This article originally appeared in the October 2010 issue of INTERNET TELEPHONY
Voice over IP is a beautiful thing. It can mean lower costs, increased flexibility and more features for both service providers and end users. Yet for all of its wonders, many businesses have had a less than ideal VoIP experience, to put it mildly.
“Let’s face it, VoIP is awesome,” says John Noble, pre-sales engineer level II at COMVOICE. “I mean, the promise is amazing. But the delivery and the actual results the customer gets aren’t always great.”
Noble says close to half of COMVOICE’s new customers come to the hosted VoIP provider after having experienced what he categorizes as failed VoIP deployments. Common complaints about VoIP services range from lengthy phone number porting intervals to deployment problems, lousy customer service, and sometimes-severe voice quality issues.
Although COMVOICE to date hasn’t marketed its services outside of its home base of Phoenix, the company has won a raft of business elsewhere, including accounts in every U.S. state and 13 countries, COMVOICE CEO Erik Knight tells INTERNET TELEPHONY.
“We don’t work for accounts outside of Arizona, they come to us because we’ve had such a strong presence out there, and people have recommended us because they have had such bad problems” with various other VoIP service providers, says Knight. “They’re calling and saying ‘I just want this to work.’”
As of this spring, COMVOICE had accounts with about 3,500 companies, he adds, “so the growth over the last five years has been insane.”
With its hosted VoIP offer, COMVOICE delivers unified communications including voice over e-mail, green fax, Web-based management, click to dial, videoconferencing and more. The company also heavily pushes the fact that it’s an HD audio provider, employing Polycom (News - Alert) phones to enable that experience. But during the interview with INTERNET TELEPHONY, Knight and Noble spent much of the time emphasizing COMVOICE’s network capacity, customer support and back office differentiators.
“We’re severely overstaffed on the people side of things,” says Knight, who explains this enables the company to have wait times of just two to three seconds for billing and support.
COMVOICE also goes above and beyond in its network design in terms of capacity and redundancy, adds Knight. For example, the company has only reached 20 percent capacity on its network, and it doesn’t expect ever to go above the 50 percent mark, even as it grows its customer base.
“It’s overkill by far,” says Knight. “I don’t know if you read it, but Packet8’s public report came out this month, and it says in the report that they don’t know if they can handle the capacity with their growth.”
Knight adds that COMVOICE’s back office systems and installation process also have proved to be a winning combination. For example, the company monitors all of its customers’ connections and will launch an e-mail to a user if it notices anything of concern on that company’s account. At the same time the monitoring solution alert the back office of the potential problem so it’s fixed as soon as possible and everyone knows what’s happening.
INTERNET TELEPHONY mentioned that all telephone companies have back office systems and asked what was so special about what COMVOICE does on this front beyond the customer notification feature mentioned above. To that Knight replied that some VoIP providers simply aren’t providing much in the way of back office support; instead, they’re just shipping out the phones and leaving it up to customers to figure out the rest. Noble says some industry folks refer to this practice as ship and pray, a takeoff on the popular phrase plug and play. But COMVOICE, which was founded in 2004 by a group of entrepreneurs who previously ran a telephone system repair business, puts a heavy emphasis on helping customers get up and running, and keeping their services going, the men say.
“We can do a turn up in as little as 48 hours,” adds Knight.
COMVOICE is so comfortable that new accounts will stay on as its customers for the long run that it subsidizes the cost of their phones.
“We’re able to do that because when we make a sale, the sale sticks.” Noble says.
Small and medium businesses are the target for COMVOICE, whose accounts on average involve 10 phones and an average monthly spend in the $200 to $250 range. That model has resulted in a company that has been cash-flow positive and debt free since 2009, says Knight of COMVOICE, which is privately financed. The organization had revenues of $1.7 million last year, and expects to grow 130 percent between last year and this year, Knight says. And while COMVOICE traditionally has only had an on-the-ground sales force in Arizona, the company expects to open an office in Los Angeles in the next year, and another location, probably in Texas, in the next year or two.
Edited by Tammy Wolf