Part 4: Deciding What’s Best for your Business
(If you missed out on the previous installment here is the link to Part 3: Telephone System Features)
When you’re armed with a stronger understanding of how each telephone system differs, it’s easier to decide which type is ideal for your office. A small startup that needs to control costs may look to VoIP because it requires minimal hardware investment, and it offers features like voicemail, conference calling and call-forwarding. Other small businesses may prefer the long-term savings of a premise-based PBX system. In either case, it’s always a good practice to figure the cost of ownership over a three, five and seven-year period, so you have a better understanding of long-term expenses. Remember to factor in the cost of monthly service, calling plans, long distance, toll-free number usage, upgrades, expansion, maintenance and technical support.
There are two schools of thought on monthly pricing. One is to charge by the line, the other is to charge by the phone, or “per seat.” There’s no hard-and-fast recommendation when it comes to choosing between these pricing models. If you’re charged per line, you’re charged by the number of simultaneous calls you need to be able to take. This is the most familiar approach, because it’s the traditional method used by POTS and PBX systems. The provider doesn’t care how many phones you have connected; it’s charging by the number of lines you have (i.e. the concurrent-calls capacity). Most Hosted PBX VoIP solutions charge per user (seat, phone, etc.). Therefore each phone represents a line that can make and receive calls. Usually, a line to phone ratio of 1:1 is overkill, so be cautious entering into this type of arrangement with more than five or six phones, unless you’re absolutely certain you need the capability of handling simultaneous calls for each and every phone.
As you determine which pricing method is best for your situation, be certain your vendor is fully disclosing all of your monthly charges, and provides a sample monthly bill. Don’t rule out plans that charge by the minute. You may find that a good per-minute price saves much more than some so-called “unlimited” calling plans. Certainly, there are situations where an unlimited calling plan is best, but don’t assume it’s going to be cheaper. Remember: it’s the right combination of hardware and service that will ultimately create the value you receive for the dollars you spend.
Contract Fine Print
Before signing any agreement, pay close attention to contract termination fees. The cost of terminating a long-term contract with a VoIP provider may bear heavily on the overall cost-effectiveness of the transition. Also be sure to inquire about the customer-support options of each provider. Access to tech support may be well worth the extra financial investment. Make sure you have a clear understanding of any limits contained in “unlimited” calling plans.
Selecting a telephone solution that meets your business’ current and future needs is a powerful tool for setting yourself apart from your competition. Creating an enjoyable, low-frustration phone experience for your customers builds loyalty and gives your business a professional edge. Remember that the key to picking the right system is finding the optimum combination of telephone hardware and service plan that is dynamic enough for your business now, and for where it will be in five years. Take time to understand the technology; make careful, informed decisions; don’t lock yourself into a long-term service plan without fully understanding the commitment; and when in doubt, ask questions. Your telephone system is an integral part of your business, and it’s well worth your while to choose one that will benefit your practice now and in the long run.