Votacall Brings Its Unique Flavor to Cloud-Based Communications

COVER STORY

Votacall Brings Its Unique Flavor to Cloud-Based Communications

By Rich Tehrani, Group Editor-in-Chief, TMC  |  July 08, 2014

Votacall is a communications solution provider with a full suite of business VoIP and cloud-based managed voice solutions in a crowded but fast-growing market. The company says it separates itself from the pack by delivering a better and more customized user experience.  We took their cloud-based communications product, the Votacall VBX Hosted VoIP solution, for a test drive and the following is what we found out about their product and their approach.

The company’s definition of user experience corresponds, in part, to phone call quality, lack of dropped packets, and other quality of service parameters. Unlike many other cloud providers, Votacall notes that it comes from a telecom background, which provides a different level of expertise and experience in the design, deployment and support of their business-class Hosted PBX (News - Alert) solution.

On the customization front, Votacall takes a consultative approach to working with customers, and tailors solutions to meet their individual needs. Votacall also offers unique solutions, it says, by layering on software add-ons or as Votacall describes them, “Cloud Layers” and enabling integration with other systems and features – so it’s not just another plain vanilla offering in the marketplace.

In fact, in our testing, we explored features on top of features, mostly powered by BroadSoft (News - Alert) Broadworks. In some cases, the company has developed custom add-ons to the platform to address business-critical needs with the flexibility to offer advanced functionality tailored to the user with the end result being an elevated customer experience. In other words, it is continually building what it thinks is a best-in-breed cloud phone system.

Phones

Votacall has named the complete Polycom (News - Alert) desktop product line as the preferred phone for the best experience, and these devices each come with instructional videos customized by the Votacall Project Management Team to walk you through the functions needed to get the most out of the system. We viewed a few of the videos for the Polycom VVX400/410, VVX500/600, as well as the VVX300/310, and they all were easy to follow. Passcode changing, greeting recording, and voicemail access are just some of the areas of focus. Perhaps the most important part of the videos offered information on how to initiate a conference call – something that can present challenges for some phone system users.

Testing

To test the system, we had an introductory training conference call with the company – something a typical customer would go through as part of the managed solution. Depending on the customer and the features selected, this call can last up to many hours. To get the most out of the system, it makes sense to spend the time early to learn about all the things you can do with your new phone system in the cloud. We tested the Platinum package, which had all the bells and whistles. We didn’t, however, delve into the mobile portion of the solution.

To get going, we provided a dedicated IP address and connected a supplied Edgewater Network 4550 series managed router to an HP 2530-8 PoE Ethernet switch, which had three phones connected to it. Each phone had a DID as well as a direct extension, and in our testing the HD voice sound was heavenly. As a reminder, this feature only works if your phones are on the same system, meaning unless the person you are speaking with is a Votacall customer as well you will most likely default to traditional POTS quality.

The GUI of the solution is fairly straightforward, and we had a chance to test a number of solutions from the company. First off was the Assistant Enterprise Toolbar, which sits at the top of your Outlook, Firefox or Internet Explorer browsers, allowing you to perform a host of features and functions.  For example, you can configure an LDAP server; set up anonymous call rejection; and deal with call forwarding options of every variety, including simultaneous ring, handle call waiting, dial from your speed-dial list, and lots more with the simple click of a button.

Remote Office can be turned on if you are working from another location but want to appear as if you are in the office. By supplying a phone number and specifying you are out, your home or other phone will ring when you place a call and the called party will also have his or her phone ring at the same time.

Incidentally, while out of the office in the call forwarding scenarios above, you can specify that you need to press a button before an incoming call is sent to your personal device. This could be useful if you aren’t in a situation allowing you to receive a work-related call when you answer the phone.

Speech recognition testing

Votacall’s speech recognition system (Votacall v-IVR) is quite good as well. We had v-IVR set up as our auto attendant during testing and we did our best to trip it up with muffled voices, but when we mentioned a name in the directory, it worked every time. When we threw strange words at it, the system for the most part just apologized and said it didn’t understand.

Antidisestablishmentarianism, for example, was not recognized, but congress was thought to be conference. This test was conducted using an open-source PBX over a high bandwidth connection, but the call went over POTS, meaning it was not HD. It would be a typical call a customer might get. We realize a cell phone call from a noisy environment may be tougher to recognize so to test another real-world scenario, we decided to blast the song “September” from Earth Wind & Fire at a volume level, which could be considered annoying to the people in the next few offices. We then tried the voice recognition engine over a Verizon (News - Alert) Wireless connection using an iPhone 5s. If we raised our voice when we spoke, the system worked amazingly well – not one error. Of course, voice is not the only way to interact, you can set the auto-attendant to use digits as well.

The toolbar, which worked great, is also available for Microsoft (News - Alert) Outlook. We tested both, and they are very similar. People who live in these two worlds almost exclusively won’t need to install the standalone app called Unity Client, which could be described as a power-user’s best friend. The app provides easy access to directories, call logs, and has an impressively clean and simple look. In addition, it allows for chat functionality, which can be disabled if needed, as well as the presence information of up to 30 people. For the power-user, Votacall’s Unity Client is great value at $2.95 per month. Unity also has supervisor and agent functionality. There is also a receptionist app and portal if needed.

Votacall set us up with their Cloud Call Accounting solution, Votacall Reporter. The reporting system has more than 50 reports, which are accessible from anywhere and from any Internet-connected device. For example, you can check out the interoffice extension call details, which could be useful for compliance reasons or for the tracking of employee productivity. You can see unanswered call details, the longest phone calls, frequent phone numbers called, and more.

The admin portal is extremely powerful as well. We were impressed with the variety of options present. For example, we were able to set up held calls to be automatically retrieved, and we could set up call forwarding to be selectively applied based on time of day or day of week. We were also able to set up selective rejection of phone calls based on criteria such as time of day, day of week, and phone number. There is also a scheduling option allowing you to set up corporate holidays – company closing time, etc. Finally, we could also set up calls to be sent to a different phone number when an initial number was unreachable.

There are myriad more options available, such as the ability to set up or modify hunt groups, setting up and viewing group directories and so forth. We were given access to Votacall’s internal database of employees in our tests, allowing us to get a real-world feel for how the system operates.

The company is looking to expand its reseller channel, so if you are a VAR, feel free to reach out. The company also performs an analysis of a company’s needs before suggesting a system, usually saving new customers money in the process. Every customer also gets handholding when configuring its system including best practice suggestions when setting up the messaging/auto-attendant functions.

Customer support

As luck would have it, our initial install had a minor configuration issue, and we had a chance to experience firsthand as the customer the benefits of their managed solution, specifically their ability to deliver support in a timely manner. The company was extremely responsive and helped troubleshoot the problem in under 30 minutes. It was a configuration issue related to the fact we were using a test/demo account.

Conclusion

In short, we like the solution. It is extremely well-designed in terms of features and functions. If there were room for improvement it would be to add scripting to the system to walk through all the common features and functions you would want to set up for a typical installation. For example, that includes a step-by-step program that queries you for various greetings as well as your office hours and other preferences. Currently, the company designs the solution during the project management phase, but more automation and simplicity means less room for error. Other than that, the entry-level phone, the VVX310, had a Polycom scripting error message that popped up from time to time which did not affect the phones functionality and was more cosmetic than anything else. It could be eliminated quickly and has since been rectified. I am sure a configuration change would solve this issue permanently.

Other than that, we were impressed with Votacall’s approach; their infrastructure, which is anchored by the BroadSoft Platform; and their ability augment the solutions with other software if needed. We recommend Votacall’s business-class Hosted VoIP phone system.




Edited by Stefania Viscusi
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