Q&A: Small business phone systems

Not sure which of the many small business phone system options is right for you, or where to get the most bang for your buck? We sat down with Mark Pearcy from 4Com to find out what you should be thinking about to find the right phone system for your business.

Q. With such a wide range of communication options available on the market, from email to chatbots, why do you think there’s still a role for phone systems in the mix? 

“Phone systems have evolved so much with advanced features such as multi-lines, VOIP, call management, voicemail to email and call conferencing. 

“Nearly all new business phone systems use VOIP which run over an internet connection. Call quality is often better thanks to high-quality equipment and HD voice as standard. Call management software can integrate with your telephone system so that users can view real-time and historical call data, see the status of other extensions and securely record all telephone calls.

“With a new phone system, you can take your extension with you, whether you are working from home or are in a different country. For example, an employee working remotely can still make and receive calls and check voicemail, as they would if they were in the office.

“Lastly, the need for a traditional personal phone conversation has not gone away, this need hasn’t evolved so much. It can be enhanced with face to face conversation, however, the likes of emails and chatbots can still feel impersonal.”

Q. What are the main options available to small businesses in this space? Could you give an overview of how the various systems work? 

“There is a wide range of phone systems, which are suitable for different types of business.

“Sole traders are best positioned to benefit from softphones; software that runs on a computer or other device which can act as a phone without a physical handset. 

“If you’re looking for a physical system then the choice is between a legacy “on-site” system, which invariably means having a PBX installed in your office or a more modern cloud-based system. 

“The key differences here are in the features that these two different system types allow how they work. Cloud-based systems tend to have a wider feature set such as call recording, call reporting and more recently, video calling.

“We’ve seen video calling increase in popularity over the past few years with customers preferring a video-based support service over standard voice-only support.”

Q. What are the key considerations for startups looking to install a phone system from scratch, or for a small business looking to revamp their current setup? 

“There are so many features and capabilities I would suggest guarding against investment in overkill, in technology you do not need at this time. In terms of scalability, a lot of these initial unnecessary features can be bolted on at a later date.

“Many of the advanced features found in today’s phone systems are highly dependant on bandwidth, so it will help to have a survey on the broadband speeds available to you, plus ensure that your network circuits can prioritise voice traffic ahead of normal data (these are called Voice Approved Circuits).”

Q. How much would a business phone system cost to get up and running, and what are the on-going costs? What are the factors that influence how much an SME will need to invest? 

“It’s always incredibly difficult to answer how much a phone system costs as the range of possibilities is incredible; from a few pounds a month for a basic single softphone solution, through to more expensive but more user-friendly and feature-rich systems. 

“The good news for SMEs in the market at the moment is they should be able to avoid capital outlay, as the majority of companies don’t require an installation or setup fee.  

“When considering how much you’re willing to invest in a system, think about how your business communicates; are staff permanently at their desks or do they move around? Are they ever out of the office? It’s also worth considering legal requirements as some industries are required to record their calls. 

“Overall, it’s advisable to have a strong idea of both the types of hardware and software your company would benefit from in its phone system.”

Q. How can businesses get the most from their investment in a phone system? What other features should SMEs be looking out for? 

“The most important thing in terms of getting the most out of your phone system is to check that your provider will train you and your team on the new system. Coupled with this should be easily-accessible documentation so that if you forget how to do something, the information is close at hand.

“As business increasingly happens on the move, it’s worth looking for a system that includes mobile apps, which contribute toward creating what is referred to as a Unified Communications setup; i.e. all of your devices are part of one overarching system which makes communicating far more straightforward.

“It’s also worth looking for a system which includes video calling capability as we’ve seen first-hand the success companies have had making more personal connections, thanks to video. This functionality also allows for video support, which can improve the level of service you receive.

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