RCN Hosted Voice Review

Hunt Group modes allow us to choose how operators are chosen to take the next call

What is our primary use case?

Our primary use case is for inbound hunt groups. We get a lot of calls from customers asking to speak with customer service. The majority of the use is for reaching into our departments. One is customer service and the other one is for different kinds of questionnaires, and they get dumped into a call group pickup.

How has it helped my organization?

You can actually hear the person's voice. Going from an old-school phone, an old analog, to one of these, the voice quality blew me away. It is very intelligible, you can understand everything that someone is saying. If the person is mumbling, you hear what's causing their mumbles. Or if you page somebody, it's a very sensitive phone. The paging system is very loud. The phones pick up very well. The sound quality is great.

The solution’s reliability and disaster recovery are amazing. Since their uptime is way over 90 percent, it builds my confidence. Secondly, since it's cloud-based, it's not my problem if the system's down. That's RCN's problem. Since they are a leading internet provider, I'm sure that they have the expertise to get their system up, to make sure my phones are working. It really does lower the total cost.

This is what's cool about the RCN setup. RCN allows us to go to any web browser, at any time, and configure the phones. We don't have to be within our network. For example, let's say there is some kind of storm that brings down the internet and we have no phones. That means no one is calling in. What do we do? Our disaster recovery is: We log in to an RCN website, which ties into our profile, and we put in a new phone number for the incoming number. If you dial our number, it will actually go to that other number. We just change what that number is. We would point that number to something else if we really knew that we weren't going to have internet connection for a couple of days. It's quick. And they have that ability. They make it easy.

What is most valuable?

The Hunt Group, is the most valuable feature. There are different modes. You can choose round-robin, you can choose priority-for-agents, you can choose the order of agents. There are all kinds of different mechanisms for the next operator to take a call. We find that valuable especially if someone is training. You can change that mode straight up and say, "Okay, this stronger guy is going to take the calls until we get this other person up to speed."

Other than two years ago where, once every couple of weeks or so there was a lot of jitter, we've had zero downtime. It's a solid 97 percent uptime.

Another thing that's really cool is that we had a gentleman who had to be out of the office for a while, he was going to work from home. We literally took his desk to his house with his phone and he was up and running, no configuration or anything else. He just plugged it right into his home router and he was up and running, like he was here in the office. These are truly IP phones.

Regarding the automatic upgrades, I don't even notice that they occur. They reboot them at midnight, so whatever these guys are doing at night, we don't even see it happening.

What needs improvement?

Wireless needs improvement. We have a manufacturing facility and the majority of the managers walk around with 2.4 gigahertz cordless phones and they have to walk, sometimes, throughout three different buildings. Of course, being 2.4, they lose reception in one of the three. We're still looking for the quintessential IP phone, the one phone that will actually be SIP-enabled and use the WiFi and be able to carry through the three buildings. We still have not found that phone yet. I'm sure it exists, we just haven't been introduced to it.

At the time, five years ago, when RCN came in, they didn't have anything like that. I'm sure nowadays, they probably have something like that, I just haven't had the time to look into pricing something like that. But if I had a magic wand, I would say from the get-go: wireless SIP phones.

For how long have I used the solution?

Three to five years.

What do I think about the scalability of the solution?

Scalability is easy. You just call them and say, "Hey, I'm going to add some folks." They ship it to you or, for us, we're lucky, they are right down the street and they hand-deliver the phones. We plug them right into the network and we're up and running. We just have to choose where the new people are going to sit. That's it.

How are customer service and technical support?

I deal with tech support 100 percent. No one else from our company does. You get to know these people on a first name basis and they're very cool, they get right to the point. They don't mess around. If you're dealing with an issue, they don't ask you rudimentary questions. They start working on it right away.

For example, I forgot how to do an administrative task. The task came up because of a big snow storm. Everyone in one department left and there was only one person left, so we had to find a backup for that person to take calls. I forgot how to join other people into a call group pickup. This is the stuff that you're supposed to call the regular customer service for. I didn't even bother doing that. I just called Mike, the business level-2 guy and said that I had to put these guys in the group in a hurry." He said, "No worries, I got your back." He got Ed to call me and he walked me through it. I didn't have to think about it. That's what I like.

Their NOC and customer service are smooth.

It absolutely helps that RCN is US-based and in local markets. I would not have this much confidence if these guys were not around the corner. We're lucky enough that these guys are probably just about a mile down the road from us. I would definitely want someone physically here if some kind of problem occurred. There are times when I would want someone to hand-hold me. RCN has been able to do that.

Which solution did I use previously and why did I switch?

We used two previous services. Way back in the day, when we were copper-line based, we were using Norstar. From there, we upgraded to Verizon and we went on-premise with a PPX system. What caused us to move off of that was that we had an outage with Verizon and that outage lasted us about a week, with no phones. That was very stressful, so we decided to end the contract with Verizon after they got us up and running. RCN, coincidentally, knocked on our door the following month and we said, "Come on in, let's talk about this SIP stuff." It was a big game-changer for us because there was something new. We weren't very comfortable with the cloud-based system, we didn't know how reliable it was going to be. We're happy we made the decision to go with them though.

How was the initial setup?

The setup was straightforward. They come in with a pretty large brigade and they set up all the phones next to your existing phones, if you're migrating over from one platform to another. Then they'll go by department. They'll disconnect everyone, they'll connect a new phone, make sure that phone is up and running and, once that's up and running, they go to the next department. They don't just replace the phones, put them in place and leave. They make sure it's there, it's working, and that there are no problems.

On implementation day, we were there for about eight hours going through a couple of bugs here and there. It was a full day.

Regarding an implementation strategy, we went through the guidelines of what RCN had recommended and what I told you just now, that's what they recommended. We said, "Okay, that sounds about right, we can do that."

What about the implementation team?

We didn't use any third-party integrator. We had 65 to 70 phones and RCN brought in a team of four folks. That was just about all that was required for the deployment.

What's my experience with pricing, setup cost, and licensing?

Pricing is great. If you're not careful enough, you might just order too many. For the service, the price is right.

When you design it, if you mess up and you realize you really need then more lines, the price is negligible.

Which other solutions did I evaluate?

We were looking to go back to Norstar. They put on a big push trying to get in again. They said, "Hey, we lost your business to Verizon, we're doing SIP-based." But with RCN, the price was right. They came in, they referred us to some of their users. One of them was here in the Valley and it's a pretty big organization.

What other advice do I have?

Just in case, whatever you order, you're going to need to have a spare phone. If you choose RCN, my recommendation is that you always have three or four phones on hand, just in case someone has a problem. Let's say the handheld breaks or something weird is going on with the phone and you don't have time to look into it. You take a phone that you have in storage, you pop it in, you go to the administration portal, type in the Mac address, and you're good to go. It's that simple.

I would recommend you make sure you have enough bandwidth. We're doing just fine with 20 megs, so you if have more than that you're fine.

Out-of-the-box, RCN provides the feature set for its customers. When it comes to having personalization for the system, a lot of the canned answers are going to be, "Out-of-the-box, we can't do that." So it takes either transforming your process to meet what the feature set can offer or you can really bug the level-2 support and sometimes they come out with something.

For example, we had a need to add a SIP-enabled paging server into our system because we had an old-school analog paging system. We needed some way to tie the SIP server to our analog version and, out-of-the-box, meaning right when implementation was there, they said, "We don't have anything like that." So I bugged them and then they were willing - which I was very pleased with - to say, you choose the paging server you think would work and we'll take it to our team and see if we can incorporate it into your solution. I was very pleased it worked, and it still works today.

So, right out-of-the-box, they may not have everything for you. You just have to ask all the questions in the beginning.

We don't use the voicemail transcription feature. What we do offer is that when people make a call in, we turn on the emailing function for those that ask for it - until they find out they get too many emails and then they ask to remove it. But if it is helpful.

We haven't seen less packet loss or a higher reliability with RCN Hosted Voice, but what I can share with you is, if you have a rogue device on your network, it will cause disruptions. We had a problem, two or three years ago where every other week, there would be a "storm" on the network and all the phones would have this horrible jitter. No one could hear anything and it would last for an hour. We found out that it was actually a rogue device on our network, one we didn't authorize. You have to watch out for things like that as they will interrupt or you will see some kind of problem with the phone systems. As a defense for that, we decided to lock down all of our ports and only enable the ports that we want to authorize. It's a pain but that's the only way we can really go about that.

The solution requires close to zero staff for maintenance. These things are set-it-and-forget-it. As long as you don't have some odd requirement for it, which we don't, I don't foresee even needing to touch the administrative portion of it. And I'm a fiddler, I like to know what's going on with these phones. But they lock them down to the point where, once a night around midnight, RCN makes updates if there are any available and they reboot all the phones by themselves. It's hands-off.

Among our 65 users we have accounting, receiving, purchasing; all the major departments that any company would have. The customer service users are the heavy hitters; those are the guys who are in a multi-line hunt group. For something like that, you get a dashboard, you can get true metrics on who's dialing in, how many calls you drop, how many calls you receive; you get the full stuff, if you have a customer service department.

We don't have any plans to scale up right now. With the floor space, with everyone in the company, we are just about maxed out with where we could physically put the phones.

If a colleague said to me, "A cloud solution isn't safe," I would say, "You haven't tried RCN yet." It's not an issue at all. We're very happy with it.

I give it a solid nine out of ten. There's always room for improvement.

**Disclosure: IT Central Station contacted the reviewer to collect the review and to validate authenticity. The reviewer was referred by the vendor, but the review is not subject to editing or approval by the vendor.
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