Making a decision on a new business phone system can be intimidating and frustrating. Luckily, there are support groups. Or, at least, other people who have already experienced the headaches you’re going through now. And for your convenience, two buyer advice sites have recently compiled phone system buying tips and insight based on the experiences of actual people who have actually bought phone systems. Here are the highlights of what they shared, with our perspective injected based on working with thousands of customers moving to SIP and Unified Communications.
A business phone system is more than just a dial tone. Modern phone connections can be integrated throughout your organization in innovative ways that accelerate productivity and slash costs. But when you’re in the middle of the decision making process, it’s often hard to see the forest for the trees. That’s when it’s time to lean on the experience of others and skip the frustrations so many have already conquered.
BuyerZone tips from buyers:
For over 20 years BuyerZone has been helping businesses make buying decisions by providing insider tips typically only visible with hindsight. Recently it published a list of tips from real business buyers who have been through the chore of evaluating and choosing a phone system. In all nine tips were shared, here’s a summary of what they said.
Research research research:
Talk to experts, read reviews, ask people who have been through the implementation process and, ideally, have worked with a variety of providers. Ask your peers at companies like yours what they use, how they came to their decision, and how their experience has been with the implementation, use, and support of their chosen system. Shop around and ask the salespeople you are dealing with a giant pile of questions.
See it in action:
Request a customized demo or ask for a trial account. You’ll be more confident in your ultimate decision if you’ve seen the system work with your environment. There are a huge number of factors within the structure of your network that can impact the performance of your phone system.
Know your usage patterns. More than likely, they aren’t going to change significantly just because your users have new features available. When flashy new features are proposed, one buyer suggests, “Ask why that feature would be helpful.”
Not all phone systems are created equal. Ensure the features you need are included in the service you choose. That goes for support too. We’ve heard enough support horror stories to know that good support can be hard to find. Understand what level of support you can expect going in.
That caution includes agreements. Review all contracts with a lawyer and/or a fine tooth comb. And no one should have to say this, but, don’t do business with companies that only communicate through email – they might not be legitimate.
Software Advice, advice:
Every year VoIP and telecom comparison company, Software Advice, deals with hundreds of small business buyers looking for VoIP solutions, and they recently published an analysis of these interactions.
Here’s a look at what their data revealed about current phone system buyer trends, and what you need to know to make sure the system you choose won’t be obsolete by the time you pay your second phone bill.
Reliability is king:
When asked what they were looking for in a VoIP phone system, buyers rank reliability the highest selection criterion. The ability to scale a system with company growth was judged second most important, typically looking for unlimited channel capacity and easy/instant activation of service and features. Third most important is, not surprisingly, the amount of cost reduction the new system will bring.
The cloud is so hot right now:
Almost universally, buyers recognize the need for PBX functionality as the backbone of their business phone system. But, many organizations don’t want to make room for one their premises, so cloud-hosted PBXes with auto attendant and conference calling applications are all the rage (like OnSIP, DigiPBX, and Plivo to name a few).
Buyers aren’t experts:
If you’re feeling overwhelmed by the technical aspects of a phone system, you’re not alone. Only 6% of buyers in the report worked as IT professionals. So the learning curve is steep for most.
Bring it all together:
When people are implementing phone systems, they’re going beyond phone lines. Unified Communications platforms that offer features like unified messaging and mobility through remote access greatly extend accessibility and productivity. If you’re overhauling your phone system, it is important to look at your entire communications strategy and how it all integrates to deliver a seamless connection. When you do implement a Unified Communications platform, you will want to have a trustworthy SIP trunking service connecting out to the PSTN. One of our partners, Cudatel, tells us that when a SIP trunk is unreliable, their customers hear a lot of complaints about dropped calls, one way audio, no touch tone functionality, long connection delays, and garbled voices.
What customers tell us:
Working with our customers in a support capacity gives us great insights into which phone systems work well in which situations.
One big lesson we’ve learned is any endpoint you consider connecting through SIP trunking should be SIP RFC compliant. We have seen an increasing number of business have tremendous success with open-source switching platforms, achieving tremendous flexibility, scalability, and cost performance.
When it comes to phone systems built specifically for SIP trunking, customers tell us they find FreeSWITCH to be very secure and highly reliable. While FreeSWITCH usually requires command line interface, there are graphical interfaces like FusionPBX, that can make the platform more accessible to those with little programing experience. There are many helpful guides online and the community is alive with questions and answers if you want to explore FreeSWITCH as an option.
Asterisk is another platform our users regularly employ. It’s been around since 1999 and the community is also strong and supportive. The system as a whole was built for technology that pre-dates SIP trunking, so it works well with SIP as well as PRI and T1 lines. Asterisk is also typically configured through a command line interface that can take time and knowledge to setup properly, but there are graphical interfaces available.
A popular Asterisk GUI Flowroute customers with low-volume and few lines is FreePBX. Setup is simplified and requires less expertise, but it’s important to make sure you’ve gone through the entire process. One caution I will throw you is that the ease of setup leads some users to believe there is less work required than actually is, so key configurations are sometimes missed. A great resource is this detailed configuration guide recently published by WhichVoIP that walks through the steps required to setup Asterisk with Flowroute.
If, however, your organization lacks the resources to program a system at the code level, a more plug-and-play platform is a better fit. 3CX is a great platform, especially if you want/need a solution that works in a Windows environment. They have excellent support and ample documentation. The main noticeable difference compared to the open source platforms above is that 3CX is a proprietary solution and license costs would need to be considered rather than donations to open source projects.
These two buyer surveys and our advice from Flowroute are the tip of the proverbial iceberg of buyer intelligence at your fingertips. In the hyper connected world of today, it’s fast and simple to ask around for advice. For every pain point you feel in the phone system buying process, there are countless others who have already found a remedy. And always keep an open mind. As you educate yourself, you might open your eyes to new options, configurations, and criteria that deliver unexpected value to your entire organization.