How to Choose the Best Business Phone Systems

small business phone system used in VoIP phone systems in Canada

If you have decided to replace your business telephone system there are a number of factors to consider. Weighing the strengths & weaknesses of each potential solution against your unique business needs will set you up for success in the long run! The process will probably be similar to other business choices you have experienced, such as choosing CRM software or Accounting package that works well in your particular environment. For example, Salesforce may be the ideal CRM for one company while being completely inappropriate at another. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with the software – it’s just that there may be another solution that addresses some particular needs more closely. Following are some of the main factors you’ll want to consider when evaluating business phone systems.

Phone System Cost

Cost is one of the biggest factors for both small and often medium sized businesses. There are two types of expense that will occur with almost any new business phone system:

One-time, up-front equipment or setup cost

Typically you will be expected to pay for at least setup of the new system. This may take the form of pre-payment for first month, installation & setup fees, and/or paying for the equipment needed. With traditional on-premise systems this upfront cost is expected to be much higher than UCAAS (Unified Communications as a Service) AKA VoIP Phones or Cloud Phones. A round number for estimating the cost of an on-premise system with at least 10 phones is $600 per user.

Ongoing charges for lines and/or maintenance

Obviously you will be paying for ongoing service of connecting your phones to the PSTN (Publicly Switched Telephone Network). This expense might be similar to what you pay for office internet. With UCAAS systems the cost is usually bundled with the price you are paying per user. With on-premise systems, this expense is usually paid to the 3rd party provider you have chosen for phone lines. The cost for lines is typically higher when you need direct phone numbers for each extension, and may be lower if you only need 1 main office number.

Another ongoing expense to consider is maintenance. On-premise systems will need a technicians touch from time to time as your staff change, call flow needs to be adjusted, upgrades are required, or equipment malfunctions. You will often have the choice of either paying for an ongoing maintenance contract or simply paying ad-hoc when service is needed. There also may be internal IT support time required to make day to day changes. UCAAS systems include upgrades at the data center and typically include tech support.

Ease of MACs (Moves/Adds/Changes)

MACs will not be high priority if your business is quite static and doesn’t experience much transition. However, if you often adjust staffing and call flows due to seasonal fluctuations or changes in marketing campaigns this will be or high importance. One way to determine ease of administration would be to check a technical forum such as Sundance Tech Talk or Tek-Tips. Read the comments of a particular system you are evaluating to get a feel for it’s ease of administration. Another suggestion is to ask your vendors for a live demo. If possible, compare apples to apples for common admin tasks such as name changes, password resets, or company greeting changes.

Auto Attendants, IVRs, Call Trees

Auto Attendants, IVRs, & Call Trees are all synonymous for the same thing. This may not even be functionality you need and if not, don’t waste any time evaluating this particular feature! Otherwise, be sure you know if the new system can produce the call flow you need. Do you have professional recordings done through a company like COHM? If so, ensure the new business phone system allows for uploads of MP3 or WAV greetings. Would it be helpful if callers can speak an option rather than dialing it on their keypad? Do you need dial by name? Should some options transfer to external numbers? Ask about these unique functions on the systems you consider.

Call Center Functionality

Many business phone systems come with a basic form of call center. This is a way for “agents” to log in and out along with the ability to route callers based on queue types such as:

  • Ring all (rings all logged-in extensions in the queue)
  • Round Robin (tries all queue extensions one by one, picking up where the last call left off)
  • Cascading (always ring certain extensions first, followed by others)
  • Longest Idle (directs an incoming caller to the queue extension that has been idle for the longest amount of time)

You may not use call center features now, but there may be an opportunity to streamline employee efficiency and caller satisfaction by implementing simple call center abilities. More advanced call center software is often available that may include features such as Real Time Wallboards, Queue Callbacks, and Management Reports.

Remote Workers

If the ability to enable work-from-home would be beneficial, this will be an area to pay attention to. UCAAS systems almost always include the remote worker feature while it is usually more difficult with on-premise systems. On-premise systems with VoIP phones can normally accommodate remote workers with a few caveats such as: router port forwarding, VPN requirements, or web based apps. One thing to understand is that no matter which system you end up with, the internet at the remote locations where off-site phones will be used will entirely dictate the call quality. Ask your vendor for specifics if remote workers will be utilized.