This review was sponsored by 3CX.
Today we are going to review 3CX Phone System 12, a Windows-based Voice over IP (VoIP) private branch exchange (PBX) system. To set the stage for our discussion and to provide a real-world use case for the software, please consider the following fictional case study:
You have been hired as a consultant by Matchless Solutions, an up-and-coming software company that has 75 full-time employees. Because their original IT manager wasn’t up to speed with VoIP technology, he installed a traditional public switched telephone network (PSTN) PBX using Integrated Digital Services Network (IDSN) Primary Rate Interface (PRI) circuits.
Matchless Solutions’ CIO, Debbie Walker, had this to say regarding the situation:
“We need to uproot the old-school PBX and go for an integrated VoIP solution. Right now we have customer support calls slipping through the cracks because we have no reliable call queuing system. Our front desk receptionist is overwhelmed, and our Financial Controller is angry that we have to pay extra for third-party PBX consultants. Can you please help?”
Based upon your suggestions, Matchless purchased and installed 3CX Phone System and supported hardware. Now, all employees have VoIP phones on their desk, 3CXPhone software on their desktop computers, and 3CXPhone mobile clients for Android and iPhone installed on their company-issued smartphones. Here is an update from Debbie Walker:
“Wow—that’s all I can say. I was worried not so much of the cost of a ‘green field’ IP PBX deployment as I was the complexity. However, I was pleasantly surprised how easy the setup was. 3CX Phone System and our gateway and phones all ‘play together’ wonderfully. This is awesome!”
Although I wrote the preceding case study almost in the format of a television commercial, the experiences that underlie that fictional situation are certainly valid in ‘the real world.’ Let’s take a closer look at 3CX Phone System.
Base features ^
3CX Phone System includes, but is not limited, to the following Unified Communications features:
- Telephony integration with Microsoft Outlook
- Auto-Attendant (press 1 for Sales, 2 for Support, etc.)
Online presence (see if your colleagues are online, busy, or offline)
- Conferencing and instant messaging functionality
- Voicemail and Fax to email
- Easy Call Forwarding management
Those are features that are specific to 3CX; remember that the main reasons why businesses choose an IP PBX over a PSTN-based PBX:
- Freedom from phone wiring. With IP PBX, extensions can be dynamically and flexibly assigned and reassigned
- Easy scaling. Adding new extensions happens with a couple mouse clicks in the Web management tool
- Free long distance because the voice traffic goes over the Internet instead of the PSTN
- Out-of-box configuration with popular VoIP providers, gateways, and phones
3CX also puts a lot of effort into their mobile phone client software. Yes, I know—you’ll doubtless receive some blowback from some employees who don’t want to be that available to take work calls. However, for companies who do need access from anywhere to the corporate phone network, 3CX makes 3CXPhone for Android, iOS, Windows and Mac clients as shown below.
3CXPhone from left to right: Android, iOS, Windows and Mac.
I have to admit that it’s pretty cool to have the ability to see my colleague’s presence and create/attend conference calls so easily when I am on the road.
Call Center Enhancements (requires 3CX Phone System Pro) ^
Have you ever had the unfortunate experience of navigating through a tedious telephone support system, connecting with an agent, giving that person all of your details, and then being transferred “cold” to another agent, where you have to give your details all over again?
Alternatively, have you waited so long in a call queue that you hung up out of frustration? 3CX Phone System Pro has built-in features to make your support desk or sales desk as customer-focused as possible.
For instance, 3CX Phone System Pro integrates with Microsoft Exchange so that when a known customer calls, their information “travels” along with them throughout the call lifecycle. Therefore your agents can answer the call with authority and personalization.
Another great feature of 3CX Phone System Pro is the capability to let a caller hang up and receive an automated call-back when an agent becomes available to accept the call.
From a call manager point of view, you might be concerned with service level agreements (SLAs), which for a call center involve a staggering amount of metrics. As you can see in the screenshot, 3CX Phone System tracks all call statistics and presents them to managers for at-a-glance perusal and analysis.
3CX Phone System provides useful dashboards regarding call statistics.
Something else that is pretty cool about 3CX Phone System Pro is the idea of the free CRM integration module. 3CX sells extensions to their phone system software that makes it a snap to integrate with common enterprise line of business apps for free and even market sectors. For instance, consider the following module list culled from the 3CX Website:
- Microsoft Dynamics
- Sage Act!
- Google Contacts
- Microsoft Outlook (comes as standard with all commercial editions)
- Hotel (includes check-in, check-out, and wake-up call functions)
- Voice Application Designer (you can design your own integrated voice response (IVR) voice prompt system
What do you need to get started? ^
If you are thinking seriously of investing in 3CX, the best advice I have for you is to ensure that you buy supported hardware and choose supported VoIP service providers. 3CX is very open about the hardware and services that they support; make sure to bookmark their Support Web page and keep it at your ready reference as you go about making your purchasing decisions.
VoIP desk phone at left, VoIP gateway at right.
The reason why I suggest so strongly that you purchase supported IP phones and VoIP gateways is to ensure that you qualify for support from 3CX itself. Likewise, be sure to give preference to 3CX supported VoIP providers, all of which publish almost turnkey configuration manuals that make setting up your Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) trunk to the PSTN a breeze.
As far as installing the 3CX Phone System software itself, it’s pretty darned simple (check the Admin Manual [PDF] for details). Basically, the software runs just fine on Windows Server 2008 R2 or Windows Server 2012, so long as your firewall rules support the typical SIP ports. Check out the supported operating systems for 3CX Phone System here.
Once you install the admin software, it’s time to deploy the 3CXPhone client to your desktop computers (if you want to use softphones); this can easily be accomplished through Group Policy Software Installation. 3CX even has tips for deploying the mobile apps as well.
Setting up your users and extensions is also intuitive with the web / Windows-based 3CX Management Console —basically a point-and-click operation.
The 3CX Management Console has a plug-and-play device provisioning workflow.
The 3CX licensing and activation model takes into account customers who originally purchase a license for the 3CX Phone System standard edition and then, as their business grows, require the call center functionality offered by the Pro Edition. Thus, all it takes to unlock the Pro features is an activation code—no reinstallation needed (whew)!
The pricing is differentiated by the number of simultaneous calls you need to handle. For instance, the 3CX Phone System 32 SC license supports up to 32 simultaneous calls, while the 3CX Phone System 1,024 SC handles (you guessed it) 1,024 calls.
Finally, your license purchase grants you one year of free updates to the server and client software, including both service pack updates as well as new versions. After the first year, you can extend your maintenance/support agreement.