What to ask before Buying a new Phone System

Selecting the Right Phone System for you …

You have probably heard about VoIP, but might not understand how it applies to a new phone system for your business? Don’t worry, you aren’t alone! Although it’s a well proven technology (in use since 2004), and the benefits of its use are accepted, it is something that you may be nervous about, simply because to you, VoIP is an ‘unknown’.

As with everything in your business, there are a few questions that need answering before you go setting budgets and short-listing systems. Here are seven questions that will help you select the right phone system for your business:

  1. What type of phone system best fits your business?

While there are a lot of VoIP system manufacturers out there to choose from, they may be broadly split into two ‘types’;

You may suit a ‘hosted’ VoIP system, where the phones are at your offices, but the central equipment that makes the connections to the fixed & mobile phone networks, is off somewhere on the Internet, and uses Internet to connect the extensions to the central equipment.

Or – you might be better suited to an on-site system, where some sort of ‘server’ is acting as the controller for your phones, and connecting your calls to a ‘carrier’ who has responsibility for onward connection of your calls to fixed and mobile networks. In this case, the Internet is used to connect your ‘trunk lines’ (SIP Trunk channels).

Have a look at this article to find out more about the two types of VoIP systems …

There are pro’s and con’s for both systems, but in general, we have found that on-site systems have a lower cost of ownership, and provide a lot more flexibility in regard to integration of different carrier services and line types. It is notable that for both types of VoIP, you do need to ensure that the phones are plugged into a computer network that is designed to support VoIP traffic and give it priority. That means, if it’s done properly, hosted VoIP is not necessarily the cheaper option!

  1. Why are you looking for a new phone system?

Besides the basic fact that you need to make and take phone calls, what are the most important things that you are looking to get from your phone system?

Apart from how they are marketed and how their features are licensed & applied after the initial system sale, most VoIP systems are much the same. For example, it’s useful to know that if you want voice-mail to be available on other than the receptionist’s extension, you’re not going to have to purchase more hardware and/or software to do so …

This is why it’s important to have some ideas about how you want your incoming calls to be handled by the new system. VoIP phone systems are a lot more flexible than what you might be replacing, so don’t be afraid to ask about things like; voice-mail for all extensions, using e-mail to get voice-mail to people, integrating mobile phones into the system, automatic switching between in and out-of-hours, holiday schedules, using Microsoft Outlook contacts as your phone book … etc.

Use your imagination and ask about your ‘nice-to-haves’ – as you may be pleasantly surprised!

  1. Will your phone system integrate with other business systems?

One of those nice benefits you hear about is the ability for a VoIP phone system to integrate with other business systems like your CRM or ERP platform – so you can dial out from a customer record, or screen-pop a record when a call comes in. Some systems offer API’s for integration with certain software, some need 3rd party applications, and some don’t offer this capability at all.

You should ask your vendor which business & CRM systems can integrate off-the-shelf, and which require integration with your new VoIP system when you are being presented with a solution.

  1. Will you be deploying, maintaining and supporting the phone system yourself?

If you have capable IT staff, chances are you will be able to carry out a lot of the deployment and maintenance of the system yourself. You may also want to look at some form of first-line system support training as part of the project package. If you do not have IT staff you might want to consider a Support Agreement with a service level agreement that reflects how critical your phones are to your business.

  1. Who will be providing your voice service?

VoIP systems can be extremely flexible in using the services of different ‘carriers’ to provide you with the lowest call tariffs to different local, national and International fixed and mobile services.

It’s important that you also investigate and short-list VoIP carriers along with your short-list of systems. If you are going to be using VoIP ensure your VoIP provider is compatible with your phone system, and – yes, I’ve seen it happen before – please avoid purchasing your VoIP carrier services before you decide on your phone system. Although ‘SIP’ standards allow connection to almost any carrier, there may be very good reasons to go with one ‘Telephony Internet Service Provider’ for Internet connection and VoIP services, rather than another.

In most cases, VoIP systems use Internet connections to carry phone calls. However, in some instances, you may be restricted to using ‘traditional’ ISDN or analogue lines. This does not mean that you can’t use a VoIP system, but we do have to take this into account as ‘gateways’ will be needed to connect these line types.

  1. What is the total cost of ownership?

You love the fact that VoIP can save you money, but will it? You need to look at the total cost of owning a VoIP phone system.

Buying purely on price will get you into trouble! More reliable, expandable systems do tend to cost more per-user up-front. However, the savings you will see in the long run (from lower monthly service costs, least-cost-routing and better call tariffs), make it worthwhile. As your business evolves you will want to add users to your system, so find out how easily the system can be expanded, (or contracted), changed and upgraded as new features and technologies are released.

  1. What do your users want?

Even if it is last in the list this is very important for you to consider. Each user or employee type has different needs that you need to meet.

Prior to purchasing a system you should ask each of them what they would like to be able to do with their phone – both while they are in the office, and when they are out. This will allow you to align needs with benefits for a particular system. It might be that you need something different for a Reception phone, and/or DECT cordless extensions …

An artist will always paint best when they select their own palette & brushes!

Does that make sense?

If you follow this advice and walk through each of these steps you are going to find other questions you will need answered. But that’s the point – you need to go through the proper steps to make sure that you are selecting the right VoIP phone system.

With our background – including mission critical telecommunications for Civil Aviation and the City of London, Foxhall Solutions will use our voice and data expertise to provide you with a new phone system – properly integrated with your existing network – with a load of features and benefits to help your business keep in touch with your staff, suppliers and customers.

Use our Contact Us page, or call us at 01787 228 402 and we’ll show you how we put the Comm’s in Commerce!

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