A step-by-step approach to finding the best solutions for your business
Step 1: Determine your basic needs
Before you begin comparing prices, researching features and pressing buttons, you first must figure out what you truly need—OK, and want—in a business phone system. Putting necessary time and thought into your requirements will ensure you end up with a system that meets or even exceeds your expectations.
TAKE STOCK OF WHAT YOU’VE GOT
Give your current system an earnest, thorough once-over. Consider why you want to purchase a new phone system. Some of the most common reasons are: poor voice quality, outages or dropped calls, the need for better call routing, a reduction in contract or maintenance costs and wanting additional features.
Solicit feedback from the people who interact with your phone system most frequently. Get input from staff—both technical and nontechnical, light and heavy phone users. Ask them what’s working about the current system and what’s not working. What frustrates them? Watch some of them interacting with the phone. Is it easy to use, easy to program and comfortable ergonomically?
Don’t forget about the users on the other side of the handset either. Ask your customers, partners and vendors about their experience contacting your business. Are they able to reach your staff easily? Are dropped calls an issue? Assess what your competitors are doing well or not so well in the area of communications, too, so you have a benchmark to compare to.
Along with evaluating the plusses and minuses of your existing system, craft a wish list of features and options your users would like in a new system. Look for patterns that help you pinpoint how you can improve the user experience from all sides. The better you can understand your current system, the better you can choose and tailor your future system to meet your requirements.
In addition to usability, review your current system for relevancy. How old it is? Has it been discontinued, making replacing parts and service challenging? Are maintenance costs becoming too much? When it comes to ROI, take a look at where you stand and where you want to go.
SIZE AND FLEXIBILITY
The size of your business is a big factor in the selection of a phone system. Consider not only how many employees you currently have but also how many you expect to have in the coming year. What are your staffing projections for the next three and five years?
Business needs are constantly evolving. Gaining an accurate picture of your company’s user scope is important so the system you choose has the proper usage capacity. You don’t want to invest in a system that you’ll outgrow in three years. On the other hand, you also don’t want to pay for a bunch of users that you won’t have for another year or two. The key is finding balance with a system that can grow in lock step with you. You’ll want to understand how each potential supplier accommodates upsizing requirements. Every manufacturer has a different definition of small and mid-sized business, so be prepared to clarify your terms.
LEASE OR BUY?
Like a vehicle, your phone system can be leased or purchased. As with any other capital expense, there are upsides and downsides; both are legitimate options. Once you have established your budget and considered total cost of ownership, you can better evaluate which is the more cost-effective choice for your organization.
REPUTATION AND RELIABILITY COUNT
Because your phone system is so essential to the dayto-day operations of your business, you want to get the best product from a reputable manufacturer. Compare product reviews. Don’t rely solely on testimonials; seek out user references from businesses like yours. And ask about warranties, service agreements and costs.
If your call volume is high or you regularly make longdistance calls, you may want to entertain the idea of going with VoIP technology, which lets you make calls over the Internet versus traditional phone lines. This can mean potentially big cost savings.
CUSTOMIZE YOUR NEEDS
There is an array of available features on today’s advanced phone systems. Do you want audio, video and Web conferencing? Would you like the ability to program your speed dials through a computer interface? Do you need multiple voicemail boxes? Do your employees share desks? How about a message service to greet callers and route calls to the appropriate staff member? Think about what kinds of functionality will give you a competitive edge. There’s likely to be a hardware and/or software solution.
While you certainly don’t need to pay for options you won’t use, it’s better to grow into a system’s features than regret their absence. Retrofitting is not feasible with most phone systems.
TAKE MOBILITY INTO ACCOUNT
With the rise of mobile communication, the anytime/anyplace nature of business and the realities of multitasking have raised the stakes for all of us. And if you have multiple offices, a number of employees who travel regularly or staffers who work remotely, your phone system requires particular flexibility. That’s why it’s more important than ever to have a central hub that can seamlessly manage your telecommunications traffic without compromising quality or productivity. The right system offers freedom and flexibility for all users.
Go to Step 2: Choose an Infrastructure: Landlines or VoIP?