Watch out for unexpected costs, tricky contracts, and poor customer service
When you’re purchasing a new phone system, your research shouldn’t stop with your company’s list of must-have features and functionality. Although a VoIP solution has many benefits, whether you choose an on-premise solution that you install on your local network or subscribe to an Internet-based hosted voice service, you should be aware of potential ”gotchas“ that can increase costs and hinder the phone system’s performance. Phone system pitfalls most often involve budget, contract, and customer service issues.
(See this post to learn more about how to find the right phone system for your small business.)
Budget for the unexpected
This isn’t the first time you’ve heard this, but it bears repeating: The basic cost of the phone system or the monthly charge for the hosted service is only the beginning. If you’re choosing a premise-based solution, you need to budget for the cost of installation, which can vary depending on the complexity of the installation. You may incur installation costs with hosted voice, too, such as consulting fees for testing your network’s Voice-over-IP (VoIP) readiness.
Be sure that the initial estimate you get from a vendor accurately reflects the real costs of the solution, including consulting, installation, and network integration fees, as well as additional support charges and sales tax. Your vendor should provide an accurate per-line cost in the estimate.
The biggest budgeting gotcha, however, could be the unexpected equipment costs a new phone system can require. For many small businesses, this means installing new hardware such as a voice gateway to support the phone system as well as upgrading to a faster Internet connection, depending on the solution purchased and the design. These unplanned expenses can significantly impact a new phone system installation if they’re not worked into the budget from the beginning. They can become a Catch-22—too expensive for many small companies’ budgets but absolutely necessary to the performance of the new phone system.
Get everything in writing
Contracts can be tricky and unclear. You may believe that because your vendor made a promise, it’s binding; and it is, if it’s in the contract. Make sure everything you discuss with the vendor or provider is clearly stated in writing in a detailed and unambiguous contract. The contract should cover everything from the overall project plan and the timeframe for each phase of the installation to every item you’re being charged for. If you choose a hosted voice service, also check the contract for the provider’s service and contract termination policies as well as service level agreements (SLAs).
Costs can easily be hidden in a contract, especially for hosted services. Know which features are included in your basic service subscription and which ones are considered add-ons that cost extra. And make sure the contract clearly details all monthly usage charges. If your phone system is a premise-based solution, find out up front what the vendor expects the upgrade costs to be and add that to the contract, too, if possible.
Customer support is everything
In many ways, your choice of solution begins and ends with the vendor’s customer service. Is the salesperson answering your questions quickly and to your satisfaction? Do you believe your contact is being honest and helpful? Is the vendor facilitating your request to test different solutions before you commit to one? If the answer to any of these questions is ”no,” you may not receive post-sales support that’s much better than your pre-sales experience.
Test the vendor’s support with the same rigor you test a potential solution. Ask a lot of questions; bring the solution in house to try or request a few IP phones on a trial basis if you’re considering a hosted service. Once you have the test solution in your hands, make some calls to the vendor’s actual tech support reps. Don’t rely only on your sales contact to give you an accurate picture of the kind of support you can expect to receive after you sign the contract. Also, get several customer references from the vendor and follow up with them to find out about their experiences with the product or service as well as the tech support.
A phone system is integral to the success of your small business, and you need it to function flawlessly with the best possible performance while staying within your budget. Expecting the unexpected, ferreting out hidden costs, and vetting vendors with a ruthless eye toward customer service can help you sidestep common phone system gotchas.
What pitfalls did you encounter when searching for a new VoIP phone system?