As the 40-hour work week becomes a relic of the past, and employees find themselves increasingly working on-the-go, communicating with customers, suppliers, and colleagues from any location and device. While small businesses have unique needs than that of enterprise, all businesses can agree that the way they communicate with their clients has extended beyond the office phone to video, chat, SMS and other tools that clients both want and expect a phone system to provide. Cloud, VoIP, hybrid and on-site systems and applications have flooded the market making it even more confusing when knowing which phone system and features you really need, and which phone system will accommodate your needs as you grow.
In this blog, we set out to clearly answer four major questions that we hear business owners ask every day. We also want to leave you with a guide that breaks down major business phone systems and options to provide you with an easy to consume guide that will help you make an informed and educated decisions about how to enable your team to communicate better today and into the future.
4 Major Questions to Ask Before Upgrading, Changing or Buying a New Business Phone System
- What should my Business Phone System do in 2018?
- What communication options are available to me?
- What am I not asking that I should ask?
- Can I test drive before buying?
What should my Business Phone System do in 2018?
Business communication has changed dramatically over the last five years. Not only is it incumbent on you to provide reliable customer service, your team has to be able to service your clients on their timeline using the tools the customers prefer. Additionally, you are no longer reliant on expensive one-time PBX installations that last until the next major investment. You have choices and finding a system that is both flexible enough to meet the demands your client base while easy enough to implement and be maintained by your team is the ideal phone system of 2018.
If we had to boil it down to a quick set of features that most businesses look for in a phone system, it might look something like this:
- Flexible pricing
- Reliable customer service
- Ease of operation and setup that doesn’t require expensive hardware purchases
- Clear, reliable connections
- Advanced Apps for managing productivity and workload
- Video & audio conferencing solutions that allow for unlimited meetings for small groups of people.
- Screen share for video conferencing’
- CRM integration to communicate out of and track interactions
- Business analytics for evaluating call volume and routing, hold times and overall customers satisfaction
Thanks to the cloud, AI, IoT and advanced applications, businesses now have flexible options that were never available before. Popular business communication apps allow businesses to do more with the system they already have in place such as:
- Business productivity – customized applications that help teams enter and track data faster with greater efficiency.
- Business social networking – remaining connected to colleagues and coworkers through an entire project.
- Calendar/To-Do’s -- keep your projects organized.
- Communication & Collaboration tools – enabling teams to engage through talk, text, video and file share.
- Mobile Security – providing the balance between productivity and security to ensure your data remains safe.
Which communication options are available to me?
Gone are the days of chocolate or vanilla business phone options. Today, businesses have a myriad of options that include both cloud, VoIP, On-Premise and everything in between. To make it easier to understand, we will look at each type of system and provide rational for why a certain of business might consider each option.
Virtual Phone Systems
A virtual phone system is a system that connects the main business phone number to a mobile or home phone. It immediately allows businesses with employees to work from locations other than the company's office. It also gives remote workers access to a variety of phone system features that standalone mobile and home phones don't offer such as call-forwarding, applications, automated receptionists, voicemail, call screening and online faxing. Virtual phone systems are often preferred by companies with just a handful of employees and represent a significant savings to the business in overhead costs while providing some of the same rich-feature sets that come with a business phone system.
Cloud-based (Hosted) Phone System
With a cloud-based phone system, there is no PBX hardware or dial-tone service to purchase and maintain. Your entire phone system is hosted in the cloud via an internet connection provided by your service provider who also houses, maintains and updates all of the hardware and updates for you. The cloud allows growing businesses to easily add new lines and provides quick access to new features.
Businesses with fixed budgets and no IT staff to maintain the hardware find the cloud model ideal for quickly and easily establishing communication with their clients without the hassle of hardware and software to maintain. Best of all, you only pay for what you use, making it easy to add additional locations and remove those locations when it is no longer needed (i.e. seasonal employees).
But it is not all rainbows and roses. There are often minimum seat fees and high taxes that can accompany a hosted phone system. Be sure to read the next section on Questions Most Businesses Do Not Know to Ask.
On-premises / On-site Phone System
Last but not least, there is still a need for on-premises phone systems. The on-premise phone system is still the preferred phone system of large organizations that require high-security, several users licenses and access to in-house IT staff that can maintain these systems. While on-premises PBX (private branch exchange) run through traditional copper wiring, on-premises systems allow users to maintain their own call transferring, call directories and other features that can be less expensive when maintained on the mass scale.
Combinations of both on-premise and cloud phones features that connect to the main PBX are known as hybrid systems and integrate to cloud apps and mobile features without having to place the entire system in the cloud.
Finding the right phone system for your unique business needs begins with a clear understanding of the various type of phone system options available to you.
I think I know what I want, but what am I neglecting to ask?
If you read nothing else in this blog, be sure to read the next section. Bottom line, technology can be confusing. How technology is represented by different providers is equally confusing and knowing what considerations your probably have not thought of is gold (or priceless as they say in the Mastercard commercials).
Here is a list of items you should consider before you make a future decision about any business phone service.
- Understand your true cost of ownership
- Would a cloud-based system require you to buy additional equipment such as managed network switches, router and/or internet MPLS (Multiprotocol Label Switching) to prioritizes cloud speeds?
- Do you have the right equipment to regulate your cloud performance which can greatly impact the quality and reliability of your calls?
- Do you use different carrier services for phone, data, and internet? Carrier fees add up. Services such as SIP (Session Initiation Protocol) allow you to wrap up your carrier service into one low monthly bill. Ask your IT provider how you can consolidate all of your carrier services into one low monthly bill.
- What are there (hidden) fees associated with this service?
- Yes, there are fees for internet services. Government taxes imposed at the federal, state, local and municipal government layers are added to the bill. Certain charges such as E-911 and Access Recovery Charges applied by the FCC also add up.
- Different cloud phone providers access different fees. Some providers are more expensive than others. 8x8 and Nextiva publish their tax and fee schedule on the web. Other companies like Mitel, do not but may have fewer taxes than the others. Be sure to ask your provider before signing onto a lengthy contract.
- I’m a business, why should I not use the online trial version?
- The online trial offers do not consider your infrastructure and compatibility of voice software within your existing network. While the trial versions are attractive, they often giving you pricing at the entry level which adds up once you start adding users and feature-functionality. Most important, your phone system has to work. No one cares about money saved when you can’t communicate with the client. Be sure to discuss your existing infrastructure, carrier services, cloud performance, network compatibility and other desired features within a unified communication before you make the decision to trail buy.
- What type of business analytics will I need?
- Having insights and data behind who your callers are and the actions they take is an essential part of providing a consistent and reliable customer experience. Call analytics help you better understand your team’s ability to service your client and provide rich insights into staffing levels and customer experience.
Can I test drive the different phone options before making a buying decision?
You can when you work with the team at Blue Fox Group. We believe in options and we know that not every phone service and provider fit every organization. That is why we have created Blue Fox Communication Lab dedicated to helping businesses test and assess distinct types of phone systems and providers. We want you to make an informed decision about how your team communicates. After completing a short questionnaire to understand what you want your phone system to do, we allow your technicians, decision-makers and users into Communication Lab to test drive the features and business analytics tools in four well-known phone manufactures and services.
Here’s a quick list of phone manufacturers and features you will find in the Blue Fox Communication Lab:
|Manufacturer: Ring Central|
|Product: RingCentral Office|
- Tier-1 provider with their own network in Asia, Europe and US
- The mobile integration is excellent
- Unlimited SMS is very useful
- Unlimited video and audio meetings with screen sharing on desktop and mobile
|Product: Virtual Office|
- One of the world’s largest networks and data centers
- Comes with instant messaging and web conferencing, a mobile app, and integration with 3rd-party business applications
- Enterprise-level analytics of your organization's phone usage
- Recently was added to the Gartner Magic Quadrant
|Product: Mitel Connect|
- Neck and neck in features with 8x8
- Strong in the Mid-Market space
- Developing a “Cloud-Connector” that allows an on-premise PBX to migrate various features to the cloud without having to replace their current phone system
- R&D roadmap centered on creating a dynamic application library that can be used to create customized apps for existing users
- Provides private connections from Mitel Data Center to Customers Premise
|Product: Nextiva Office|
- Similar to RingCentral, Nextiva is a powerhouse in the business communication space
- Strong in business analytics that allows you to get immediate access to all your call activity data, and to see your business (employee performance, the impact of marketing
- activities, etc) through a clean dashboard view
- Ability to engage in instant conference calls and one-on-one HD video calls
- Instant Messaging and Chatrooms