Purchasing a business phone system can be a tricky as it demands that you pore over a lot of details. You need to know the questions to ask before signing the dotted lines. Although technology is readily available, there are still many differences that set providers apart from one another. Knowing these differences enable you to make the right decisions and save costs in more ways than one. Here are twenty-five questions that will guide you in making your choice.
1. Which provider is right for my company?
The best determinant of this will be the budget available for you to work with. You need to classify your business as a growing or established business. If you are still small and growing, you might need to look for packages that match your needs and size. It is advisable to look out for the provider’s level of technical expertise, time and resources. This will determine their ability to effectively and efficiently support your business. In other words, look beyond the features of the phone system.
2. Is it possible to continue using the traditional landline?
Of course, this is an option. The challenge there however, is that there has been a cessation of building new options. Research has also ceased thus leading to potential stagnation as more energy and resources are being deployed in research and development into VoIP and cloud architectures. The technical expertise in the traditional landlines is also fast fading away and software updates are not available. Lastly, procurement of parts will increasingly be a problem with time.
3. Is the provider capable of growing with new technology?
This is a very critical question for a purchaser. The company needs to be able to grow with new technology. If the company is redundant technologically, you will find it hard to move with the times and get the best quality. Always look out for their certifications and equipment status. There is very little point in making that investment only to lose it to a provider who cannot cope with the times. It is sometimes best to make inquiries from other businesses to ascertain the provider the used that enabled them to leverage new technology. These questions typically make life easier for you when you are about making a purchase decision.
4. Are there any other costs after paying for hardware and setup?
As many business phones are based on a signed contract, there could be a few costs additional to the cost of hardware and installation. You need to look beyond the quote and ask for any additional costs that may not be explicitly stated. Typically, the contract is long term so hidden costs could constitute a financial banana peel for you. Furthermore, ascertain what else you might need to purchase in addition to the supplied equipment. These questions will help you avoid accruing costs running into thousands of dollars.
5. Are there usage-based costs not included in the monthly plan?
Typically, providers have usage-based costs such as long-distance calls for which the costs are different. You need to ask for the rates that are applicable to both. In addition, there could be some features that are not included in the monthly plan thus attracting a different rate. These tend to accumulate costs for which you may be unprepared. Be very detailed in inquiring about the special features that come with the package as the marketer/sales rep may not be quite upfront with the precise details.
6. If the provider is using a cloud-hosted system, will you share server resources?
The approach adopted by many providers is to give you the option of either choosing a dedicated server or share server at a reduced cost. The purpose of having a dedicated server is to meet with your special requirements at all times. This also depends on the peculiar needs of your company which may require customisation and extra attention from the technical support team. Again, if you are just a small company without complex needs, a shared server works well.
7. Will you get as good service on VoIP as on a landline?
The rapid advancements in VoIP technology means that there is very little difference between it and the traditional landline calls. It is therefore difficult to tell the difference except from a technical standpoint. It is incumbent upon the company however to ensure quality service by purchasing sufficient bandwidth to maintain voice quality. This is the only way call quality can be consistently maintained.
8. What can you expect on a VoIP system?
The technological changes in the VoIP system ensure that providers can leverage the advancements to give smaller businesses features hitherto unavailable to them on the traditional platform. Some of these features include the following:
• Voicemail transcription
• Call forwarding
• Call recording
• Call queues
• The option of both local and toll-free numbers
• Interactive Voice Response
• Interoffice instant messaging
• Conference calling
• Automated attendants
• Extension dialing
9. Is the phone system using 911 or E911?
Emergencies happen even though no one hopes for them. You need to ask if the 911 attendants will require further details if you dial 911 on the phone system. This is very important as 911 and E911 differ in response time. To select the best phone system for your office, you need to find out your provider’s compliance level with 911 management. This will also save you potential litigation internally. If the provider does not meet the basic needs of the 911 regulations, it is best to seek a different provider who is complaint.
10. How will the system integrate with mobile and telecommuters?
If your office is one that has boots on the ground outside of the office, you need to find out how efficiently the system integrates with mobile employees and telecommuters as this will determine efficacy of office communication. There is very limited logic in spending big on a phone system and end up paying more for employees outside the premises. The provider can ensure that your telecommuters and the staff in the head office have the same phone for ease of communication.
11. Can you send faxes with the system?
Faxes are still very relevant today but handling them using VoIP is a major issue and while some providers may infer that they support fax calls, in reality, the may not. Inquire whether your provider’s systems support T38 which enable the fax to work efficiently. If they are lacking in this infrastructure, they will likely not provide efficient fax calls. Additionally, you need to find out whether the fax plugs directly into your phone system without an additional hardware. This will help you know whether or not there will be additional costs.
12. Are analog phones supported
Typically, some companies work on multiple sites thus using different equipment from those at the head office. Check with the sales rep whether the equipment being purchased can connect to analog phones in use at the other sites or whether you need to buy additional equipment. These questions will ensure that you know just how much is being spent and where as opposed to being caught unawares.
13. How do you prioritise your features?
Ask yourself if you really need features and in what order you need them. For example, is the auto-attendant feature necessary for you at all? Do you do conference calls at all? Write out a list of the features you need for your office before making a purchase. If the provider is giving you features for a fee, you can cut down on costs by deciding the one you need and the ones you do not. This will also help you rank the provider that best suits your needs and budget.
14. Is the phone system scalable?
Over time, you may need to make changes to the system to meet demands of the office. You have to know how much it will take to grow your phone system to meet current capacity. The necessary infrastructure may need to be planned for against the further either as a hedge against costs or simply a convenient measure. In any case, it is very important to know what needs to be added in order to make the system accommodate more users.
15. Who/where will the phone system be used?
You need to map out the places/personnel that will need to use the system and the basic ones include receptionist’ desk, lobby, waiting room, auxiliary employees, hallway areas, conference rooms, warehouses and server rooms among others. These are just a few and by taking time to determine where the system will spread for use, you will be able to assess your needs and even prune costs. Oftentimes, companies do not have a clear idea of the extent of use until this exercise is conducted.
16. Purpose of the phone system
This is very critical to the purchase of the system in the first place. A clear assessment of needs must be carried out to determine what needs to be purchased. It is best to take a close look at the way the office typically functions on the busy day then scale it up for a future-scenario. By doing this, you can have an idea of not only the purpose the system will serve in the immediate but what it will serve in just a few years to come. You might also want to put into consideration the calls that occur regularly, both the outbound and inbound calls.
17. Types of calls to be made
The types of calls the phone system will handle is very important. Consider the variety of usage and on that basis, make a plan. Some of the calls that you need to consider include the following; one-on-one calls and the regularity of such calls. You also need to consider the nature of the calls, whether they are local, national or long distance calls. If you have multiple office branches, you need to consider conference calls. Sales desks may need to take calls during non-official hours while additional services such as fax need to be considered.
18. How can quality of service be guaranteed?
Often, Service Level Agreements spell out the details of the expected quality of service. However, you need to make diligent inquiries about the expectations and how the provider intends to meet up with them. What happens when they fail? To whom will you communicate and what are the terms of reference regarding shortfalls on the provider’s part? VoIP is sometimes tricky to handle when both parties have role to play in terms of input (internet service etc.) and it is best spelt out for both parties.
19. In the event of the provider folding up, what happens?
It is a clear and present consideration that a provider could be bought up by a competitor or even go under even though no one hopes for that scenario. It is best t diligently inquire what will happen in the event that such a scenario plays out. How will your contract run thereafter? Do you need to look for another provider and start all over again? While these may seem like pesky questions, they can save you a lot of hassles down the road. Some providers may have the capability to cover you in such instances but certainly not all.
20. What is the policy guiding contract termination?
Business environments can be very fluid and unexpected circumstances may compel you to cancel your contract early. Additionally, you may have to leverage a provision in the contract to cancel due to poor QoS but you need to find out what policy guides such steps. Will you be required to return the equipment or does it belong to you? You will need to ascertain these from the onset to avoid any issues when a cancellation comes up. If you are on a Business Class service, you need to take a detailed look at the contract especially about the monthly offers.