Features, cost, and vendor relationship should all factor into your purchasing decision
If there’s one piece of technology no business can manage without, it’s a professional-grade phone system. The right phone system can improve employee productivity and customer service—both of which can have a positive impact on your bottom line. If you choose an IP-based phone system, you’re also laying the foundation for additional advanced technologies such as unified communications (UC). When shopping for a phone system, you should consider your company’s requirements (size, future growth, number of locations, functionality required), factors that impact the final cost, and what you need from your vendor relationship.
Before you can dig deeper into these considerations, you must make two important decisions. First, do you want a Voice-over-IP (VoIP) system that runs over the Internet or an analog system that delivers calls over the public switched telephone network (PSTN)? More and more companies are choosing VoIP, because it often offers more bang for your small business buck when it comes to advanced features. Second, do you want an on-premise phone system, such as the Cisco Unified Communications 300 Series or the Cisco Smart Business Communications System, or a hosted VoIP service, such as Cisco Hosted Small Business Communications?
Both on-premise and hosted VoIP solutions have their benefits. For most small businesses, the choice often boils down to whether or not they have the resources and staff to maintain and manage the phone system in-house.
What features do you need?
Whether on-premise or hosted, you must decide what features your small business needs from a phone system. Every company has different requirements, of course, but all phone systems tend to provide the same set of basic features. These include incoming and outgoing call management capabilities, monitoring features such as caller ID, voicemail, and basic conferencing.
Products can be differentiated—and tailored more closely to your company’s requirements—by their advanced features. Depending on your needs, you might look for additional customer service features, such as an automated call attendant or call center capabilities, or for integration with desktop computers or mobile devices. Many phone systems also provide integration between voice-enabled devices and other business applications, such as customer relationship management (CRM) or email.
For many small businesses, ease of implementation can be the deciding factor when it comes to choosing phone system capabilities. If you have advanced requirements or you want to customize your voice system, you might consider working with a local Cisco reseller that specializes in voice systems to help implement your phone solution.
How much is it going to cost?
Many small companies must choose their phone system based on the cost. It’s important to compare costs not only between different vendors’ offerings but also between hosted and on-premise solutions. The advantage of a hosted voice service is that it can offer advanced features at a lower price than comparable on-premise solutions. Either type of solution might require you to upgrade your network infrastructure to handle additional voice traffic or, if you choose VoIP, a faster connection to the Internet. These unexpected expenses can quickly add to the cost.
Of course, the base price for the solution isn’t the only cost to factor in. When pricing solutions, be sure to also consider the cost of any new hardware you need to buy to support the phone system, the vendor’s implementation charges, plus the budget required for internal or external management of the phone system.
There are ongoing costs, too, depending on your company’s calling plans. You may have monthly long-distance charges to factor in, as well as local charges for each user on the phone system. Advanced features can also incur additional monthly charges, particularly if you opt for a hosted solution.
What do you need from your vendor?
Because so many phone system offerings are essentially identical, making the right choice might come down to picking the vendor that best suits your business. Check out each vendor’s support policies, pricing models, and future road map for each solution you’re considering. Ask for customer references to find out if the vendors on your short list actually deliver the type of customer service you need. And make sure the vendor puts everything you’ve discussed in the contract and gives you a project plan that clearly details what you can expect from the implementation.
Purchasing a phone system is one of the most important investments you’ll make as a small business. Make sure you consider all of these requirements before you choose a new voice solution.