Before You Buy: 5 Things to Consider for Your Business Phone Services

If you haven't shopped for business phone services in a while, you're in for a surprise. There are so many options to choose from today. Do you stick with a landline or opt for VoIP system? Will voicemail work or should you go with an auto attendant? It's easy to get overwhelmed. That's why it's important to focus on the services that will help you add the most value to your small business. Consider these factors before making your decision.

1. What type of phone system do you need?

It used to be that phones were connected to the wires in your walls and eventually hooked up to the wires on telephone poles. Those are still available, but now there are more (and less expensive) choices. Here's the range that's available:

  • Landline - This is the traditional copper wire-based phone system offered by your local phone and/or cable company. Special hardware is required to support it. It's reliable, but phone providers are moving away from this system. So, it tends to be more expensive, new features may not be available, and repair may be difficult. However, it might be an option for businesses that do not have the high-speed internet needed for a VoIP system.
  • Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) - Instead of wires, this system uses the same internet connection you already use to get online. That makes it easy for remote workers to access it on their mobile devices. The system is often less expensive, and you have access to many features. That makes it desirable for small businesses on a limited budget. You can house the system in your business or opt for a cloud-based one.
  • Virtual phone system - This system relies on a network of mobile phones connected to a main business phone number. It offers a variety of features not available on a mobile phone, like automatic receptionists. That's helpful if your staff works from remote locations other than a company office. However, calls are charged to your employees’ mobile phone plan and count toward their monthly limits.

2. Which options should you get?

It's easy to get drawn in by the bells and whistles available on phone systems. But each one can add more cost. Ask yourself whether this option helps you provide better value, service, or convenience to customers. If so, then it might be worth considering. Here are some newer options offered:

  • Auto attendant/receptionist - Answers phones, provides a list of options for callers, then transfers the call. For example, "Press 1 to place an order, Press 2 to talk to a customer service representative." It allows customers to get what they need and it frees your staff to focus on other demands.
  • Back-up power - Provides a contingent source of power for 10 to 60 minutes in the case of a power outage. This feature helps you stay in business during those times.
  • Computer telephone integration - This option lets you access the phone system on your computer. This might identify customer calls so you can access their account before you take the call. It could provide valuable support for your customer relationship management system.

3. What happens if something goes wrong?

Ask about installation and configuration of service. Does it include any necessary infrastructure like wiring or support equipment? Equally important is service after the sale. What resources are available if there is a service interruption? You can't operate without being able to process credit card payments or answer a customer call. So the answer to that question is critical.

4. How much will it cost?

You'll want to do a cost-benefit analysis as part of your decision. Will the increased cost be covered by an increase in value/revenue/customers? Remember that the total cost will include several components: the cost of the system (based on features selected, whether you host in-house or in the cloud), equipment (number of handsets), wiring, and installation.

5. What do their customers say?

Once you've gathered the facts, it's helpful to get others' perspective, especially the customers of that phone service. Online reviews can provide some insights. It's important to look for trends among the reviews rather than individual comments. Some businesses will contact the company's customer service department and pose as customers to get a sense of what support is available. In addition, some phone companies offer case studies of how they were able to help a business solve a problem using their services. In all of this feedback, you're looking to validate the facts and figures you've gathered.

Today's business phone services offer a variety of options that can help your business grow. The key is to determine which add the most value. Start with these questions to help you discover what's right for your small business.

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