CenturyLink survey reveals hosted VoIP customers want to see efficiency, usability improvements

CenturyLink may be motivated to help its business customers save money by migrating to IP-based voice service, but the telco is finding that businesses see efficiency and usability for their employees as the key drivers.

In partnership with Spiceworks, CenturyLink conducted a survey with 250 IT decision-makers that looked at hosted VoIP as well as the challenges, benefits and drivers of using or considering a hosted VoIP solution.

Eric Nowak, product director of enterprise voice, VoIP, collaboration, and business applications at CenturyLink, told FierceTelecom that enhancing the work environment trumped cost issues.

“What the survey validated was that while cost savings are important, the ability to provide a better experience to their employees and customers was more important,” Nowak said. “In most cases, the movement to a VoIP environment is driven by IT needs to deliver some feature capability than business needs to save money.”

While service cost and security are key considerations in migrating to managed VoIP, 60% of the survey respondents said they’re likely to evaluate new hosted VoIP solutions in the next year to be more efficient and innovative. Concerns about cost/ROI and security/visibility in the network each garnered response rates of almost 25%.

CenturyLink is finding that customers are migrating to VoIP due to three main trends:

Mobile device use. Given the mobile nature of business customers, a growing base is forgoing traditional fixed-line handsets in favor of mobile devices. This could include a Bluetooth or headset environment connected to a computer that allows employees to receive calls regardless of their location.

Integration with cloud applications. As more employees adopt and use a host of cloud-based applications like Office 365 and salesforce.com, business users want to be able to integrate functions like click-to-call numbers and other features.

Nowak said that customers that work “in customer support are interested” in these integrated features.

Seated model interest grows. As more businesses ditch their legacy TDM and on-premises PBX systems, CenturyLink is finding that more customers want a managed solution.

“It’s pretty common now for customers to say as they get rid of their legacy service maybe they would have tried to enable their PBX and would have had a SIP trunking-type solution for their headquarters and at their branch locations they would purchase a seat,” Nowak said. “We’re starting to see the evolution of customers, including even the biggest customers saying we could use a seated model, or what we call hosted VoIP, everywhere.”

Maintaining customer satisfaction

Another key issue is understanding how satisfied with their managed VoIP solution.

CenturyLink found through its survey with Spiceworks that a large majority of respondents said their experience was not satisfactory.

The survey revealed that of those using hosted VoIP solutions, only 46% were “Very Satisfied” or “Extremely Satisfied” with their current solution. Another 29% were satisfied, while 25% were either “Somewhat” or “Not at all” satisfied with their current VoIP solutions.    

“What we found is that more than half of the people we surveyed were not satisfied with the solution they have,” Nowak said. “The obvious interpretation is that it must not be reliable, but when we talked to customers the primary reason they were unsatisfied is they were not able to become power users of the service.”

While managed VoIP comes with various new capabilities like call recording and cloud service integration, survey respondents say they don’t know how to use them.

“Users say there’s a lot of capabilities and they don’t know how to use them,” Nowak said. “One of the ways we’ll see people be more satisfied is it’s not enough for customers to move to a VoIP environment, but we have to help them leverage that.”

So where does CenturyLink fit into the picture?

With its established brand and network presence, CenturyLink says it can bring a better experience to businesses because it can manage the entire network experience over a broader network it already owns.

The service provider immediately bolstered its fiber network reach when it completed its recent acquisition of Level 3 Communications, giving it a greater set of on-net fiber and metro fiber capabilities that competitive providers lack.

“Other companies are emerging in the space to deliver these kinds of solutions, but it’s logical to get these solutions from the network provider because we can do both parts—voice application, the migration and make sure the quality of the network that the application will deliver what they want,” Nowak said.

Making the switch

Like any technology, the migration to VoIP for businesses is a process that balances out how to take advantage of the new capabilities while providing existing and new services.

Given the diversity of business customers, CenturyLink offers several options that allow a customer to port their existing numbers as well get new handset or wireless phones.

One option allows a customer to use the existing phones, and the telco will install an analog telephone adapter (ATA) at the customer premises or provide the business with an IP-based phone.

However, CenturyLink is finding that customers will access calling apps via Bluetooth wireless device or by downloading an app on the mobile phone that overlays the business line on a personal phone.

“I can send and receive calls directly via an app on the phone and leverage that to do messaging and other capabilities,” Nowak said. “VoIP is not the end game, but rather how business users can layer in web and unified communications apps.”

Nowak added that “when we talk about migrating we’ll give customers like for like capabilities in the new IP environment and we’re going to deliver this platform to take advantage of other UC capabilities.”