What to look for when selecting a business phone service
Your business has supplies to negotiate, teams to synchronize, and customers to call. You can undoubtedly use messaging apps or email, but having phone service is still the best way to keep a network of decision-makers within arm’s reach.
An always-on phone service allows you to optimize your communications in a way that no other communications service can. You also gain a measure of accessibility, privacy, and credibility. No matter how many different forms of communication you have, big suppliers and large customers will always look to see if you have an actual phone number on your website.
You have a choice to make, however. Once you decide on a business phone system, you must determine which type of system works best for your business. Here are the key questions you should ask to determine which system to use.
- Will your business benefit more from a Voice Over Internet Protocol (VoIP) subscription or a traditional landline?
- Do I have the infrastructure to host the hardware for a full phone system, or should I take advantage of virtual phones that do not require such equipment?
- If I prefer VoIP service, should I host it in-house or go into the cloud?
- Which business phone service is best for my business based on my customer base, employee count, budget, geography, and industry?
Should I Go VoIP?
The first decision to make is whether to use a traditional landline system or a VoIP system. Here are some of the most important differences between the two:
- Sound transmission – Traditional landlines use copper cabling while VoIP systems use an Internet connection and transmit sound as data.
- Costs – Purchasing and maintaining the hardware for a landline system has a fairly high cost when compared to the flat monthly fee that most VoIP service providers charge.
- Reliability – Landline telephone systems have been in place for literally centuries, and once it is in place, it is quite reliable and stable. VoIP systems are only as reliable as your Internet connection.
- Range – You must be on-site to use a landline system to make and receive calls. With VoIP apps, you can make and receive calls on a VoIP system from anywhere with an Internet connection.
- Modifications – Landlines are relatively difficult to modify, and they take much longer than VoIP systems, which can be modified easily from a digital portal.
- Upgrades – Landline systems must be physically upgraded, which can be quite time-consuming and cause hiccups in any infrastructure. VoIP systems can be upgraded automatically.
The Right Phone System for Your Business
Savvy business owners take stock of their business needs before committing to a type of phone system. Here are some of the most important metrics that you may want to consider:
- Current business activities – Do your current business activities depend on phone calls, or could you run your business with a minimum of phone communications?
- Future growth – Do you foresee a rise or fall in phone communications over the next five years as your business grows?
- Sales – Do you have a sales team?
- Integration – Does your software infrastructure work best with an integrated phone system or no?
- Marketing – Do you foresee having to engage more customers to expand your business?
Once you ask the right questions about your business, you can move on to essential factors related to the phone system itself.
Perhaps the best advice when choosing a phone system is to prioritize reliability above cost regardless of your budget. However, the price will usually be a mitigating factor. All else being equal, VoIP systems are less expensive than landline systems across the board.
The cost of running a VoIP system is much lower, and the setup takes much less time and money as well. Long-distance calls are also much less expensive than calling on a traditional landline. It is also becoming less expensive to incorporate a hybrid system into a standing landline system, so even if you have a traditional landline in place, you can switch to VoIP for less money than ever.
Having reliable communication is the centerpiece of the relationship between your business and your customers. Additionally, excellent communication saves you costs on the supply side as well. Business continuity is a must, not a plus. If you do not have a reliable phone system in place, you risk losing the goodwill of your current customer base.
Traditional landline systems are more reliable than VoIP systems because of the physical infrastructure. That said, Internet connections in metropolitan areas are virtually as good as copper wiring. If your business is located in a rural area, you may have a more difficult decision to make. As you vet providers, please pay special attention to their failsafe policies, backup strategy, and risk management procedures.
The proprietary intellectual property and sensitive customer information that you communicate over your phone system must be protected. Both traditional landlines and VoIP systems can be hacked, so don’t think that you have an automatic advantage here going either way. The critical thing to remember about security is that it is a group effort. Your internal resources must be protected, and the system you choose should have its guard locks in place.
To ensure the safety of your information and that of your customers, partner only with service providers who can prove they have redundancy architecture, authentication measures, and actual encryption in place.
The more adaptable your communications, the better your company will perform. VoIP systems have greater mobility than landline systems because of the ubiquity of the Internet, and this mobility will only grow as the Internet’s digital infrastructure expands. However, companies should be aware that some customers and partners may not have digital communications integrated into their systems. It is no use being mobile if that mobility does not reach to your target audience.
However, VoIP systems allow your employees to connect in ways that traditional landlines simply cannot. Real-time collaboration with visual components is much easier to implement on digital systems, especially if you have staff in different time zones.
Collaboration means business-to-self, business-to-business, and business-to-customer. VoIP systems have a lot more to offer than traditional landlines here, which tend to top out at three-way calling unless you are willing to pay a hefty premium.
Does your business have operational agility, whether you are growing or downsizing? Ideally, you are never paying for resources that you are not using, but you also can improve your communications along with your company.
In most cases, VoIP systems can be reconfigured in less time, preserving the goodwill of your customer base, who are unlikely to forgive an unexplained drop in communications even for a good reason.
The simple art of making and receiving phone calls shouldn’t require a tremendous amount of customer service, but it does! The bigger your business gets, the more that can go wrong. The service provider that you choose should guarantee an appropriate level of customer service. Keep in mind that this customer service should extend beyond business hours if you expect your employees to collaborate over business phone lines outside of regular working hours.
VoIP systems win the feature set argument hands down. For the most part, traditional landline systems have stopped evolving. As business communications moving forward, you need a system that is future-proofed with features that will connect you to suppliers, vendors, and customers in fast and convenient ways.
If your communications infrastructure includes video conferencing, email, CRM, or ERP, a VoIP service may be easier to integrate. The best systems will come to you expecting this kind of integration, so you should ideally have a plug-and-play experience after the initial installation. However, you may not need this feature set to communicate with your target audience, depending on your industry. Don’t count traditional landlines out yet. Be sure to vet your provider in great detail before deciding on a phone service provider. This decision is paramount to crafting a successful communication strategy.
Choosing a business phone system is one of the most important decisions that you will make. It is a long-term decision, so take all of the time that you need to vet all of your choices. With the outline above as a guidepost, you should be able to make an informed decision about the type of phone service that you need.
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