The world ofdigital phone systems from traditional manufacturers have been rendered obsolete and are quickly being replaced by converged voice and data solutions.
While the more sophisticated feature sets of IP-based phone systems can greatly improve worker productivity, streamline real time communications, and enhance customer interaction, they can also be complex and time consuming to install and manage.
Even with the proliferation of self-proclaimed "user friendly" open source-based solutions, most small businesses still choose to work with a trusted "phone guy," also known as value added resellers, system integrators, and PBX dealers.
Further confusing the situation, from the perspective of a small business owner, is the fact that, due to the nature of converging voice and data technologies, the "phone guys" and "computer guys," who used to be two completely different, unrelated "guys," are now morphing into a unified entity. This means many legacy phone system experts have started to dabble in building office data networks while IT whizzes are beginning to try their hand in the world of enterprise voice.
As smart as those on either side of the voice/data may be, learning the nuts and bolts of a completely different technology, at least to the point of being able to provide professional-grade business voice and IT services can be a daunting task.
And that's why it's more important than ever for small businesses to make sure they perform the proper due diligence, research their options, interview multiple dealers, and select the right phone system partner that can meet their unique needs in an expedient and cost-effective manner.
Here's a list of tips and advice on choosing the right IP phone system dealer to make your transition to converged IP communications easier!:
1. Have you worked with the same dealer for years?
If so, then that's because you likely trust them and enjoy working with them. But, if you're transitioning to a converged IP communication platform, then its wise to investigate whether your dealer has transitioned their skill sets, knowledge, and product and service line up to VoIP technology. Installing and managing a VoIP PBX requires different skills and presents unique challenges compared to a legacy key system or TDM PBX (technology that has been around for 30+ years!).
2. Interview multiple dealers and compare multiple quotes and offerings.
Even if you fully trust your existing dealer, make sure to perform the proper due diligence in interviewing other dealers and receiving other quotes. Knowledge is power, and so is having choices. Use online quote services from companies like Buyerzone.com, NextRing, and OfficeVoIPSolutions to quickly and easily search for and receive competitive quotes from other dealers sources.
3. Is your dealer officially "authorized" by the IP PBX manufacturer?
It can take hundreds of man hours for a phone system dealer to complete the necessary certification training to become officially authorized, a sign that the dealer is committed for the long haul to selling and supporting that particular manufacturer's product.
4. How many installations has the dealer performaned for the specific phone system brand and model?
The more, the merrier. You don't want to be their guinea pig.
5. Check each dealer's references and talk to their existing customers.
Of course, most dealer's will only provide references of happy customers. But, it's still worth the effort contacting at least two or three existing customers, as they're often all too happy to provide unbiased and honest feedback of their experience with the buying, installation, and ongoing maintenance processes through their dealer.
6. Negotiate payment options.
Don't pay for the product and services in full until after all of the defined work is complete.
7. Performance Guarantees.
What if the phone system doesn't work as advertised or lacks a key feature you were promised? Make sure your dealer offers a return policy (usually within the first 30 days).
8. Installation timelines.
Installing a new phone system in a place of business can be disruptive and often unforeseen surprised and challenges arise in the process. Make sure you dealer properly sets expectations and remains on-site and available until you're able to conduct normal business as usual.
9. Ongoing customer service, system maintenance, and product warranties.
Does your dealer offer an SLA (service level agreement) that defines their duties, responsibilities, obligations, and response times if something goes wrong with your phone system? What happens if you have a defective part? What if you conduct business on the weekends, are they available to provide service during non-business hours?
10. Phone service and WAN connectivity.
Make sure you dealer is able to provide, or at least consult with you on, the various options for connecting your phone system to outside world. It used to be that the decision was limited to POTS analog lines from the local phone company or partial/full T1 line. Now, with the introduction with SIP trunks, there's more to consider in selecting the best phone service local, long distance, international, conference calling, DIDs (direct inward dial), and 800 numbers.
11. Moves, adds, changes (MACs).
Make sure you dealer has good answers in regard to common situations like hiring new employees, moving offices or opening a branch office, changing your auto attendant greeting, etc. Who's responsibility is it to perform the duty, in what time frame, and at what cost?
12. User Training.
Not all phone systems are created equal. Checking voicemail on your new VoIP phone system will likely require a completely new sequence of steps and key key-press options. Make sure you dealer is committed to training you and your entire staff in how to perform both everyday and more advanced user functions.
Of course, there are likely many other specific requirements, feature necessities, and service needs to consider, given your small business's unique profile. But, the points listed above will help you make better decisions when selecting a trusted dealer to fulfill your VoIP phone system project.