Nextiva Launches Nextiva Office Virtual PBX with Fax

With the launch of a new IP-based fax service, virtual PBX provider Nextiva has seized the moment to rebrand its flagship product. Company executives say the newly christened offering will have a more familiar ring to potential customers.

The new offering, Nextiva Office, bundles together Nextiva vFax with the company’s virtual PBX, in a service that includes such tools as voicemail-to-e-mail, auto-attendant, advanced call routing, and on-hold music. It will be phased in to replace Connect360, a product with virtually all the same features except for the fax component.

“We found that the term ‘office’ is much more friendly,” said Yaniv Masjedi, director of marketing for the Scottsdale, Ariz.-based company. “It goes a longer way than ‘Connect360.’ It suggests a full set of office capabilities.”

The new bundled product also comes in at slightly lower price point, about $100 per month for a four-line office, as compared to about $140 in Connect360, Masjedi said.

A subsidiary of United Web, which owns and operates web-based application companies, Nextiva unveiled its new branding effort with a microsite. It took the same approach in launching its standalone fax service. Neither can be reached from the company’s main page, which continues to tout “Two Great Solutions” – Connect360 and the more limited Connect.

The company opted for the gradual phase-in, in the hopes of honing its messaging before going for a more highly visible launch. “The last thing we wanted to do was to do everything all at once, overnight. We’d rather take it little by little and get that feedback as it comes in,” Masjedi.

Even with its low-key style, the company has garnered notice. VoIP-comparison service WhichVoIP named Nextiva its Provider of the Month for July 2009. Another comparison service gave Nextiva its Top Business VoIP Provider award for 2009.

Most recent, and perhaps most telling, is Unified Communications magazine’s pick of Nextiva Office as its Product of the Year for 2009. A ‘unified communication’ recognition may suggest that Nextiva’s move to bundle fax along with other services it striking the right note in its effort to promote an all-around solution.

In these BlackBerry days, it may be hard to imagine that a mere fax offering could have much of an impact. Yet among Nextiva’s target market of one- to ten-person offices, fax still is very much a way of life.

“There are still tons of small businesses using standard, traditional fax. They would use us for their phone system but we couldn’t support them for their faxing needs, which was something they really required,” Masjedi said.

With fax now on the table, the company is looking to drive customer satisfaction – not just for its own sake, but because referrals are its single biggest (and least expensive) means of drawing new business.

As Masjedi sees it, the way to push satisfaction up and keep costs down is to invest heavily up front. Each new customer has at least three Nextiva personnel available for ramp-up activities including porting numbers, provisioning phones and setting up the auto-attendant. “Investing in the customer within the first few weeks, making sure that everything is smooth and running, it makes a big first impression. That’s what helps ensure they are going to be a customer for life,” Masjedi.

The early attention also eases strain down the line “It takes a lot of pressure off our support department,” he said. “We don’t have to be too concerned about long service calls. It’s more a matter of: ‘How do I do this?’ So we don’t have to constantly be looking at the statistics and saying, ‘Oh, this customer already called four times.’ ”

Do all these things right…and you’ll still have a high hill to climb as a virtual PBX vendor. Customers grouse at the $100 price tag per Linksys SPA942 phone, Masjedi said, but the company is already taking a loss on those, so there isn’t much give there.

Even more frustrating is the alleged portability of phone numbers. Sure, you can port a number, but it will typically take about 10 days, an uncomfortable wait for many customers. “For every hosted phone company out there, it’s a challenge we face,” Masjedi said. “It’s as if we are still in 1985. There are not been a strong evolution since about that time.”

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