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Things to consider when making a change to your phone system

Things to consider when making a change to your phone system

The relationship with the telephone seems to be an ever-changing experience.

Years ago, if you picked up a phone in an office setting, you always needed to "dial 9" to get an outside line.

Ask a younger worker today if you need to "dial 9" and you're likely to get a funny look -- unless they had a summer job working somewhere with a legacy Avaya phone system or similar.

Today, virtually every new phone system is some flavor of Voice over Internet Protocol, or VOIP.

VOIP systems operate over your "data network" and utilize your internet connection to carry your voice traffic. Due to this "data" nature of VOIP, many previously expensive features are now considered "normal". This includes things like picking up your phone and moving it anywhere in your office -- or even taking your phone home with you for a snow day. Yes, here in northern New Jersey where we operate our IT Support business, we have more than a handful of snowy days and winter weather to contend with. Snow day? No problem. Our VOIP service can handle it. 

There is a lot to consider when purchasing a phone system, but let's start with a few helpful questions:

How many phones do you have today (or do you need in a potential new system)?

How many people in your organization need a direct phone number, known in the industry as a Direct-inward-Dial, or DID.?

How many people are on the phone simultaneously?

How many aggregate minutes are you on the phone in any given month (systems are sold with various ways of packaging your minutes)? There is no such thing as "unlimited" minutes, however many resellers of VOIP systems will package a pool of minutes which are adequate for your use and are essentially "unlimited"

How many locations do you have -- for example, do you have multiple office which you want to establish as a single, virtual phone system?

Do you have an existing phone contract that you need to navigate? For example, many phone systems come with a multi-year contract. When you examine your contract, keep in mind that you may have multiple types of contracts which constitute your effective phone system. Here are a few which come to mind:

Hardware contracts.

Software licenses -- modern phones are really software. Some systems have separate licenses.

telecom circuits -- phones require a path for the call to complete!

support contract -- who do you call when you need help?

For each of these contracts there are a few things you need to know:

What exactly are you getting?

How much are you paying?

Are there any services or circumstances which are "not covered"?

When does your contract expire?

Does your contract auto-renew? Be careful with this one!!

Do you have any security or fire alarms which are currently connected to your phone system?

Do you want/need paging within your office?

Do you forward calls to individual cell phones?

If you do transfer calls to cell phones, would you need to "transfer back" to another extension. Transferring a call to a cell phone is not a big deal, but not all phone systems allow you to "transfer back".

Do you need a "receptionist" console -- you know -- those phones with a million buttons and lights. The technical term for those lights is "presence management". This is where you can tell who is on the phone or not.

Do you need call queing where you can place someone on hold and see how many people are in your "queue"? This is useful for technical and sales support types of deployments.

Do you want voice mails forwarded to your email inbox as audio (mp3/wav) attachments?

Do you want voice mails forwarded to you as text transcriptions -- these can be both surprisingly funny to read yet effective!

Do you want your desk phone and cell phone to ring simultaneously?

Do you want/need a do-not-disturb feature?

Do you want/need music on hold?

How many "automated attendants" (you know, those sometimes annoying "menus") do you need?

Do you have an "after-hours" answering service to route calls to after hours? For example, when navitend's IT Support clients in New Jersey, New York and the Philadelphia area need computer help, they call our main number and hit 1 for service. Depending on the day of week and time of day, that call is handled a little bit differently. During normal "business hours" (8-5 M-F) calls ring directly to our live-staffed service and help desk team. After hours and on holidays and weekends, calls ring to our third party answering service. This way, we have live answer 24/7 and only one thing for our clients to remember. Call our number, press 1. We also have the obligatory extensions like "sales" and "accounting", etc.

Do you have multiple organizations at your location? For example, do you need to be prompted to answer the phone with a different greeting because you house multiple companies? This is implemented typically in one of few ways -- either a distinctive ring, routed to a different set of team members, different data on the phone displays.

Do you need to integrate your phone calls with software such as CRM (Customer relationship management).

OK, that's enough already. As you can see, there are lots of questions to ask. Too often the questions stop at "how much per phone per month". While that is important, it's not the first or last question.

If you are in need of a phone system and need some help making an informed decision, give us a call at 973.448.0070 and we'll point you in the right direction.


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    Steve Van Ooteghem, The C12 Group in Houston, Texas
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    Lawrence Wolfin / Textol Systems, Inc.
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