a low bandwidth voice, these small pipes are stressed by music. Music typically requires a much larger bandwidth offering due to the nature of frequency variance in music when compared to the human voice. The two most common technical terms to consider are G711 (nice, big pipes) and G729 (smaller pipes that can struggle with carrying music). Some people can detect the low audio performance on voice calls over the smaller G729 pipe, but generally speaking, G729 can carry the human voice fairly well. More information on this topic is rampant across the internet and could fill pages here.

Summary: Ask these questions of your new or potentially new Hosted IP provider

  1. Will your Hosted IP service support customized On Hold Messaging service?
  2. Can the client manage and change the files easily within the system programming? If not, is there a charge from the provider to make changes?
  3. Is the service MFSP compliant as stated above?
  4. Is the service using G729 or G711 or another platform as the bandwidth pipe?
  5. What maximums are allowed in terms of
    • Size / length of audio files?
    • Number of audio files?

For more information on how to leverage the value of your Hosted IP provider, please call On Hold Marketing at (800) 342-0098. We manage and maintain an extensive library of data on the subject and in most cases, can identify the capabilities of your Hosted IP provider. If not, we are certainly glad to contact them and determine their capabilities.

This information is based on On Hold Marketing experiences and ongoing research / collection of data / interaction with Hosted IP providers. OHM cannot attest to its complete accuracy or be responsible for design changes made by the Hosted providers as they change rapidly and even vary within a provider depending on geography or localized hosting issues.