10 Considerations When Selecting a Business Telephone Provider

There are certain aspects to a successful business that aren’t publicized quite as much as others. Business phone systems, for example, might not seem as glamorous as utilizing the latest computers, tablets, and smartphones—however, that does not negate their importance.

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Phone systems are often the silent heroes of the office. Most people won’t think twice about their business’s phone systems until the moment that it fails to function properly. Anyone who has dealt with this problem in the past knows how stressful the situation can be. A business that suddenly loses the main source of communication between employees, co-workers and customers can suffer massive hits to productivity.

In a world where technology provides significant competitive advantages, it’s important to ensure your business telephone service provides the features and service you need.

There are several important factors to look at when choosing a new business telephone system or provider, below are 10 items you will want to consider.

1.  Price

An expected concern for even the largest businesses, pricing is a major factor when it comes to business phones and varies widely depending on the type of system you’ll ultimately choose. A standard analog phone system will be significantly less than a hosted PBX equipped with all of the available bells and whistles, but the levels of functionality will greatly differ as well.

Take the time to write out a budget for a new phone system that includes details such as:

  • How many phones will be needed
  • How many new phones you think might be added over the next few years
  • If your business plans on expanding tremendously
  • How many employees, if any, telecommute
  • The cost of repairs, lease agreements and service contracts for your current system

Once you have a better idea of the number of phones you’ll need, it’s easier to estimate how much you’re comfortable spending on each individual phone and how that compares to your present costs.

Beyond the initial rate of the phones themselves, be sure to take into consideration the cost of hardware, installation, platform charges, ISDN/SIP trunking charges and regular service charges that may come with an upgraded system.

Some companies may also find that leasing phones from a provider and paying a steady fee instead of a lump sum up front provides greater flexibility and is a more favorable alternative.

Most importantly, remember that a proper phone system for your business is an investment in your company’s future. Align your budget with the increased productivity you anticipate as a result of the new system and its life expectancy.

2.  Usage

Once you are comfortable with a preliminary budget, the next step would be to determine which types of phones each employee within the office really needs. Many providers will work with you to build a network of phones that offer functions based on necessity.

Subdivide the workforce in your company by job type and responsibilities along with the calling habits of each role. For example, a customer service representative at a large company will probably need access to multiple phone lines, speakerphone, hands-free options and hold and transfer capabilities. On the other hand, an intern who will be making or receiving very few calls might only need a simple, single line phone system with few functions beyond a keypad and voicemail.

In addition to employees who spend their days in the office, you should also consider those who are frequently working offsite and who would then benefit from the “follow-me” services some providers’ offer. This feature would reroute incoming calls to alternate phone numbers. The volume of international calls being made from your company’s lines will also ultimately have an impact on pricing, and you may find that VoIP offers better international rates than analog services.

Mixing and matching the quality of phones has added value for companies who anticipate large growth or with departments and roles whose needs and responsibilities might eventually change.

In addition to growth within your current location, keep in mind any additional offices you have or might soon acquire. A company with a traditional analog phone system, but multiple offices, might be facing exorbitant costs associated with connecting private line connections at the main office with additional locations. On the other hand, systems that connect via IP connections will likely make the process of creating an expansive network easier and more affordable.

3.  Flexibility

As previously mentioned, fight the urge to buy a phone system for the “now”. Instead, consider what your company will look like in a few years and if the phone system you’re currently considering will be able to scale. For instance, if you foresee rapid growth in the coming months or years you’ll need a phone system that is equipped to handle the additional lines and new technologies. Many companies may choose to buy a mid-level system that can grow with them. Right now your company may only really need the capabilities of a standard service, but with time could come the need for conference calls, extensive calling features, and numerous extensions. It’s better to have the option to add on features and equipment in small steps rather than starting from scratch.

4. How Others Connect with You

Don’t just think of a new phone system in terms of how you and your employees will use it. It’s vital that you consider the experience of those calling you, mainly your customers & clients. In this regard, three options to consider for your incoming calls are:

  • If you’d like them to hear a dial by name or department directory.
  • If you’d like some client calls to take priority over others.
  • If you need to be able to instantly reroute incoming calls from anywhere to provide customer service even if the office is closed or an employee is unavailable.

Call your own company and experience the process your callers go through to ensure you’re happy with it. Keep in mind the attributes of prompts and automated systems you have heard when making calls to other companies. What did you love? What did you dislike? This will help to quickly generate a list of what you’d like for your own system and, more importantly, what you want to avoid.

Again, beyond making things easier on internal operations, a new phone service should benefit anyone trying to communicate with your company. Since many times your phone system will be one of the first interactions current and potential consumers have with your brand, you need to make sure it’s a quick, easy to navigate and pleasant experience. Once a person moves beyond the initial messaging, it’s equally important to have adequate transfer options, voicemails and conference call capabilities to ensure a seamless customer experience throughout.

5.  Functionality

The previous sections have touched upon some different phone options and how they might impact business, but you’d be remiss not to create a thorough list for consideration. First, think of the non-negotiable must-haves for your business. Break down the various procedures that regularly take place within your organization, both internally and from the client-side, and then map out what features are most used and what options would streamline or simplify processes.

Once you have those items decided upon, you can move on to a wish-list of features you’d like to include, but could potentially live without based on other factors, like the price.

Common features to keep in mind are:

  • Automated directory services
  • Caller ID
  • Call blocking
  • Call forwarding
  • Call logging
  • Central office line ringing
  • Custom greetings
  • Distinctive rings
  • Do not disturb
  • Express conferencing
  • Extensions
  • Hands-free alternatives
  • Hold options
  • Multiple lines
  • Multiple voicemail recordings
  • Music on hold
  • Public address voice paging
  • Shared message boxes
  • Speed dialing
  • Speakerphone
  • Transfer capabilities
  • Unified Communications (UC)
  • Voicemail
  • Voicemail-to-email
  • Welcome message

6) Your Network and Equipment

Phone systems and networks are continually evolving with new features and technologies. Look for a business telephone provider that is a leader and innovator, and can provide enhanced features and reliable services that help your business grow and be more productive.

Depending on the size of your company, there are a number of phone system solutions that can work for your business. You’ll want to select a provider that is consultative and provides the best options for your business.

For example, if you own a small business, chances are you don’t need a sophisticated phone system. Look for a provider that offers management tools and calling features that work with your current system, or offers a simple setup that meets your business needs.

If you’re a larger SMB, or growing business, you may want to consider moving up to a more advanced business telephone system like IP Centrex. Look for a business telephone provider that can scale your system as your business grows and expands.

And finally, if you’re an enterprise business, you’ll need to find a qualified provider that can meet the most advanced needs. Look for a business telephone provider that can act as a technology partner, not only offering the latest and best solution but also play an active role in advising your organization as technology and the demands of your business change.

7) Customer Service

Customer service may seem like a strange consideration when choosing a business phone service, that is until you stop to think about the impact of a service outage on your company’s reputation. If your clients can’t reach you because the phones are down, what will happen to your bottom line? Will they wait to call back later or reach out to a competitor instead? To provide the best service to your clients, you need excellent customer service from a business telephone provider you can rely on.

With any phone service, check their customer service hours and ways to contact them to gauge what level of service they can provide if something goes wrong. It may be worth a higher price tag for peace of mind to contract with a vendor who is local and offers 24/7 onsite support – especially if you conduct business at night or on weekends, and waiting until morning for assistance isn’t an option.

Lastly, ask around. You’ll want to look for a provider you can trust, and one of the best ways to find one is to simply ask friends, peers, and associates you trust, for their recommendation.

8) Scalability 

With any new service, it’s important to think about scalability. If your business grows, how much will it cost you to add the new hires to your business phone plan? Think not only in terms of pure equipment for your new employees but paying for the extra telephone service.

Some business phone companies charge a flat fee for so many users, for instance, a base rate for up to 25 employees or seats. If you are near the upper limit of a potential business phone plan, get prices for the next tier to gauge the true cost of the plan as your company grows.

Since business phone companies may assess fees to add new users, install equipment, or otherwise change the agreement you have, check those costs as well. Once you have all the relevant information, you can compare the relative costs of scaling up a phone plan to accommodate business growth.

9) Value 

Once you’ve narrowed down your options, consider what value the business phone provider will bring to your company. How does the value that’s being added compare with the cost of the service? While you’re getting the telephone service you need to stay connected to customers, you’re also getting much more from a value perspective.

In terms of ROI, consider how much time your employees will save with the new features offered by the phone system, or how much faster callers will be able to get answers. How does the phone system solve your existing problems and make employees’ lives easier? When you are confident that a business phone system adds value for your customers and your employees, you know you’ve found a good match.

10) Business Culture 

When selecting any technology service provider, it’s always important to consider how the culture of the business aligns with your company’s culture. Why? Well, consider what your company culture tells your clients about you. It communicates your expectations, your formality, your commitment to service, your mission, your values, and more. If you don’t share values and expectations with your business telephone provider, then you can’t communicate clearly about your needs.

Miscommunications could leave you without the features you need to communicate properly with your clients, go about business as usual, and grow. Once you’ve decided which features you need and what your budget can afford, make sure the provider you select has a compatible culture for your needs.

Questions?

Selecting a business telephone provider is an important decision, and you will undoubtedly have questions. We’re glad to answer them. Call us at 866-701-8737 or visit www.coxbusiness.com today.

Martin Jones

Martin Jones is a Senior Marketing Manager with the corporate Cox Communications social media team where he assists in leading strategy, campaign ideation and marketing execution for Cox Business social media & content marketing. Today, over 1 million fans engage with Cox Communications content, campaigns and Customer Care on Facebook, Twitter, You Tube. LinkedIn and Google+.