This is not the article I wanted to write. Wouldn't a headline of "Translation Company Succeeds with VOIP" sound so much better? And indeed that was the case for our first two years with VOIP.
We were a 15-person translation company when we relocated our offices in March 2003 and decided to install VOIP to replace the conventional system we'd had been using. Out with the old; in with the new! We looked forward to a flexible, versatile, reliable, less-expensive phone system with a quality almost indistinguishable from our landline system. And that is what we got with Verizon!
We had all the great VOIP features: easy conference calls, follow me, and easy control using a Web browser. At its worst, quality of service was acceptable, and as a remote user, my IP phone was an extension to our home office. We were very happy with our choice.
Things started to go wrong when Verizon exited the business VOIP market and handed us off to its prime carrier, Covad. "Fine," we thought. "Same technology and no middleman." Wrong! Technical quality remained almost as good but reliability, customer service, and support deteriorated. In fact, it truly sucked. And Covad didn't seem to care much, even though we escalated our issues all the way up to its management.
We suffered outages when the provider took our system down for maintenance and forgot to connect us back up again; planned maintenance was not planned with us; our FTP site was down for over a day, and without it, we could not exchange work with our clients; the fax line failed repeatedly (the provider's solution: get a POTS line for fax); calls would not go through; etc., etc.
In spite of numerous complaints, we never got any impression that our provider was interested in resolving the logistical issues or in doing what was needed to provide us with the reliable service we had previously enjoyed. Even though we had a multi-year contract with Covad, they allowed us to cancel the contract without penalty because of the serious issues we had experienced.
So earlier this year, we switched to our third vendor, IPiphany, whose customer service is great but quality of service is unacceptable. Call quality is frequently worse than with cell phones—break-ups, what sounds like non-duplex conversations, dropped calls, and many other issues, some of them just ridiculous. For example, because of a fix made to somebody else's phone, I was unable to make international calls for three days, although everyone else in the company could. Go figure!
Sure, we anticipated teething problems with the new company. But we expected everything to run pretty smoothly after a few weeks. What really disturbed us was that there was no steady improvement and that new problems just seemed to come out of the woodwork.
Our provider has done its best to resolve issues and is very embarrassed by how things have gone, claiming that its other clients are happy (and I believe that). But our quality of service is simply unacceptable, our provider seems unable to fix it, and the bottom line is that we cannot run a professional business with an unreliable, poor-quality phone system.
We are a foreign-language translation company, and although we have some very technical and skilled people, our business cannot be devoted to maintaining and troubleshooting our phone system. We want to pick up the phone, hear a dial tone, and connect with and have normal conversations with our clients and vendors.
What are the causes of our problems? I'm certainly not a VOIP expert, but according to people who know more than I do, some say the Internet bandwidth is not able to adequately support VOIP in addition to the other demands made of it and the increasing number of broadband users. Thomas M. Stockwell, Editor-in-Chief of MC Press Online, doubted that this was the (only) issue and suggested that the bottleneck could be occurring within the network infrastructure.
Maybe we made some poor choices in our vendors and/or systems, but we did our due diligence and checked out references. We gave it our best shot, but it just hasn't worked for us. The continual upheaval of switching vendors/systems is not one that we can afford to shoulder. Agreed that most of the issues were vendor-related rather than conceptual VOIP technology issues, so it's not fair to condemn the concept because of vendors that executed it badly! Nonetheless, we have given up on VOIP, and we will be moving back to a conventional landline within the next month.
It really is a shame we have had to take this route. VOIP has so much promise and so many convenient features that we will surely miss. But the bottom line is that we must have a reliable, top-quality phone service that is appropriate to a professional services company, and VOIP just hasn't cut it for us.
How could we have avoided these problems? I wish I knew! We investigated references for two out of our three vendors (Covad became our vendor through acquisition; we didn't select them). And we made test calls to people who were using VOIP installed by these potential vendors. Maybe using a vendor that is already providing good service to our building or a neighboring building would have been a better bet.
Or maybe it's all a matter of luck. But that's a factor we cannot rely on. If you choose VOIP, I wish you well.
Prior to joining InterPro, he had a 30-year career in the software industry, 15 of which he spent developing and bringing to market international accounting software and related software products. He founded Seagull Software (USA) in 1991 to market Netherlands-developed Text Translation Tool (TTT) for the AS/400 and was also one of the founders of Seagull Software Systems, the U.S. distributor of i5 (iSeries) legacy modernization software, now part of Seagull Software and to be acquired by Rocket Software.