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The telephone system of a business is akin to the nervous system of the human body. It receives information from the outside world and transmits it to the parts that matter. It also allows different parts of the organisation to transmit information back and forth. Just as the proper and efficient functioning of the nervous system is vital to the body so is the telephone system to the business. Outmoded or poorly functioning telecoms equipment can make interactions with customers and suppliers stilted and ineffective. It can also hamper internal communications, reducing your efficiency and your ability to react to change.

Choosing the right business phone system is therefore a matter which deserves careful consideration. This Buyers Guide aims to equip you with all the information you’ll need to pick the system and the supplier that will keep your business alert, attuned to your environment and ready to react to whatever the future brings.

Business Phone Systems: The Basics

Very simply, a business telephone system consists of two or more telephone handsets connected together in such a way that calls can be made to and received from outside phones and that calls can be made and transferred between internal phones.

Business telephone systems can also come with a whole host of other which we’ll get to soon enough. First it might be useful to know that modern telephone systems normally fall into one of two categories: PBX and VoIP. As all new systems are digital, the distinction between these two types of system is narrowing all the time, but we’ll look at each one separately anyway:

PBX Phone Systems

The direct descendent of the old style switchboard. A Private Branch Exchange is basically a box which connects together all your phones and manages the connections between them internally and the connections to the public phone system. When calling out, the PBX selects an available line for you. When receiving calls, the PBX distributes it to the appropriate internal user. It also houses the voicemail and manages certain other special features. With a PBX your phone system is powered and operates independently of any other hardware – each phone, fax machine, franking machine or PDQ has a cable running directly to the exchange.

VoIP Telephone Systems

This stands for Voice over Internet Protocol (also known as IP-PBX). VoIP systems operate over the internet rather than telephone lines. They utilise the same network within your organisation as the computers so the connections between your various phones are managed by software rather than physical switches (actually modern PBXs use software too – remember what we said about the distinctions narrowing?). Because you’re reliant on the internet for transmitting your calls you need a reliable ISP to avoid call drop-outs and maintain high quality audio.

Business Phone Systems: The Feature and Benefits

So far, so unexciting. At this point you may be asking why you should bother updating your clunky old phone system to a newer technology. The answer is that modern business phone systems offer a huge range of optional features – some of them impossible up until only a few years ago – here are some of them:

  • Hold music – an oldie but a goodie, why make your callers wait in silence? Especially when you can play recorded messages telling them about special offers or new products.
  • Voicemail – Individual voicemail, shared mailboxes and unified messaging which sends your voicemail to your email account so it can be accessed from a mobile device, are all available.
  • Auto-attendant – An automatic menu system that allows callers to direct their own calls from a series of options.
  • Call recording – Useful for training staff and for regulated businesses.
  • Auto-call forwarding – Have your calls directed to another number when you’re out of office.
  • Auto-call distribution – Set up users to receive calls by department, in hunt groups. Put single users in multiple groups or alone on a single direct dial number.
  • PA access – Make announcements on a public address system from your telephone.
  • Cordless – DECT handsets let you move around the site while retaining all the functionality of a desktop phone.
  • Call management software – Track number of calls made, talk time, dropped calls, transfers etc by group or by employee.
  • Wireless headsets – Improve employee comfort without inhibiting range of motion.
  • IVR or AA – An Interactive Voice Responder allows customers to access accounts, make payments, complete surveys or enter competitions on an automatic system.

Choosing a Business Phone System Supplier

The first step in gathering quotes and picking a system and supplier is working out exactly what you need. The number of phones in your system and the features that you can’t do without will largely determine which systems you have to choose from. Also, think of the future – if you anticipate growing as a company and taking on more employees then you’ll need a phone system that can grow with you. Knowing also how many phone lines connect you to the public system or how many network points you have installed will help suppliers work out how much they need to do in terms of installation.

Take your requirements to several suppliers and get a few options to consider. This will give you a good idea of the going rates and let you compare the positives and negatives of specific systems.

Obviously different suppliers will work with different manufacturers so this – and of course cost – will help determine which supplier you end up going with. But there are other factors to consider when comparing suppliers:

Installation – Will the supplier provide a comprehensive installation package including testing of the system and training?

Support – What level of technical support will be on offer? Will the supplier guarantee the functioning of the telephone system for a given period after installation? Is there a charge for support? Will upgrades to the system be included in the price or will there be an additional charge?

Maintenance – Does the price include regular servicing and maintenance?

Call packages – Does the telephone system supplier also offer call packages? If so, are they competitive and will taking them on as a telecoms supplier reduce the price of the system?

Mobiles – Does the telephone systems supplier also provide mobile phones? If so, how do their rates compare with your current supplier? Can you get a better deal by rolling them into the same package?

Reputation – Is the supplier established? Can they provide testimonials from previous clients? Are they solvent?

Following the above guidelines should help you find a telephone system that will ensure responsive, efficient and crystal clear communications – both internal and external. Taking the time to find the right system and the right supplier to match your present and future needs will reap dividends over many years to come. So don’t be a nervous wreck; take steps to upgrade your telecoms system today.

Want to know more about P A Communications & how we can help you?

Whether you’re looking for a new business telephone system installation or you’re looking to upgrade your current system then P A Communications can help you