Fax machine usage hasn’t died out, despite what you may have heard. This 160-year-old technology still has many years left of life in it, even in the age of online file sharing and electronic signatures (e-signing). So, why do businesses still send faxes? And is faxing worthwhile at your company? Let’s just say online faxing services are a game-changer.
While fax machines have earned their place in technological history, faxing as a file-sharing process should not be confined to the past just yet. In fact, for many businesses, faxing is more important than ever. There are compelling reasons why faxing is still around, particularly in the business world.
International technical standards for fax transmissions were first agreed upon in 1968. Over time, those standards have been updated to speed up fax delivery and improve image quality. Fax machines (and other systems capable of fax transmissions) conform to all current and previous standards. That means a fax machine in 2023 is capable of sending to and receiving from a fax machine from the 1980s. In other words, these devices are extremely reliable, even if your model is decades old.
Text messaging and Facebook caught on because of a phenomenon called the network effect. The more a product or service is used, the greater value it has to the people and businesses who use it. Here’s why the network effect of faxing still exists:
See our roundup of the best business phone systems to learn more about faxing integrations.
Although fax usage in many countries has fallen sharply, it’s not dead everywhere. To the contrary, in 2021, the Japanese government was forced to backtrack on a plan to rid government departments of fax machines. The project was successfully scuttled by the country’s “faxophiles,” who still see faxing as essential. The vast majority of businesses in Japan still use faxes, and anyone wishing to communicate with them effectively would be wise to adopt their document-sharing strategies.
Similarly, in Germany, 43% of companies still use faxing, per Bitkom. While that’s a decrease compared to years past, it demonstrates the relevance of a communication method that many in the U.S. may see as extinct. If you trade internationally, look up fax usage statistics in the countries you sell to. If faxing is popular there, get yourself (back) on it. After all, the more you conform to local business customs, the better the chance that your company will succeed.
Faxing that isn’t done over the internet is a direct form of peer-to-peer communication. It is one machine directly connecting to another machine. That’s why many health providers and legal firms choose to send sensitive information by fax – because it can’t be intercepted like an email or web traffic can be. That said, e-faxing today is becoming more and more secure. A number of online fax vendors offer encryption and even HIPAA compliance to ensure security.
Although not as secure as the answerback signals from telex machines (remember them?), traditional fax machines print out a receipt confirming that a fax has been successfully sent. Receipts show the date, time and receiving fax number. So, if you fax a late payer with a copy of their overdue invoice and they claim to never have received it, you have proof that they did. Some digital faxing services offer delivery receipts as well.
If we had written this article 30 years ago, we could have described fax marketing to you as a current marketing trend. Of course, it’s now been completely surpassed by email marketing campaigns and text message (SMS) marketing. But overseas, database compilers still sell lists of company fax numbers segmented by line of business, geographical area and size. Marketing departments then use those to send material unsolicited to their target audience – typically in the hope of generating a lead rather than making a sale.
Sending advertisements to fax numbers without an existing business relationship was banned in the U.S. in 2005 with the Junk Fax Prevention Act. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) welcomes complaints about companies that don’t follow the policy, so it’s wise to ensure your organization is always in compliance with the law.
Fax volumes have fallen drastically, even in countries where unsolicited fax marketing is still allowed. Today, companies might get only one or two faxes a month instead of the 10 to 20-plus per week they might have received 20 years ago. This is a good thing. People sit up and take notice of a fax because getting one is considered rare nowadays. Indeed, consumer forums often advise customers to fax a complaint to a company instead of emailing it because you’ll get a faster response.
Compare faxing with postal mail. Even though direct mail marketing has been decreasing in the U.S. over the last 20-plus years, response rates to mailing campaigns have increased. Rarity, it seems, has a value. With that in mind, faxing can be a strategy that makes your business stand out.
In today’s world, you don’t need a fax machine to send and receive faxes. There are many online fax services that you can use instead. You’ll receive incoming faxes as email attachments and send them in a similar manner. These vendors also provide you with a dedicated fax number if you want to save on getting another landline installed.
The best online fax services for small businesses include the following companies.
Many online fax providers have APIs that, when configured correctly, will deliver and assign faxes to specific customers or suppliers in CRM systems. Learn how to find the right CRM solution for your business.
With online fax services costing as little as $5.95 a month, they represent an affordable communication channel for businesses. Relying on an online fax service provider means you don’t need to spend money getting an extra phone line installed or keeping a fax machine functioning. Being able to send or receive faxes is no longer business-critical, but if you do get an important customer who wants to communicate that way, why make life more difficult for them? If your budget can tolerate the expense, faxing in 2023 might be a tool with worthwhile applications for your business.
Naomi Young contributed to the writing and reporting in this article.