In the market for a new business communications platform? There have been many changes in business voice communications within the last few years. For example, you no longer have to spend thousands of dollars in upfront capital expenditures (often $40k or more) for an onsite phone system and then still have to get monthly phone service from a traditional telecommunications service provider.
Traditionally, business phone systems required onsite equipment and connection through a local phone provider. In the past, there were not many choices for the service, and competition was also limited. Today, with the introduction of new innovations and technology, including the internet and the cloud, business communications is a whole new ballgame.
Key Things to Consider Before Upgrading or Changing Your Business Communications:
(1) Onsite vs. Cloud Hosted
In the past, all phone systems resided within a company's location and required onsite telecom switching equipment, which was typically stored in a small room or phone closet. The hardware was expensive to purchase upfront and additional features required additional hardware. Onsite phone systems were expensive and not easily scalable (and they still are today). As a company grew and needed new phone lines, additional equipment needed to be purchased. Maintenance was also required to keep the phone system running from time-to-time and also required to make changes or fix any issues. Today, there are cloud-hosted Unified Communications as a Service (UCaaS) options with no onsite equipment because the provider manages your phone switch remotely and takes care of all maintenance. Onsite equipment is minimal except for the phone handsets themselves. Another benefit of cloud-based hosted voice service is you typically get more features included without having to pay for additional equipment upfront or having to pay for upgrades to add new features. Features are driven by software updates which are easily pushed into the cloud network and not dependent on hardware upgrades.
Any conversation about a phone system would not be complete without talking budget. Onsite phone systems typically involve expensive upfront capital outlays for onsite equipment and ongoing maintenance costs. When planning for a new phone system you also need to consider all the costs associated with the service including upfront costs for equipment, monthly service costs, potential future upgrades, and ongoing maintenance costs. Cloud-hosted options solve the problem of having to outlay a large capital expense for onsite equipment. The upfront costs for cloud-hosted options typically only involve paying for the handsets themselves. There are no maintenance fees since paying for the monthly service includes ongoing maintenance. Another benefit of cloud hosted service is that the monthly costs per user are all-inclusive and predictable.
When looking at budget there are 4 main cost categories to consider:
(1) Monthly service costs
(2) Upfront expenses
(3) One-time Installation costs
(4) Ongoing upgrade and maintenance expenses.
Some providers list a monthly price of their service but fail to include the taxes, fees and other charges which can be as much as 20-40% of the cost of service or as high as $7 per user per month. Learn more about the cost of hidden fees here.
Almost every business wants all of the standard features you would expect for business phone service including unlimited local and long distance along with calling forwarding, call hold, call transfer, call waiting and caller ID. In addition to features, simple and predictable pricing is a must. More advanced features are available through a web portal and mobile app if your provider has a Unified Communications (UC) platform. For example, you can make and receive calls, check voicemail, review call history and change your answering rules all from your computer or mobile phone as if you were at your desk phone. One benefit of using a web portal or mobile app is that you can also maintain professional identity by calling customers back on your cell phone via a mobile app as if you are calling them back from the office. Most mobile apps allow you to set answering rules to determine when you want calls to ring to your mobile phone.
(4) Different Types of Users
It’s important to think about the various users and their needs. This would include all employees from different departments and functional areas as well as various office locations. There are a few that stand out as having specific needs including remote workers, call center or support teams, sales teams, the receptionist or administrative assistants. Do you have a mobile workforce, field sales or technical staff that spend time away from the office? If so, then having a phone system with a mobile app is imperative. A mobile app brings features directly to your mobile device as a full UC solution, including the ability to make and receive calls with the same identity as your office number. In addition, you will want your mobile workforce to have the ability to transfer an ongoing call from one device to another and continue the call without interruption. Do you have a Call Center or take support phone calls? Some providers offer Call Center functionality such as Automated Call Distribution (ACD), customized routing, call queues, and ring groups. Other providers do not offer Call Center applications or do but at a very steep price. Is it imperative that your receptionist can handle multiple calls at the same time, using a simple and integrated view of presence status, directory, list of calls, and speed dials?
(5) flexibility and scalability
Your business is a certain size now, but it doesn’t hurt to think about potential future growth. Is the new phone system able to grow with you or will that involve paying for additional onsite equipment? Onsite systems have a limit on the number of users based on the type of hardware purchased. Traditional phone systems must be upgraded in multiples of 4's, 8's, etc. Adding one more employee can cost a lot if you have reached your traditional system's capacity. Unlike traditional phone systems, with cloud-hosted UC, there are no system capacity issues. You can expand as you grow, without adding expensive equipment and only paying for active users.
(6) Porting existing phone numbers
Porting a phone number is the process of keeping your existing phone numbers by moving (i.e. porting) them from your current provider to a new provider which can take several business days. Almost all providers will allow you to bring your existing numbers with you, but it’s a good idea to confirm that you can port all of your existing numbers to a new provider. Some providers will be able to port some numbers but not others. The porting process involves coordination between your existing (soon to be former)provider to release phone numbers to your new provider.
Why be locked into a long-term contract? Your business communications provider should provide your company with quality support and service without locking you into a contract. Switching services is never fun, but preventing a customer from switching with long-term contracts is not a good situation either. A month-to-month contract only allows customers the option to easily to a new switch provider if your incumbent provider does not provide ongoing quality ongoing service and support.
If you’re in the market for new phone service now, you do not want to wait a long before you are installed, set-up and trained on your new phone system. Porting phone numbers can take several days and up to a few weeks depending on the provider and the number of phones. In addition, there is often installation of some onsite equipment even if it is only desk phones. Before making any decision, ensure your new provider can meet your timeline, which should be a few weeks at the most but not several months. It is key to communicate your timeline to any potential providers you are considering to see who can meet your company's timeline.
One thing to consider is the type of customer service and support will you receive after the new service is implemented. Regardless of your phone system, Onsite or Hosted, your provider should offer ongoing technical support and service before, during and after the sale. Almost all providers claim good support but the reality can be vastly different. The cost of support or rather the cost of poor customer support is an important and often overlooked factor when making any decision for new service. Companies often focus on the bottom-line price of service but end up paying much more in terms of wasted time and inefficient use of internal resources when dealing with poor customer service.
Time for a new business communications system? Find out how you can save thousands of dollars compared to traditional phone service with Level365 UCaaS platform that includes more features, information, functionality, and flexibility. Learn how we help small-to-medium companies improve and integrate communications.
Level365 offers a complete Unified Communications as a Service (UCaaS) solution with enterprise voice that is customized and scalable for your business. Our service seamlessly integrates communication among desk phones, computers, and mobile devices to support remote teams and provide flexibility for onsite staff. The UC platform extends beyond voice communications with Unified Messaging, Analytics, Presence, Chat/SMS, Cloud Faxing, CRM Integrations, and more.