Phone System Guide For Small Business
There are many phone systems that are available in 2016 for small businesses. They all have different technologies and come in a variety of configurations that offer different features and benefits. In this article we give a brief outline of the different types available and then offer a comparison of the top systems that are available on the market to make your buying choice easier, this is done on price, ease of set-up and functionality.
How to find the right system
Before looking for a provider, you should think about your communication needs. It is a good idea to make a list of “need to have” and “good to have”. Take this list with you when meeting prospective suppliers. This will help you avoid getting swayed by salesmen who will sales talk you into getting features and services you don’t need.
Here is a guide to make your list.
- How many lines and extensions do you need?
- How many users do you have?
- How do you see your business in the next 6 months? Next year?
- What other equipment do you need to use?
- What Features do you need?
- How often will you use these features?
- Do your employee’s work from home or are they always mobile?
When you finally narrow down your choices, you should ask for a demo so that you will know how easy it is to use.
Your organization will continue to change whether you like it or not so best be prepared for it, you need a network that will change with you. It’s always good to be able to add more features if necessary and be able to add more or less handsets without the need to call out expensive technicians. Consider the number and locations of handsets that you might need. Other than obvious locations such as cubicles and managers’ offices, consider other areas such as conference rooms and other areas where employees may need to make or receive calls.
Which Companies are the best?
That all depends what you are looking for. For a service with a low monthly cost, full features and easily extendable the virtual PBX companies are a great choice. Some people however prefer to stick to traditional analogue or digital phone systems for stability and savings in the long term.
How big should it be?
The size of your system can be determined by counting the number of users and locations that need a phone. Where do you need to put the phones?
You also need to determine how many calls will be coming into and leaving the office at the same time. The total of incoming and outgoing calls at any given moment is the number of lines that you need. Accounting for about 25% growth is the ideal number. If your configuration is too low, your clients will get a busy signal which a big No No for customer service.
These are the traditional phone systems, these are a great option if a business only needs a very small system for example one line and 2 extensions. Only basic functions are offered for example call transfer and call on hold. If you want to transfer the number to your mobile, you need to do this at the phone line service provider and can usually be done as an added extra. The good thing about the analogues is once they are paid for and installed there are no monthly charges.
Take note that modern analogue phone systems have the ability to have digital extension phones connected to them. An example of this system is the Panasonic KXT-E624.
This system is becoming more and more popular with small businesses since packages and functionality are becoming cheaper and confidence with the internet is growing. The technology of a virtual PBX system is based in the cloud and controlled via a central login system. You connect an IP phone to the internet and you are connected. Small businesses like the flexibility they get from these systems, for example, being able to work seamlessly between the home and the office and having a central portal to control all remote workers. Wherever you are you can appear to be calling from one central office with the same work number and identity. Many additional functionalities are available such as call conferencing, virtual receptionist and music on hold.
Some telephone systems such as VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) can link directly to your computer equipped with special software. This type uses the Internet to send and receive calls. This kind of system is used in Call Centres but even small businesses can benefit from it. It is very affordable in terms of equipment and call charges. You can also use it with other programs and software that includes:
- Monitoring calls and telephone usage
- Cost accounting
- Dial contacts automatically
- Tracking time spent with customers
- Pulling up customer information during a call
If you will be using fax machines, credit card terminals and modems, you should ask your provider if you can link the system to your other equipment. Flexibility is critical when you are starting your business. Go for a system that gives you the opportunity to add more features as you need them.
There are many excellent brands that offer a wide range of small business telephone systems to choose from. Each brand boasts of a number of features but they all have the basic features in common.
Cisco – Best For Value
Cisco leads the Small Business PBX market with its Unified Communications 300 Series, providing a single, all-in-one network solution. When we say all-in-one, we mean it supports voice, SIP Trunking and wireless communication. It has voicemail capabilities and automated attendant. It has built-in routing and switching. It is easy to install and is flexible enough to grow with you.
Although we say that it’s better than a PBX, this Cisco Series still retains the capabilities of a PBX plus other great features and added benefits. By using this series, you lower your communication expenses because you can take advantage of VoIP. You can use wireless communication and a web-based management system for easy telephone changes. You can also choose from a wide range of models. Above all, you get a good quality system from one of the major players in the industry.
Avaya – Best For mobile workers
Avaya’s leading system for small business is called IP Office. Like Cisco’s, it is also flexible enough to grow with your company. It offers technical flexibility meaning it uses digital, analog, IP or any combination of these. It also has mobility features and is compatible with popular collaboration applications.
You can choose from 3 different types – Essential, Preferred or Advanced Edition. Essential is the most affordable of the three and has basic capabilities. Preferred has 10x more voice messaging capacity than Essential. The Advanced Edition offers all these and more.
For the Preferred and Advanced Editions, users can take advantage of the following features for different types of user.
- Power User allows everyone in the company to communicate via IP phone, cell phone or laptop. All the messages are received in one inbox and the user is automatically notified if an important message comes in.
- Mobile Worker makes any mobile device an extension of your office phone. It includes call handling features and speed dials.
- Office Worker is designed for employees who work inside the building. Employees can use a single, easy-to-use interface to manage conferences or check who’s on the phone, who’s away or who’s busy.
- Remote teleworkers integrate seamlessly. With this platform, they can have the same functionality you have in the office. They simply connect their phones to the company’s system via a virtual private network.
- Receptionists take high volume calls each day. Help them manage their calls from their PCs by streamlining call handling with easy point and click controls. Incoming calls and call status are displayed on the screen. Your one receptionist can monitor all extensions and integrate with your database software.
- The Customer Service Supervisor can generate reports to monitor sales activities, marketing campaigns and agent productivity.
- The Customer Service Agent can clearly see information about the calls such as calls on hold, in progress or lost. The number of agents logged in and out is also recorded.
Talkswitch – Best For ease of Installation
Talkswitch is the original small business telephone systems provider. They provide the original affordable all-in-one PBX phone systems and IP PBX for small businesses.
TalkSwitch phones offer voicemail, auto attendants, dial-by-name directory and ring groups. These also come with sophisticated features that were once only available for a big PBX. They can also handle VoIP. You can choose from traditional networks, IP or standard analog phones.
For employees on the go, TalkSwitch offers Connect Anywhere. You can add your cell phone or any telephone as extensions of your office system so you can hire talented teleworkers and save money at the same time.
TalkSwitch system is so easy to install that you can even do it yourself. Moving desk phones around the office is made easier.
As with the other two platforms, TalkSwitch also offers a flexible architecture that allows your platform to evolve with your company.
To make life easier we provide a free quote service for small businesses, we will match the right suppliers to your needs. Simply fill out the above form to receive 3 separate no obligation quotations.
Best Set Up
There is no one set-up that fits all businesses when it comes to telephone systems. Each company is unique and has its own unique set of requirements. Here are a few things to consider before setting up your telephone system.
How do you want to present your company?
Do you want to be seen as a larger company than what you really are? Do you want to be perceived as a friendly business? Depending on your customer base, some customers feel more comfortable dealing with a larger company. In some situations, customers want a higher level of service that is often associated with a smaller company. You can use your phone system to establish your company’s identity.
Factors that affect a client’s perception of your company
Voice of the Company
You can choose from several options when deciding who the voice of the company should be. This voice will be the first voice your callers will hear. Candidates include the founder of the company, a well-known employee or even a professional voiceover. A professional recording for a few messages will cost around £60. The question really is how you want to project your company to your clients.
If you have clients that come to our establishment on a regular basis, a professional voiceover isn’t going to make a difference. On the other hand, if your clients never see your office, you can benefit from a professional voiceover.
You want to provide your customers with a set of options to make their calls more efficient. This will also make the process easier for both parties. This is the reason why you are setting up a phone system – to make life easier for everyone. Almost all business VoIP providers give the option of dialing by name directory. You can also enable callers to contact different departments such as sales, marketing, support, billing, customer service, etc. You can also separate them into new or existing customers. The more options you give, the larger your company will appear. On the flip side, more options may irritate a caller who wants to speak to a real person right away so better include that in your options.
When you call your bank or any customer service department, you will usually hear the message, “This call is being recorded for quality control purposes.” You can use this if you really aim to use the call for quality control or training purposes. Don’t use call recording if you really don’t need it. Call recording is useful for resolving issues but it also uses up a lot of resources so be smart.
Important: Keep mindful of your objectives at all times
There will be many options to choose from. There are many things to consider when choosing the set of features for your phone but it is important to always be mindful of your objectives. Don’t lose sight of what’s important. Don’t be swayed by salesmen who are not thinking about your long-term goals.
You want to answer an important phone call with a live person as quickly as possible because the longer it takes to be answered, the more irritated your caller will be. You can lose a sale or worse, a customer if this always happens. You will be known as a company with poor customer service and you can lose your business.
In general, answering 80% of calls with a real person within 30 seconds of the call is considered good. Abandoned calls should be under 7% of your total calls.
Personal and business smart phones can now be an extension of your company phone. Most VoIP providers have apps that work with Android and iOS phones. If you have a mobile workforce, they can now be empowered to answer customer calls or call customers using their personal smartphones.
You can also control the level of access to your staff with the use of call menu options. You can group incoming calls into high priority and low priority. You can then set rules for the high priority calls. You can have several extensions ring, forward them to several numbers when unanswered or go directly to employee smartphones.
You will be able to get the cheapest prices from a KSU or KSU-less system. But, these systems only offer you a limited number of features, especially the KSU-less system. It is a very basic system and is good only if you have very basic needs and have no plans for growth in the immediate future.
A Key telephone system is ideal for a small business that has up to 40 employees. It has a central unit called a KSU which allows users to have functionality beyond a regular phone.
If you are sure that you will be expanding or growing your business constantly, a PBX is a good choice. This type is above the other 2 systems mentioned. It is used by businesses that have more than 40 employees. A PBX also has a central unit where all phone lines are tied into. It also has more advanced features than a KSU.
VoIP uses high-speed Internet in order to send data and then complete the message through a standard phone line. This kind of system works well for any size of company, big or small.
Hybrid systems are a combination of 2 systems such as a VoIP/PBX. You can also combine a KSU and a PBX system. If you have an existing telephone system, it is best to ask your supplier if you can upgrade it by combining another system. Your supplier will calculate the cost according to your specifications.
Keep in mind that phone systems for small businesses will cost higher as you add more advanced features and phones. Factor in the cost of installation especially for Key and PBX because these two require professional installation.
Now that you have an idea how much each type of system costs, let’s move on to your budget system. Aside from the system itself, you also have to take other costs into consideration when planning your office phone system.
The costs for each call and phone for a KSU and KSU-less system depends on your supplier. You can buy phones from a shop or online. If you have an existing telephone, you can ask the supplier if you can use it with their system. Usually, if your phone is analogue and the system is analogue, you can very well use it. The tricky part comes if your system is digital. It is much harder to install and find compatible phones.
A lot of businesses are turning to VoIP or IP PBX because of their call rates. They are very cheap compared to a traditional phone call made over a traditional phone line however, since VoIP uses the Internet to send and receive calls, you really need is a good Broadband connection. A managed Broadband will cost you around £22 to £35 per month depending on your provider. It is a good idea to get your Broadband and VoIP from the same supplier because they can prioritise your phone calls over the Internet so you always get smooth, good quality calls.
You should also budget for telephone numbers. Each number will cost you around £2.40 with VAT already included. As for UK call prices, it depends. Some calls are free while some cost 1p to 4.8p per minute. These are for landline calls. Directory enquiries are usually 50-60p each. Calls to mobile devices cost 10-12p.
International calls are charged on a per minute basis as well. The VoIP supplier will usually provide you with packages. Each package will contain a group of countries with the same call rates. You can expect to be charged 1.50p to 2.40p per minute. Some countries even go as high as 12p per minute. But, if you compare these calls to a regular phone line, they are still more affordable.
You can also get SMS text packages. They are usually packaged in 100, 500 and 1000 text messages. The prices are £9, £44 and £86 respectively.
Other charges include European geographical numbers, USA freephone numbers, call recordings, inbound call barring, call me back buttons, etc. Be sure to ask only for what you need so that you can stay within your monthly budget.
As for the hardware such as phones, with VoIP, you only need a minimal amount of hardware as you can use your computer to make and receive calls. You only need a good headset with mic. You can also use a traditional phone but ask your supplier about it.
Some businesses change phone systems because expanding their existing telephone system proves to be too expensive. Moving to another kind of system is much more affordable. If you know you will be expanding or moving, a PBX or VoIP systems are the best choices for you. PBX can be expensive though but it is great for a large company.
On the other hand, VoIP is a much cheaper option as there are no physical infrastructures that need to be moved or expanded. Everything exists on a virtual world. If you need to expand your VoIP, just tell your supplier and in just a few minutes, you can have your extra numbers and users.
VoIP is portable. You can even move it from one country to another without a significant amount of cost.
Additional Costs and Maintenance
I’ve already mentioned the other costs involved in a business telephone system but perhaps one of the most important is repairs and maintenance. You need to have a contingency plan for your phone system should you encounter problems such as a power failure, a down Internet connection or a natural catastrophe. What happens when the power goes out? Will you still be able to make calls? How long will the system be back up and running if your Internet goes down? These are just some questions that you need to ask your provider.
You should also ask about after sales support and if they have continuous support. Will they be able to fix your system remotely or do they need to send an engineer? If so, how long before he gets deployed? What happens while your system is down?
Generally, getting a repairs and maintenance contract at the beginning will guarantee you peace of mind. You will also avoid paying huge fees in the future should your system need repairs.