10 things you need to know before getting a telephone system
Welcome to our understandable guide to buying a telephone system
When searching for a new system things can get overly complicated, confusing and expensive rather quickly. By reading this guide before you start your search you can avoid much of this and be prepared in the ways of choosing the right telephone system for your business.
Here are the 10 key considerations to make your search easier:
1. Is it time to switch?
Your business telephone system doesn’t follow a definitive time line that tells you when it’s time to make a change. Making the switch requires a great amount of planning and preparation to ensure you are you ready for the transition.
A number of business desires can trigger the need for change. Your business may naturally evolve with the modern times or it might require restructuring to accommodate growth, whatever the reason, the decision to get a new telephone system must be viable for the company.
We’ve taken a look at some good reasons to switch your telephone system:
- Your current system is reaching the end of its life
- You are relocating your premises
- You need greater voice capacity
- Your workforce has multiple locations
- You need more flexibility and functionality
- You need a more cost effective solution
2. Out with the old telephone system – but what did it do?
You’re about to invest a lot of time and money in a new system and in doing so it’s important you know what you’re what type of telephone system you’re replacing. There are several points that you should be aware of regarding your old system, purely so that you know how and what you need to change.
Start by answering these questions:
- What features does your current system have? Make a list of all the features that you want to keep and see in your new system and those that you no longer need. Keep in mind how your business operates when using the phone system on an individual and group basis.
- How many trunks, extensions and mailboxes does your system have and do you need more or less of each of these?
- How many calls flow through each department and do you have a breakdown of calls per hour, day, week and month?
- Does your current telephone system have any outstanding contract obligations? This includes lease or loan payments, service contracts and penalty fees.
- How much does your current system cost? Make a note of the total monthly bill and costs per minute for local, long distance and international calls plus any specific functions.
3. Let’s prepare a needs analysis
Now that you know what you’re replacing, you can begin to think about what you need from your new telephone system. A telephone expert will ask you a great number of general questions that need to be answered in order to find the right system for your business.
You can prepare for this by asking yourself the following questions in advance of any discussions.
- How many telephone lines do you need in total? Remember to include desk phones and any needed for meeting and conference rooms, reception and break out areas.
- How many employees need a personal telephone extension?
- Do any calls go through an assistant before reaching the desired contact?
- Do you need area code routing? This is to route calls based on the area code the caller enters or on the caller’s incoming phone number.
- Do you need an auto-attendant and what is the backup procedure if routed calls are not answered?
- Do any additional devices need to be on the system, such as fax or credit card machines?
- Do you want the flexibility to expand your telephone system in the future? Look for a system that will allow you to add new features and expand your system later on without great expense.
4. Focus on the features
Choosing the right features for your businesses telephone system will drive both efficiency and productivity while saving you money in the long run. When it comes to selecting these features you need to know what you like about your existing phone system and what works for you, these features then become essential in the new system. It goes without saying that any features that you dislike in your current system should automatically be ruled out. Next it’s simply a case of deciding what new features you want to have.
There are many common and newly popular features worth considering and these include the following:
- Conferencing – Hold virtual meetings that bring together internal and external participants.
- Voicemail – Receive calls and store messages when you’re away from your phone.
- Queue system – Calls that cannot be taken immediately can be held in a managed queue.
- Screening – ID calls prior to answering and choose how to handle them accordingly.
- Transfers – Never miss a call by transferring the caller to alternative phones.
- Extensions – Allow remote workers to receive calls outside the office.
- VoIP – Make low cost, global calls by transmitting voice over the internet.
- Voice to email – Deliver voice mails directly to your email inbox on your PC or mobile phone.
- Fax to email – Send and receive faxes from your email system.
- Mobile integration – Bring the features of the office telephone system to mobile phones.
- Call capture – Record, save and forward calls for added training, confirmation and security.
- Call monitoring – Provide additional support to employees by supervising customer calls.
- Standby server – Back up your telephone system with a replica on permanent standby.
5. Does the product make business sense?
There are a vast number of products out there, but how do you know which is the right solution for your business? You’ve already narrowed it down by knowing the practicalities and features that you need from a telephone system, so now it’s time to use some business sense.
Use these sensible tips to make sure you focus on the products that are best for you:
- Only look at products that compliment your business communication needs including present and future scenarios.
- Will the system run on your existing operating system and hardware? If you can avoid investing in new software and hardware it makes money sense to do so.
- We recommend buying popular brands purely for ease in finding dealers that can supply them and provide support and system upgrades.
- This might seem obvious but you must consider the call and service quality you will get out of a particular system.
6. What are you buying?
Understandably there isn’t one set charge for a telephone system as the total cost depends on several factors such as the equipment and features you choose and the installation and maintenance charges. Although pricing is bespoke to your choice of solution, there are ways to avoid buying an overpriced, complicated phone system; often the result of being unaware of all your options or not asking the right questions.
Here are a few pointers:
- Don’t get locked into a complicated system that is only supported by one vendor. Unfortunately some telephone vendors look after their interest only, which goes unnoticed until you want to revise your system; at which point you’re faced with one vendor and sky high prices. Look for an open system that does the following: works with standard telephones and equipment, runs on an industry standard operating system and can work with off-the-shelf software applications without complex programming.
- Consider whether your telephone system package is future proof and able to accommodate changes like hiring new employees, building remote offices, opening new branches or improving call reporting. You can avoid potential disappointments by finding out if your system will be able to keep up with your plans in advance. Digital systems are not necessarily suitable for life-long planning, where as an IP solution that is software based will give you an added element of protection. To save you having to buy key features separately and pay for upgrades and add ons, look for a system that at least has: voicemail, messaging, automatic call distribution, operator console, call forwarding, call detail reporting, follow-me dialling and web based click-to-talk.
- When implementing a new system into the workplace, employees are bound have questions and minor issues. Your telephone vendor should provide a service of unlimited phone and email support, but you’ll probably need to pay for their time. Avoid high support bills by nominating an in house trainer and maintenance person that can easily make manage the system without external technical support.
7. Are you prepared for installation?
Implementing a new telephone system is likely to have a temporary effect on the everyday running of your business. Your system provider will handle the technicalities, but what you need to know in advance is what you can do to minimise the impact on your staff and working environment?
Let’s look at a few points to discuss with your supplier:
- How does the system impact your internal network?
- Will there be any down time?
- How can you prevent network slowdowns?
- What is the best time and day to install the system?
- How long will installation take?
- Will you need to move employees?
- Is it better to install in stages?
8. All-in-one support services
Your telephone system is a key platform to running your business successfully and your support service is the driving factor behind this, so you need one that you can rely on. There are generally a variety of support options available to you and you’ll need to make your the choice based on the operation of your business. To make your support as easy and stress free as possible we suggest you select an all-in-one package that deals with your entire system.
A complete support package should provide:
- Remote support – Use of a help desk and maintenance via phone, email or internet.
- Onsite support – Help with planning, installation and problem solving.
- Fix all support – Ability to handle hardware and software engineering faults.
- Unlimited support – Access to help for national and international issues.
- Anytime support – Peace of mind that someone is available 24/7 and 365 days of the year.
9. Time to look for a supplier
Your telephone system is one of the most important tools in your business and as with anything that’s of great value to you, you want to know it’s in safe hands. So, when you think of choosing a telephone supplier ask yourself if you’d trust them in your business, would you hire them to look after your voice communications?
A reliable supplier is one that’s established and after your best interest and with a generous number of services available to you now and in the future. Price is always a weighing factor, but paying good money for a cheaper service that may ultimately let you down will only lead to damage for your business. You need a supplier that will grow with you, as and when you’re ready.
What to look for in a supplier includes:
- Relevant history – Are they an established provider with background of implementing telephone systems that are relevant to your needs?
- Solutions – Do they offer products and services can fulfil your business requirements today and tomorrow?
- Support services – Is customer service as important to them as it is to you and will they be available when you need them?
- Value – What are you paying for? A telephone system needs flexibility, upgradability, continuity, reliability and security.
10. Take advantage of the benefits
A well thought out telephone system that works productively within your business brings with it numerous business benefits. It’s worth your while taking these into account to see if they in turn can spark further positive results.
Here are some of the benefits you could see:
- Cheaper calls – Saving money on calls, creates bigger budgets for other business investments.
- System memory – Access to a large system memory makes room for more productive functions.
- Single network – Capital can be re-absorbed into the business and used for new ventures.
- Scalability – You have the technology to scale your business without technical limits.
- Remote access – Work opportunities away from the office opens the door to new, global talent.
- Unified communications – Centralising your communications gives time back to employees to be utilised in other business areas.