A business phone system can boast innumerable features but what is crucial in deciding the ideal phone system is the extent to which a standard or enhanced feature will be put to actual use. Assessing this parameter can help you overlook myriad features that are non- essential to your business requirements.
The standard features that are commonly used in a business phone system are:
The auto attendant feature ensures your phone is equipped with a pre-loaded message that greets callers and helps the user access specific departments or employees. The auto attendant ensures that your phone lines answer incoming calls and route them as necessary even if the operator is on a lunch break or calls come in after office hours.
If you need to speak to multiple people simultaneously, a conferencing facility is required. Incoming calls can be transferred to specific extensions and a number of callers can be added to a single conference call.
Music on Hold
This allows the caller to listen to a pre-selected soothing music while he is on hold. Many companies choose to put some informational/educational tips about their own products and services instead of making callers listen to music.
This helps forward calls from one extension to another, enabling mobility of a single call to multiple users within your office environment.
Allows callers to leave messages in a voice mail box that provides users save and delete features. Voice mails are usually activated to tap incoming calls in case of absence from individual desk space.
Directory services allow caller to access people by dialing by name, dialing by extension etc. The directory feature can be a bit frustrating for callers particula.
Caller Identification: helps track calls from identified and unidentified numbers. Display phones show the phone number with name of the caller if they are stored or only phone number if they are not associated to any name.
This feature allows the phone system to operate despite power failures for about an hour depending on the type of your phone system.
Choose the right phone system
You can be assured that the office phone systems and business phone systems on our database are supplied by reputable phone systems vendors.
Factors to consider
It is important to make your decision to buy a business phone system based on:
- Maintenance and Support
After assessing these features, it is equally important to judge the performance delivery of the system and planning for future upgrades. Here are some tips to check, plan and organise your investment in business phones.
Checking the phone system
Get a Demonstration
This helps you gauge the performance of the phone system with regard to your requirements. You can assess the performance of the system on the basis of sound quality, look and feel, accessing functions and features such as voice mail etc. Such pre-purchase testing will give an opportunity to experience the phone systems in action before you invest in the system on a larger scale.
Assess the compatibility of the phones with a wide range of third party voicemail systems. This will ensure you are not left with a feature you cannot potentially exploit.
Planning for the phone system
It is advisable to consider extra wiring to provide for expansions or upgrade. Though this can make the wiring costs expensive it will make it easier to expand lines or upgrade your system in no time at low costs.
Plan your purchase
Try to obtain quotes and advice from dealers early in a quarter in order to actually make the purchase towards the end of the quarter as you can generally expect to get lower prices during this time.
PBX and VoIP explained
Depending on the networking capacity and functional features you require for your business, you can choose from four basic types of commercial, business phone systems. They are:
- Key systems
- Private Branch Exchange (PBX) systems
- KSU( Key System Unit)-less phones and
- VoIP ( Voice Over Internet Protocol)
VoIP is the most recent entrant to be considered by organisations making their phone system purchase decisions.
Below provides a quick snapshot of these four systems, which will help you decide the phone system that would best suit your immediate and future needs of the company
The key factors to consider when determining which of the above phone systems you should opt for are:
- Size of business
- Number of lines and extensions required
- Adaptability to new technology
While phone system manufacturers compete against one another to wow users with a plethora of advanced features and functionality, a high proportion of these features are seldom used, partly due to lack of awareness and partly due to insufficient need for the same. Buyers looking to purchase business phone systems must be cautious and discerning enough to determine the must-have features, the nice-to-have ones and the dispensable or “use-less” ones.
Modern phone systems are a convergence of various technologies, as we can see in some of the more common but advanced features and functionality. Below is a list of such features that you should consider when planning your phone system purchase.
Computer Technology Integration (CTI)
This allows a combination of both computer and telephone technology to provide the user an alert and advanced communication tool. CTI allows users to click on numbers on their PC instead of dialing them manually, route incoming calls to a department or person concerned, display callers’ account information and more. Moreover, CTI enables personalised responses to phone calls with information pertaining to callers and their requirements a click away.
Automatic Call Forwarding
This feature routes incoming calls to a location designated by the user. The user can route incoming calls to residence numbers, mobile phones or remote locations and thus ensuring that the calls reach the person intended and the user is not flooded with voicemail messages. This feature is important for extremely mobile professionals who need to keep in touch with their business associates through the same number even when they are not in the same location.
Automatic Call Distribution
This feature maximises the efficiency of a phone system. In case of a call centre-type business environment where large volumes of calls are made, this feature tracks “per call” and “per employee” statistics and is a vital component to study the efficiency of your enterprise in a solutions-driven business.
Advanced Messaging Services
This feature enables voicemail to be sent as text messages and auto forward messages to email, text to speech etc; it is valuable particularly for extremely mobile professionals.
Group Call Distribution
This feature allows group call distribution, forwarding, group voice messaging and maintaining group call activity logs.
Convergence applies to a combination of various technologies with a similar objective. Convergence enables the same communication system to handle phone calls, voicemail, email, instant messages, video conferences, faxes and other types of communication. Advances in phone system technologies will only see more and more convergence.
The size, networking capability and other communication and productivity enhancing features of your phone system are important aspects to be evaluated when purchasing a business phone system. Of this, the size of your phone system will decide the extent to which communication is made available internally and externally.
The size of the telephone system is determined on two counts:
This refers to the number of lines used to make calls outside the office and are also referred to as trunks
These refer to all devices that must be connected to the main phone system and these include phones at individual desks, fax machines, modems etc.
The size of the key telephone system is defined as a product of the number of lines and the number of extensions ie. Line x Extensions; however, the size of a PBX system is defined by
the number of ports, which refers to the maximum number of connections that you can make to the phone system (including internal extensions and external lines).
Some pertinent questions that you should ask to determine the size of the phone system that you will need are:
- The total number of phone users in your company
- The number of lines and extensions you require
- Projected growth in your business and the consequent requirement for additional phones
- Type of business and kind of telephony required
- Value-added features that are beneficial to your work environment to enhance communication and productivity.
Apart from the size of the phone system, ensure that you factor in the expandability of the phone system in your buying decision. Expandability may mean increasing the size of your current phone system, upgrading the network or enhancing current features. A reasonably accurate assessment of your current and future needs will be important for this purpose.
When expanding your phone system (or even evaluating or comparing phone systems), cost is obviously an important factor. There are differences in the way a key system will be expandable compared to say, a PBX system, which have a direct bearing on the cost; therefore, don’t ignore the future application (or potential for application) of the system when you are buying one.
Finding the right provider
A business phone system that supports the entire enterprise [or major units of it] will require installation, programming and training to staff by experienced and skilled professionals. This is critical for performance optimisation of the phone systems that you buy, as most end users are unlikely to know much about the advanced capabilities that the system comes with and how to use them.
Another important factor that you should consider is the maintenance and support facilities and capabilities that a dealer offers, since there is always the chance for a breakdown. Any disruption to the phone system has a direct impact on a business’s revenues and profits and therefore needs to be avoided [or at least remedied immediately].
Considering the above, we can say that choosing the right dealer when purchasing a business phone system is as important as purchasing the phone system itself. Even when you obtain quotations from qualified vendors from InspiredSuppliers’ comparison site, we suggest you evaluate the vendor thoroughly according to the following criteria:
If the dealer has adequate experience in installing and providing support to the business phone system that you are purchasing, you are in safe hands. Such dealers can help and guide you with the intricacies of installing the system and can also deal with any post-installation problems much better than less experienced dealers. Get the dealer to do a thorough survey and assess your requirements and work out a detailed installation plan.
Speaking to clients who have purchased phone systems from and got them installed by the dealer of your choice is an extremely effective way of gauging the strengths and capabilities of the dealer. Most customers would be more than willing to share their experiences with the dealer, which will help you to take a decision.
Ensure that the brand that the dealer is selling is among their top product lines. This indicates that the dealer is confident of the brand, probably has considerable experience with it and that they feel completely comfortable selling that line. Also, it is likely that they have more experienced service and support staff for that line. Specialization has its own value, particularly when it comes to enhancements and upgrades.
In the world of office equipment, service and maintenance is as important as the equipment itself. In fact, a significant part of revenues of office automation equipment dealers comes from these services. Therefore, get as much detail about the costs associated with regular maintenance and service support provided by the dealer. You may also want to check if the dealer has remote maintenance capabilities, which enables monitoring and tracking the installation and operation of the phone system from a remote location. Service engineers and maintenance technicians can then track your phone system by sitting at their own facility, thus providing enormous cost savings and almost instant solutions to any problems you may have.
Guarantees and Warranties
Typically, when you purchase an office phone system, you should be getting several guarantees and warranties including the manufacturer’s guarantee for the hardware. This generally varies from three to five years. Besides this, the dealers offer their service contract or Service Level Agreements (SLA), which is generally signed on an annual basis. The SLAs are supposed to indicate the scope of the services that will be provided, the time taken to respond to problems and the fees for the same. We recommend that you read through the SLA carefully [even though most dealers have standard agreements] and address any queries you may have (particularly, certain “what if” scenarios).
Total cost of ownership
When buying an office phone system, the key thing to look at is not just the price of a particular system but the Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) instead, which is the price you pay for the physical phones, software and service provided by the dealer. Purchase the phone system on the basis of the functions, features, expandability, upgradeability and service available with the phone system and not just the price of the phone system as that can leave you with minimal performance and service levels.
The cost of phone systems vary with the type of system you intend to purchase. For example:
- The price of key systems and hybrids will generally vary between £175-£500 per user depending on the type of features available.
- PBX systems may be available at about £400 per user, but typically, they cost over £500.
- KSU-less systems are the least expensive of the lot costing only between £65 and £110 per phone. While cost-wise, a KSU-less system might seem quite attractive, they are suitable for offices with very few employees. If your office needs a phone system to cater to more than 10 employees, then it is advisable to opt for one of the other types of phone systems.
Therefore, look for a phone system that can accommodate future upgrades without having to revamp your entire phone system. Making a choice based on a long-term view will serve to be immensely beneficial in the long term.
There are five key components that determine the price of every phone system:
The Base System
The base system is the central controlling device that operates the phone system. The price of the base system starts from £500 and can increase with additional features or enhancements.
The Actual Phone
These are the individual units we see on the desk of every individual which are connected to the base system. There are different types of phones that are available in the market which can cost from less than £50 while better service and sound quality features are available in phones priced in the range of £100-£150.
Phone System Add-ons
Phone system add-ons include applications such as: CTI, music on hold, auto attendant etc these feature can increase the cost of your phone system by thousands of pounds. Manufacturers or dealers may provide phone system deals as a package providing the base system, specific features and a specified number of phones.
Wiring and Installation
Wiring and installing the phone system depends on the type of existing wiring facilities in your office location. Price can vary depending on the extent of wiring required to get your phone system in action.
Service and Training
Training, programming and service contracts can increase the total cost to own the phone system.