Frequently Asked Questions
It’s possible to reduce your operating costs and increase profitability with the right phone system. Here’s how?
- Automated attendants and voice messaging systems can be used to free staff from directing calls and answering commonly asked questions. ·
- Substantial savings on toll charges can be realized using networking capabilities, including sending voice calls over a data network – a solution known as “Voice over IP” (Internet Protocol).
- Call centers and wireless office phone solutions can help ensure that staff will never miss a call or an opportunity.
- A reliable system will minimize service calls and eliminate lost business due to down time.
Save Staff Time and Frustration
Getting the task done right is always easier with the right tools. Today’s time saving phone features help staff to be more effective and less frustrated?
- Voice mail can be like having a personal assistant. Calls are answered and accurate messages taken – 24 hours a day. This extends the hours your business is available to your customers, allowing you to compete in an ever-increasing global marketplace.
- Solutions like calling line identification and paging help your staff answer customer calls more efficiently while providing the personal touch that will encourage repeat business.
- You can improve communication among branch offices through toll-free Internet phoning and data file sharing.
All these features are an advantage to your business, but shouldn’t be overwhelming to manage. Look for a system that is easy to use and can be virtually self-taught by your employees. Some phones have display windows providing step-by-step directions on how to use a feature while you’re on the phone, further reducing the need for intensive training.
Enhance your company’s image
Competing with other small- to medium-sized business or going up against bigger companies has a lot to do with the impression you make on potential new customers. Professionalism and efficiency must mix with the personal touch that gives you an edge. Your phone system is often your potential customer’s introduction to your company. Well-handled calls can mean business, sales, a reputation for top-notch service, or cinching a deal. With today’s affordable phone systems, designed specifically to meet the needs of small- to medium-sized business, the playing field has been leveled like never before. Your customers will be impressed with efficiently directed calls, a quick response (even from the field), and 24-hour phone service.
Grow your business
Growth is possible when you stay on top of your day-to-day business and free your staff from repetitive and time-consuming tasks. Use their time more efficiently by having them look for new business instead. Giving them the infrastructure to work efficiently is half the battle and your phone system is crucial. From automating simple tasks like a receptionist’s duties to creating your first formal call center to handling real-time orders and service, today’s business phone systems offer entrepreneurs the choices and flexibility they need to drive new opportunities and expand their business.
Define Your Needs
First consider your current phone use?
- The number of phone sets and users.
- Types of users – ranging from users with minimal phone set usage requirements and low call volumes to busy call answering positions with comprehensive feature needs.
- Number and length of incoming and outgoing calls per day – both long distance and local.
- Most frequently called locations.
- Peak time for phone use.
- Frequently used features. · Most common frustrations with the existing system. · Consider phone line needs for voice, fax and computers.
Next, think about future requirements?
- What changes or increases in phone use might occur over the next year or two? · Are you adding branch offices?
- Talk to staff about their needs and highest priority phone features.
- Ask customers and suppliers for input.
Review what you have learned and identify?
- Number of sets you’ll need including special requirements like voice conferencing units in meeting rooms and wireless solutions to support warehouse activities.
- High priority voice features and capabilities you’ll want available on each set.
- The amount of growth capacity you will need to support your business plan.
- The availability of additional applications to support changing or evolving business needs.
Your phone system is your company’s lifeline – you can’t afford to miss calls or lose data while your system is down. Ask your vendor to discuss the reliability of their solution – and back it up with a guarantee. Trouble-free use of your system, day in and day out, should be a minimum expectation.
Ease of use
A huge measure of the frustration staff experience is directly related to the technology they must face in their day-to-day work lives. A phone system can have all the bells and whistles but won’t save time or money if it’s too confusing to fully use. Nor do you want to spend valuable time in lengthy training sessions. Look for features such as a display window that provides instructions while you are using your phone. Programmable buttons let each user customize their phone to their needs. Life can be made even simpler with phones offering high quality built-in speakers and headset jacks. Some systems have a labeling feature allowing for quick, professional looking labels to quickly accommodate new staff and office changes.
With today’s phone systems, you can have big company features with a small company budget. The right phone system should provide a measurable return on your investment. As well as simplifying phone use, special software can save you money by tracking billable activities and generating reports on incoming and outgoing calls. Some systems even have tools to reduce the need for external system maintenance. You don’t want your phone system to become obsolete in a year or two either. Make sure you protect your investment by buying a system that can be easily upgraded as your needs change or new features become available.
A flexible phone system will protect your investment as your business grows or changes. Flexibility allows you to easily make system modifications, as you need them. Add a call center for a product launch or try a wireless solution that allows the key members of your team to remain available as they move around your premises. Flexibility can also include the capability to quickly and easily change the way your system is programmed. With some phone systems, programming can be done using a PC in your office. This cuts down the need for costly programming administration and allows the users of the system to make changes to optimize available features.
Easily upgraded for growth
You want to be able to take advantage of today’s quickly changing technology without scrapping your whole system. As your business grows you want a phone system that can grow with you. Look for a phone system with an open architecture that allows for easy upgrading of both hardware and software.
When selecting your phone system, application availability is a key consideration. Some popular applications to consider ?
- Voice messaging – answering systems designed to receive, store and forward voice messages. Some provide integrated auto attendant capability (see below).
- Automated attendants – can answer incoming calls with a company greeting, or play a list of options to the caller so that a caller can reach the appropriate person, department, mailbox, leave a message, select an alternate language, look for a mailbox in the company directory, or reach your company receptionist. This application can also be programmed to answer the telephone after a set number of rings, when either a live receptionist is unavailable, or the call has come in after hours.
- Call centers – useful wherever there are several people answering similar kinds of telephone calls and call volumes peak times are greater than your staff resources. Depending on call volumes, call center teams may be informal with only a few of your employees appointed to answer calls or very formal and have many staff designated to the task of call management. Call centers, big and small, can use automatic call distributors to route calls to the appropriate agent or operator.
- Integrated voice and data solutions – converged solutions integrate the networks that provide voice and data transmissions. Convergence offers significant benefits, including operational simplicity and optimized applications performance.
- Computer telephony integration (CTI) – combines the capabilities of the phone system with the power of personal computer applications. For example, calling line identification combined with a CTI application would permit a member of your team to see a customer’s file and call record on their screen as their phone rings. The customer could then be greeted by name and offered an enhanced level of personalized service.
- Fax messaging – incoming faxes can be stored electronically in a user’s voice mailbox just as a voice message is stored. This allows easy access and retrieval of faxed material, improved privacy and control and reduces the number of fax machines and lines required in an office.
- Unified messaging – the integration of voice messaging, fax and e-mail into a single “in-box” on a PC to speed communications and message handling.
- Enhanced features such as video conferencing, auto call directing, and workplace wireless are also important in future growth.
Voice messaging systems are designed to take messages but can do so much more?
- Auto attendant directs incoming calls by providing callers with a list of options, which can include reaching an individual, a mailbox, or a receptionist. Auto attendant can answer calls when the receptionist is busy or provide information like office hours when the business is closed.
- Visual message waiting indication can be provided locally on your phone set or you can be notified of a message at another location or on your cell phone.
- Voice messages can be seamlessly exchanged with other users at different networked sites or broadcast messages can be sent to specific departments or the entire company to keep your employees informed of business issues or highlights.
- Unified messaging lets you manage voice, e-mail and faxes from your computer or laptop, locally or remotely.
When there are several people answering similar kinds of telephone calls (at an order desk or reservations office, in a customer service department or technical support center) a call center is the answer. Call centers systematically hold calls in a queue and efficiently route them to your staff. A call center can organize and manage call distribution for as few as two agents to as many as 100+. Systems may have flexible routing and can be customized. For example, you can send VIP callers to special agents automatically, by-passing any hold time or unnecessary prompting for them to have their account information available. Before a call is transferred to an agent, you can have a recorded announcement about a special promotion or new product. (Research has shown that up to 34 per cent of callers will ask about a product or service advertised while on hold.) A call center will help you answer more calls with the same number of staff, cut long ringing and hold time, increase revenues, reduce costs and improve customer service. Ask about call center reporting software as well to help you manage the peaks and troughs in call traffic.
Integrated voice and data solutions
In the future, all voice and data traffic will run on a unified network because of the cost savings involved. The benefits of the future can easily be realized today with an integrated voice and data solution. Reduced operating costs, improved customer service with advanced applications and simplified local or remote network management are all possible today. Integrating the potentially numerous pieces of voice and data communications equipment into a single, fully integrated communications platform, can mean faster response times and a lower overall total cost of ownership. When considering an integrated solution, look for a system with the flexibility to change with your needs and a vendor with longevity, a proven record in the industry and a loyal customer base.
Enhanced features and capabilities
You can choose from a range of enhanced features such as? · Unified messaging ? combine your voice messages, e-mail and faxes into one “in-box” on your PC.
- Computer telephony integration – combine the intelligence of your phone system with the power of your PC to enable applications like “point and click dialing” or automatic file retrieval based on your customers incoming calling line identification.
- Branch to branch networking – to enable four-digit dialing between locations, the ability to transfer voice mail messages to anyone on the network or the option to have voice traffic carried over an existing data network.
How will my system be planned?
After you have defined your needs, the next step is to match these needs with the right phone system for your business. Look for a vendor who takes the time to understand your business, short- and long-term goals, your business’ competition, the requirements of staff and customers and your budget. Be sure to discuss both existing and anticipated business needs, services, technologies and security requirements. The vendor should suggest a few alternatives for your consideration and clearly explain all the pros and cons of each system.
How easy is it to upgrade and add new features and capabilities?
It’s key to be able to add capacity as your business grows. Look for a flexible, modular system that can be easily expanded or modified. Some systems offer pre-installed applications that can be instantly enabled with a simple key code.
Ask if there is a free trial period for new applications. If the system is linked to your computer network, additional features can be made available in minutes by clicking on an icon on your computer screen. Also ask if the system has remote management capabilities and supports open standards.
How are service, maintenance and training handled?
Commonly, service, maintenance and training are part of the contract when you buy or lease a phone system. Questions to consider or ask a potential vendor ?
- Will you need service available for 40 hours a week or 24/7? What about emergencies? What constitutes an emergency?
- Does the service contract have performance guarantees indicating response time to trouble calls?
- Can potential problems be solved remotely or is a site visit required?
- Are there price guarantees for service contract renewals?
- What guarantees are there in case of dissatisfaction with service?
- What is the maintenance schedule?
- Does the system have features that identify potential problems before service is impacted?
You will need some training on the operation, maintenance and management of the system. As well, the vendor should provide reference manuals and user guides. Confirm that there are no other manuals you will need to buy, and that you can reproduce the materials for internal use.
How reliable is the system?
Reliability is critical in today’s fast-paced, technology-based marketplace. Ask about the reliability of any system you are considering and get the guarantees you need to ensure the system will do what the vendor claims it will.
How can I protect my investment?
If you want to upgrade to a new system, ask about what components of your old system can be incorporated, such as phone sets and cabling. Can I sell back my old system?The best way to future-proof your investment is to ensure your new phone system can be easily upgraded. You want a flexible, building block system so that you can grow and fine-tune it to respond to changes in your business. Consider integrated voice and data solutions and get a jump on your competition. Also check about what guarantees are offered. Some companies offer up to a one-year customer satisfaction guarantee, which takes the risk out of your purchase.
What is the system’s capacity?
Ask about the number of ports – the number of incoming lines and telephone sets that the system can support. Ask about what’s involved to expand the number of ports and at what cost. Ensure that the system you might purchase does not hinder the growth of your business.
What safeguards are in place in the event of a power failure?
Ask about an uninterruptable power supply (UPS) so that your system continues to handle calls during a power outage. Most systems can be connected to a battery to give you back-up power ranging from a few minutes to a few hours. Ensure that programming data and call logs will not be lost in the event of a power failure.
How much space does the system take up?
Even the most sophisticated small- and medium-sized business phone systems will fit into the telephone closet in a typical office building. Some systems can even fit onto a table or be wall-mounted and take up as little space as a small filing cabinet.
What kinds of cost controls are in place?
Nobody likes surprises when the numbers come in. Ask these questions –
- Does the contract state that the vendor reserves the right to change the unit list prices?
- Is advance notification of price increases required giving you time to find another supplier?
- Is there a minimum annual long distance quota that must be met to receive a discount?
- If you need to reschedule or cancel delivery, what notification is required and will there be penalty charges?
What is the vendor’s background?
Look for a vendor who has been in business for a number of years and has an established reputation ?
- Ask for a client reference list.
- Call clients with similar needs to your own and check their satisfaction with the system and service.
- Find out if the seller offers training and after-installation support.
- Are there branch offices or affiliates in other geographic areas where you intend to grow?
- Is there a commitment to new product development and continuous improvement of service? How will they communicate information about these developments and enhancements?
You can buy the system, or lease to purchase. Costs for phone systems include the cost for the phone sets, central cabinet, and wiring and installation, training, programming, service and future modifications. Think about financing options and determine if your vendor can “bundle” other services to offer you a complete solution.
What should I expect to pay to get started?
Prices can vary widely based on the size of your system and the applications you choose to add. Remember that lower up-front costs are no bargain if they mean ongoing repair and service fees or if upgrades mean purchasing a whole new system. Expect to pay between US $100 to $400 on average per user for the core system, plus installation and service fees. In addition to the hardware, there are additional costs for voice, video and Internet service. Voice and video services are usually about US $20- to $50-per-month, while Internet access may cost US $30 per month and upward depending on the speed of the service.
How much do service contracts cost?
Service contract pricing varies widely depending on the access to service (normal business hours versus24/7) and the guarantees of how quickly problems will be resolved. We may also offer extended warranty or defined upgrade paths to suppo0rt your ongoing needs. Compare our rates from several solutions and take a few moments to think about the costs to your business of having your phone systemdown during business hours.