How to Choose a Phone System for Your Business
The great thing about technology is that it is constantly changing. Each new offering gives customers more capabilities and easier deployment options than the last (usually at less cost too). The office phone system market is no different. Over the last few years, there has been a major shift from land line services to cloud-based, IP solutions. This is not surprising, given that to remain competitive companies have become more agile and mobile than ever. This does present some challenges, however, for people tasked with choosing a phone system for their business. The technology is relatively new, as are many of the vendors, so it can be difficult to cut through the marketing-speak to find the best solution.
For many, VoIP service has emerged as the technology of choice, as the next-generation telecom solution is flexible and customizable enough to meet virtually every organization's needs. When companies choose a business phone system that leverages VoIP, they can converge data and voice into a single platform, allowing decision-makers to avoid the hassle of dealing with multiple service providers.
Since the VoIP market is gaining significant momentum and attention in the private sector, a number of vendors are beginning to offer the technology in an attempt to expand revenue and increase their customer base. While the growing number of service providers means executives have a number of offerings to choose from, it also increases the complexity of selecting a dealer.
A recent report by Smart Business Network Online highlighted this challenge, noting that organizations should choose a VoIP platform because of its function, not its flash.
Should Companies Go the Route of the Cloud?
While traditional VoIP is gaining momentum, the virtual PBX is also beginning to turn heads, especially as the cloud matures. A separate report by CloudTweaks noted that the unparalleled scalability associated with hosted telecom is a major driver for choosing hosted technology, allowing organizations of all sizes to quickly add or remove phones and users without introducing unnecessary complexity.
Hosted phone systems are also able to enhance disaster recovery strategies, as the technology is managed in a secure, redundant data centers that allows communications to continue as if nothing happened, CloudTweaks said. Furthermore, cloud-based VoIP allows employees to carry out business tasks from virtually anywhere at any time, meaning remote workers do not have to worry about missing crucial meetings or not being able to access mission-critical information.
While on-premise phone systems are well suited for certain types of businesses, those with the following characteristics should strongly consider choosing a cloud-based phone system:
- Multiple locations and/or remote and mobile workers
- Preference toward operating vs. capital expense
- High growth or acquisition aspirations
- Use of other cloud-based applications
- Limited IT resources
The Characteristics of a Decent VoIP Provider
While an efficient VoIP system has many critical elements, decision-makers should choose a phone system provider with an offering flexible enough to allow quick customization and one that lets users drop the service after a defined period if it doesn't meet corporate goals, SBN Online noted. After all, no company wants to sign a long-term commitment only to find out that the solution doesn't even work.
Furthermore,choose a VoIP service provider that is easy to contact. As the private sector continues to evolve, decision-makers have to be on their toes to adopt different strategies at the drop of a hat. If a VoIP provider is not available to help make adjustments to the system, an organization may fall behind in the downtime.
Here are a few things you will want to understand about each vendor you consider:
- Do they have VoIP customers similar to you? Look for other customer companies of similar, employee size, vertical market and deployment complexity. Review any case studies and testimonials that are available. If these resources aren't satisfactory and recent, you may want to speak to a client or two.
- Get a clear picture of the initial, monthly and ongoing maintenance and support costs. Make sure you understand which services are included and which involve additional fees. If you make international calls, be sure rates are competitive.
- Most cloud-based solutions include upgrades at no charge, but be sure to verify this with each vendor.
- Contracts typically range from 12 to 36 months. Make sure you understand the term you are signing up for and the costs associated with terminating the agreement early.
- It is critical to understand the phone system implementation process. Are they just going to send you a box of phones, or will someone be provided to help with the project?
- Customer support varies greatly in the industry, so you need to understand exactly what you will get. Will your end users rely on your IT team or the vendor to answer questions and make changes?
- Service Level Agreements define the vendor's responsibilities and ensure credits for customers when the quality of service is not achieved. Not all vendors offer Service Level Agreements, so it is important to ask for the details.
- As with many things, future performance can be predicted best by past performance. It is reasonable to request up-time statistics for past 30-90 days.
- These days, vendors come and go quickly. It is a good idea to ask questions about the vendor's financial state and ability to be around to service you in the long run.
As the number of cloud services proliferates, corporate decision-makers need to carefully choose a business phone system and an implementation strategy, as jumping the gun or failing to collaborate with the right provider can have massive long-term consequences. While the telecom landscape is constantly on the move, adopting a flexible service like VoIP will enable firms to stay competitive.