VolP Phones – What are My Choices and What is Best?

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I often hear the question, “Which is better, a VoIP hard phone or softphone”?

If you’ve followed my blogs you’ll probably guess my answer, and that is “it depends.” Let’s talk about what it depends upon to help you make good decisions when choosing the right technology for your contact center agents or other employees.

VoIP hard phones (which I use it to distinguish it from a software program referred to as a softphone) come in many different shapes, sizes and feature lists which translate into very different costs to the end users. Nationally recognized brands include Cisco, Linksys, Polycom, Snom, Aastra and others. Features range from single line to multi-line options, LCD displays, speaker phone and many others.

In a contact center world, we find that the need for telephone sophistication is very low; in fact often contact center managers not only don’t want to pay for expensive, feature rich telephones but don’t want their agents to have many bells and whistles that can often interfere with their contact center applications or company-specific standard processes and as such, opt for a very basic feature set on their agent desk phones.

Softphones are a newer entry to the market, but have certainly been around for many years now. A softphone is a software program that resides on the agent workstation that has similar functionality to an agent hard phone/desk phone. Softphones have a few advantages: first, cost. A typical softphone can be purchased as a onetime cost of under $50 and updates/upgrades are typically included in the cost of the softphone license.

Softphones are very mobile if loaded on a notebook or laptop computer and can be used as the actual agent phone regardless of where the machine resides.

Softphones can be very feature rich, offering conference calling, video conferencing, chat and presence. They can also be more scaled down depending upon the needs of the user. Softphones have many advantages of being feature rich, mobile and inexpensive. However, there are conditions which have caused some customers problems with softphones when management has less control over their agent environment. For example, sometimes home agents with admin rights to their computers or with the ability to surf the web can tap the resources of the computer’s processing power by streaming radio or video, participating in online gaming and otherwise maxing the CPU on the agent workstation. Since the softphone is another application on the workstation, the actual voice quality of the agent and customer call can be degraded as the workstation’s CPU tries to keep up. So softphones may not be optimal if the agent has more freedom around what is happening on their machine versus other environments that are more locked down in terms of abilities and rights.

In summary, hard phones and softphones each have pros and cons and determining which is best for your contact center will depend on your goals,  agent environment and the sophistication needed with the phone versus the contact center tools.

Hard phone Characteristics

  •  Feature rich
  •  Typical experience where phone sits on the desktop
  •  Expect to pay $150 to $300+ per phone
  •  Hardware capable of breakdown

Softphone Characteristics

  • Feature rich
  • Desktop space saver as it sits on the computer
  • Inexpensive
  • Mobile
  • Negatively impacted by maxing out CPU

As a general rule, either telephone type will work well with the inContact suite of solutions for making or taking calls. Both are VoIP endpoints capable of communicating with both the inContact platform and the world wide telephone network using a simple high-speed (not dial up) internet connection.

Decisions about a softphone and hard phone should be made based on criteria important to the specific contact center or enterprise, but common criteria would be cost, mobility, and feature set.

inContact offers both telephone varieties and a sales engineer will consult with customers and partners to help talk through the decision criteria and business value to ensure the best solution for each unique customer need.