Many professionals tasked with upgrading their business’s phone system do not have a background in communications technology, and may not even know where to start. There is a lot of confusion in the industry, and it can take lots of research to figure out exactly what you may need.
To help out anyone who is tasked with improving their business phone system, we have developed this guide to make the process easier.
What Is A Business Phone System?
As we get started, let’s define what is meant by a ‘business phone system’. A business phone system is a system of phones that are connected and offer features that would not be found if someone just installed a collection of phones in the office. These features could include conference calling, call transferring, forwarding and call stat reports. Many of today’s systems (including VoIP systems) use the Internet for calls versus traditional telephone lines.
What Are The Main Types Of Phone Systems?
For over 100 years, if you wanted to make or receive calls from your business office, a landline was probably the only option you had. This was THE technology that connected homes and businesses around the world. With a landline, a person needs to be physically at the phone to use it. There is not much flexibility to it. For many years this was what customers would expect from a business or service provider, and it was what was delivered.
But in the 1990s, investments were starting to be made into alternative technologies, including the Internet and cellular. These new technologies created new connections for communications to be transmitted, giving businesses more options to find the best system for their goals. VoIP (VoIP, or Voice over IP, means the telephone conversation travels over the computer network vs. old landline phone wires) systems allow users to make or receive calls from almost anywhere as long as there is an Internet connection. This flexibility and mobility allows businesses to more easily provide the service and support that customers have come to demand.
Today, a business phone system is typically either an on-premise (PBX) or cloud-hosted system. Either one can be VoIP-enabled.
PBX Systems (On-Premise)
A PBX usually requires a capital investment of equipment – the CPU and the phones. In a typical PBX model, you might pay upfront for the PBX equipment, and then pay for support on a regular basis.
A PBX needs to be connected to the outside world. This connectivity has usually been provided by the phone companies you are familiar with. Because of this, not only do you have to buy the phone system and the support from a vendor, but you also have to buy the connectivity.
However, you can now buy connectivity that travels over the Internet, so you don’t need the phone lines to the outside world. Companies (like DiRAD) sell this connectivity. It is called SIP Trunking. SIP stands for Session Initiation Protocol. It’s the VoIP standard. The great thing about SIP is that you don’t need to buy capacity ahead of time, separate phone lines or a contract with a big carrier. SIP trunking tends to be much cheaper than wired connectivity. Many companies have already moved over to SIP trunking, so they’re feeding their old PBX with new VoIP lines.
Cloud systems are increasingly becoming the standard, but there is still 80% or more of the market using the old PBX technology.
Cloud-Hosted Systems operate on a subscription model. You pay for usage each month. Usually it’s per-user at a fixed rate. Some companies also charge for per-minute usage, while others (like DiRAD) do not. Most cloud-hosted systems do not charge for installation, but some companies will charge a nominal fee for setup (DiRAD does not).
You may also hear the term “omnichannel communications”. Phone systems with omnichannel communications allow companies that are operating with cell phones to address the new challenges of accountability and consistency of customer experience. DiRAD’s phone system allows you to send calls to mobile phones but retain the unified customer experience of a standard phone system.
So Where Do You Start?
Now that you are more familiar with what business phone systems encompass and what the different types of systems are, it is time to start taking stock of what, if any system you currently have, and what you need in a new one.
What Is Your Current Setup?
Are you a startup investing in a new office that is being designed from the ground up? Are you opening up an office that doesn’t have to be connected to an existing location? If so, your options for a system are wide open.
But if you are upgrading an existing office, or opening a new one that needs to integrate seamlessly with an existing location, you will want to take stock of what the current setup is. Some questions to ask to figure out if building off the current system or going in a different direction makes the most sense include:
- Is the current equipment being used meeting the needs of the business?
- Is the equipment in good shape?
- Are traditional landlines being used or is there a VoIP connection?
- What upgrades would need to be made to move off of traditional phone lines?
- What type of Internet connection does the building have?
If you currently have a landline setup, financially it may make sense to build off of it. But if you are starting from scratch, or if you have a VoIP setup, going with VoIP most likely makes sense. Both the short term and long term investments will probably be less with a VoIP system, in addition to being built for more flexibility.
What Do You Need Out Of Your Phone System?
As you start looking into a new phone system for your business, make sure you are aware of what you need from your phone system. This holds true whether you are a small business or a large enterprise. Know what features of a system your company can’t do without, and what seems to be missing from your current system. If you have a good grasp on what you want out of your new system, when you are speaking to communications solution providers it will be easier to figure out which options are best for your business.
Some of the initial questions they will ask are:
- How many users will be on the system?
- Are you concerned about after-hours access for your customers when you can’t answer?
- Do you have or want to utilize remote workers?
If you are able to provide these answers, they will be able to start building a framework for what may be a good solution for your business.
What Phone System Features Make A Difference To Most Businesses
Not sure what you really need out of your phone system? Don’t worry. Professionals at communication solution providers (like DiRAD) can help you figure it out. But over time we have found that many businesses have the same features in mind when it comes to their systems:
- With regards to the products themselves, they are looking for:
- A solution that is easy to administer
- A web interface
- Recording functionality
- Easy to setup attendants
- Web-based user administration (manage greetings, OOF, voicemail)
- Onboard support for text messaging and other features
- Unlimited local and long distance for a flat monthly fee
- What businesses are looking for in regards to service from their communication solution provider:
- Onsite service and installation
- Coordination of all other vendors and technologies
- Instant go-live
- Hands-on vendor
- For ongoing support:
- A staff that understand a customer’s urgency and responds as quickly as possible
- A staff that is knowledgeable about the customer’s system
- To be treated like they are the biggest, no matter how small
Keep in mind that while a phone system by itself is not going to be a revenue center for your business, a well-designed system can help you retain customers, keep employees honest and reduce overall costs.
Schedule An Appointment With A Communications Solution Provider
Equipped with a better understanding of what you can get from a new phone system, and specifics about what you want from it, it’s now time to talk to the professionals. Set up an appointment to start discussing your business and you communications system needs. Plan to spend an hour to two hours on your first call. It’s important to get all your questions answered, and just as important for the provider to all of their questions answered.
In addition to making sure they know the features you need from your phone system, some of the questions that you may want to ask early on in the process are:
- We don’t have an IT person. Will your technicians come to our location to show us how the system works? (DiRAD’s technicians will come to your location and train you)
- I don’t have time to deal with all the details of switching providers. Can you take care of all the logistics like moving my phone number and helping me cancel my service? (DiRAD will take care of everything)
- Do I have to sign a contract? (Not with DiRAD)
- Can an inexperienced user administer this system, or do we always have to call you? (DiRAD’s admin interface is easy and we’ll train you, but you can always call or text us)
- Are you going to charge us every time we call for changes to our system? (Not at DiRAD)
- Will you check out my computer network and make sure my system will work? (DiRAD will, and if it needs remediation we can also do the work for a nominal fee)
- How much do you charge to set up your solution? (DiRAD charges nothing for setup)
Don’t ever be shy about asking any questions you have. This allows you to make a more informed choice when it comes to a provider. You want to make sure you choose a reliable partner that you trust will have your best interests in mind as they guide you through the decision making process and beyond. Feel free to ask for recommendations and follow up with them. Talk to the businesses they recommend and ask what it is like to work with the communications provider on a regular basis. Does it align with how you wish to work with your partner? Does the conversation make you feel more comfortable or raise more questions?
Still not sure where to start? Give DiRAD a call. We are experts in the unified communications system industry, with over over 35 years adhering to one credo: Take care of the customer first, and everything else will take care of itself. We will work with you to make sure you find the business phone system that is right for your situation.