Organizations have a plethora of options when it comes to business phone systems. Every system seems to have the best VoIP phone features. How do you make a shortlist from the hundreds of alternatives out there? The process can be time-consuming and challenging for any business.
Almost every company seems to be using a VoIP solution for small businesses. But is it the right choice for you? Let’s take a quick look at the different types of business phone systems available for enterprises.
In 2019, you have several options. You can choose between analog landlines, virtual phone service, VoIP on-premise systems, and cloud hosted VoIP service.
The first option is to go with what’s familiar – analog landlines. Companies have been using these phone systems for decades. It is a tried and tested alternative. You get high call quality and they are very reliable.
Consumers simply plug the phone into an outlet and start making calls. Businesses have more complex requirements. You need something called a Private Branch Exchange (PBX) that routes calls to where they are supposed to go. You have to buy a lot of equipment and maintain it. These PBX systems usually sit in a server room or closet somewhere.
In spite of their advantages, they are ill-suited to our modern, digital world. They are not flexible and do not work well with other enterprise systems. Apart from that, many telephone carriers have announced cutoff dates for the PSTN as a whole. After this date, you can’t continue using a landline even if you wanted to.
These are different from traditional phone systems. It is simply a more sophisticated call forwarding service, ideal for entrepreneurs and freelancers. When someone calls your business line, they are not calling a dedicated number. They’re forwarded to a number you specify, no matter where you are.
Unfortunately, the systems don’t work well for more than two people at best. It’s more of an add-on for existing phone systems than a standalone option. It is inexpensive but you will soon outgrow its limited capabilities.
VoIP is the communication technology of the future. Instead of relying on copper lines, voice signals are transmitted as data packets on the Internet. On-premise VoIP solutions are similar to old-fashioned PBX systems. You still have to purchase equipment and maintain it on your own. However, it uses VoIP technology which makes it flexible, reliable, and more suitable for companies in the 21st century.
These systems also use VoIP but all phone features and services are delivered through the cloud. This means there is no hardware for you to purchase, troubleshoot, and maintain. The service provider takes care of everything. Right from software updates to new features, you don’t have to do a thing.
These phone systems are especially suited for small businesses. They don’t require a lot of investment or in-house expertise. You can set one up within a few hours and use it without any issues.
So, you have decided to go with cloud VoIP solutions. But which service is the best one for you? Here are a few things you should look for before signing up.
The first thing you have to look at is the features included in any plan. Does it have all the necessary features you absolutely need? Does it have any extra features that could be useful to your business? You should also check with the vendor about additional fees for specific tools. Some features may not be included in the basic plan you are looking at.
Ask the vendor about maintenance windows, update schedules, and the roadmap for new features. Look at the older versions of the service and see if the vendor delivers on the promised schedules.
There is no doubt that cloud phone solutions for small businesses are inexpensive. While the advertised price appears to be cheap, you should look at the total cost of ownership (TCO).
What do your expenses look like for the first year of using the service? Consider the equipment and phones you need to purchase. Factor in the cost of upgrading your data network if needed. Some of your employees may need additional training on the new system. These small costs add up to a significant part of the project budget.
You should also look at the return on investment (ROI). You want a positive ROI on your initial investment. That means you should see savings from the first month of ownership. The smaller the initial investment, the higher the chances of a positive ROI.
You should also consider if the business phone system you’re looking at will work with your existing infrastructure. Do you have older equipment that has to be replaced or upgraded? Maybe you have to get a second Internet connection dedicated to VoIP. Making these changes takes time as well as financial resources.
If you don’t have in-house experts, you might have to hire someone to assess your existing network. Some vendors will offer this service in-house for a small payment or even include it for free. Allow plenty of time and budget some resources for evaluating (and updating) your current setup.
You should check if the phone solution serves your current needs as well as future growth. Your business might be small now but you never know what will happen in the future. You could see spectacular growth and expand quite a bit over the next several years. Alternatively, your business may be stable for the next decade without major changes.
Your phone system should be able to accommodate either scenario. With cloud VoIP, you can easily add and remove lines per your requirements. You only pay for what you need. You can assign numbers to new hires in minutes.
But ask the vendor if any changes are free, require payment, and how quickly they’re implemented. Not every phone service works the same!
Some surveys have found that about 43% of American users work remotely at some point or the other. Your phone system has to support telecommute and remote workers. That means support for mobile devices of all kinds. Your employees may be using smartphones, tablets, and laptops to work on the go. The phone system should either:
Going forward, mobile support will become even more crucial for small businesses. So make sure the system you select has the capability. Mobile support ensures that your employees are always connected, no matter where they are.
A significant reason for the popularity of cloud VoIP is ease-of-use. Quite a few systems don’t need any training at all. Your employees can get started from day one. However, each system is different.
Evaluate the systems you’re considering based on how easy they are to use for your employees. Don’t simply go by the marketing or advertising materials. The easiest system to use may not be the best fit for your company.
Also, remember that you can test drive different systems for a short period (up to 30 days in some cases). Some vendors don’t even need a credit card on file. So make sure your users try the system in real world conditions.
Many organizations use their phone system for more than communication. For instance, landlines can be connected to security or door alarm systems. Other businesses need faxing capabilities even in 2019. So if you such requirements, make sure the system supports what you need.
Most reputed cloud VoIP phone services support digital faxing. That means you can’t get rid of your fax machines entirely! Faxes are delivered as emails to your inbox. Employees can also send faxes the same way. You don’t have to print every fax you receive, just the important ones.
Apart from these important aspects, there are several other things you should look at. For instance, take a good look at the vendor’s track record and expertise. Do they have a good history of supporting small businesses? If you operate in a regulated industry, does the system comply with any mandatory requirements?
Another thing that businesses often overlook is customer support. The cloud VoIP service provider should be your business partner, not just another supplier. When your system breaks down, how soon can you expect to get help? If the phone service stops, how quickly will you get it back? These are all important questions to ask and get answers from the vendor before making a decision.
That being said, upgrading to VoIP business phone systems may be the best thing you can do for your business today. You will immediately see savings in your monthly bills. These phone systems also do wonders for employee productivity and collaboration. So call a service provider and start the process today!
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