With mobile phones and video calling platforms at our disposal, is there really a need for a business telephone system anymore?
In short, yes there is and the best one depends on your business and its needs. However this would be a very short and rather unhelpful article if we just left it there wouldn’t it? It is true that businesses have so many options when it comes to keeping in contact with their customers, but the fact of the matter is, people prefer to talk to an actual human. Therefore, business telephone systems will always be the king of business communication – unless we develop the capability to project holograms into people’s homes, then there may be the possibility of a dethroning!
However, the days of futuristic communication technology that is capable of sending a Star Wars style projection of a customer service advisor into someone’s living room are still very much ahead of us. Until then, we must make the most of the communication options we already have and with the ISDN and PSTN switch-off looming on the horizon, there has never been a better time to evaluate your business phone system.
So, what are the different types of business phone systems and how can you pick the right one for your business? Without further ado, let the Game of Phones, begin!
Question: in your everyday life, how do you prefer to contact a company? We would be pretty confident in presuming you use the telephone, right? According to a Pega research report, 62% of customers prefer to contact businesses via phone. It makes sense. Compared with AI, instant messaging and email, it is easier to talk to a person. You can explain exactly what you mean and take the time to go into your query, request or issue in detail to secure a solution. There’s no confusion due to not being able to effectively express what you need to an AI bot or through a written message. However, as we all know, this isn’t always the case with businesses. Nowadays, some companies are choosing to limit their telephone services and instead direct customers to their website or other forms of communication. This can be incredibly frustrating and cause customers to start looking elsewhere for a better customer experience.
Furthermore, not possessing an effective business telephone system can have an impact on your business, before a potential customer has even walked through the door. We all know that whenever we need a product or service, our main research tool is Google. But did you know that not having a landline number can be a red flag to some clients. Only offering a mobile number or not offering a number at all can decrease trust in your brand and persuade a potential client to look elsewhere. Furthermore, a study by Google found that 70% of mobile searchers will call a business that has included a number in an ad. Not only are you portraying your company as trustworthy by displaying a business telephone number, you are going to increase your chances of converting your online and social advertising.
So, if you want to provide the best experience for your customers and keep your communication simple and streamlined, you need a business telephone system.
If you’re a smaller business, you may be wondering if you can get away with simply using a residential phone line. If you only have a small team, in theory you could, but be prepared to miss out on business due to being unable to keep up with demand when customers want to get hold of you or your communication process becoming messy due to relying on a simple residential phone line. The reason why office phone systems exist is to offer more capabilities than a residential phone, in order to for businesses keep up with call volume and connect with their customers and team effectively.
A residential phone line is not a system. Think about it: if you’re on your home phone, talking to your friend and Great Aunt Ethel starts ringing you, the line is going to be engaged. She can’t get through to you and she’s going to get more and more frustrated with being met with the voicemail message or the incessant drone of the engaged tone. In time, Great Aunt Ethel will probably forgive you for being on the phone to someone else when she wanted to get hold of you to moan about another family member. However, if we put this into a business context, your customers would not be so forgiving if they are trying to contact you and are unable to get through, as you’re using a residential line that can only cope with one call at a time. Not only is this going to cause a lot of frustration, it isn’t going to paint a particularly professional picture of your business or persuade customers to trust your service.
However, with a business phone system, you have the capability to divert, route and queue customer calls, so nobody is left hanging on the telephone for, what feels like, an eternity. If you’re on the phone to one client and another rings in, you have a choice of how you can deal with that call. You could divert it to another available team member. For calls intended for a specific person, you can route calls to their phone using an extension number. Only a small amount of people available to answer the phone? You can set up a call queue, where customers are notified of their number in the queue and know that their call has been picked up and that they will be able to speak to someone shortly. Streamlined communication, professional impression to your customers and increased trust in your business – lots of big ticks there!
What are the benefits of a business telephone system for your team? Well, not only are they going to avoid being shouted at by frustrated customers who have had trouble getting through to your business (no one wants that) their internal communication becomes a lot easier with an office telephone system. Employees will have the ability to ring a short digit number to communicate with another team member. Less time spent searching for team members within the building or going over to their desk to ask them a simple question, means more time can be invested productively. It also avoids the issue of people yelling questions or messages to each other across the workspace – which is as annoying, as it is inconvenient.
Now we’ve established the general benefits, let’s get down to the specifics and what you need to be looking out for when investing in a business phone system.
Essentially, the capabilities you should be looking for in a business phone system depend on your needs. Every business is different in terms of size, sector and services, so naturally what they need from their business communication tools will be different. For example, a small electrical manufacturing company with less than 20 phone-using employees and around 70 clients, is going to have different needs to a multi-national pharmaceutical company with offices around the world, thousands of phone-using employees and hundreds of clients.
However, regardless of the size and type of business you have, there are a few key factors to consider when choosing your business phone system. With a lot of business phone products and services on the market, how can you be sure you’re getting the best solution for your buck? The first key piece of advice is to do your research and shop around. Spending a lot of money on your system doesn’t guarantee a great solution, so make sure you are including these key factors in your research and when the time comes to make a decision on the best system for you.
Your budget is the most important element when it comes to choosing your solution. Before you set about looking at different options, you need to analyse how much you can realistically spend on your business phone system. Once you’ve decided on a figure, it’s time to shop around and compare. Don’t be afraid to challenge providers on their deal – they are fighting for your custom after all. When researching different deals and packages, don’t be afraid to ask about their features. Make sure you know exactly what is included within your package and what is going to cost you extra then compare this information with what your business needs. If you don’t know what your business needs from your office phone system, this is going to end in a very unpleasant scenario for you.
Picture this: you get off the phone with a lovely sales advisor. You have finally nailed down a business phone system contract that seems perfect for you. All is well with the world. So you thought. A few weeks later, you sit down to review the invoice for this month’s business phone use. You realise that you didn’t factor in the amount of international calls your business makes, which has caused quite a large extra expense on your bill. After contemplating the bill, you realise that this system, probably isn’t for you and you need to change it. But, what about exit fees? And how long can you stay in the contract before you can leave? You quickly run to the filing cabinet and pull out the contract terms. As you squint to make your way through the small print, you learn that you’re in a minimum contract term of 2 years, with an extortionate exit fee should you choose to leave before then. The lessons learned here are:
At the end of the day, your office phone system is the voice of your business. Not only should it be effective, it should be customised for your business. For example, automated greetings and hold music may sound frivolous, but if clients are going to have to wait for a little while to speak to someone, it could mean the difference between them waiting to speak to you and hanging up. Let’s face it, no one wants to sit their listening to a dial tone for 15 minutes. Whereas hearing a friendly voice that thanks them for the call and asks them to hold for a little while and their wait being accompanied by a little bit of lounge jazz (or your preferred hold music genre) is just a little more pleasant, isn’t it?
When it comes to technical aspects, scalability is a big factor that you should consider. Your business isn’t probably isn’t going to stay this size forever. Even if you’re a small business that has no plans to scale to a large enterprise, chances are you’re probably going to take on more staff in the future and having that ability to easily scale up your phone system is always going to be beneficial.
Don’t have a receptionist? Auto-attendant and call queuing will always be useful features, as it replaces a live operator, routes your calls to the correct person via a menu that allows the caller to dial a specific person within your team and places them in a virtual queue. The auto-attendant can then keep your caller updated with their position in the queue and, with some systems, even update them on the estimated wait time.
Furthermore call diverting and setting up hunting groups means that your customers can always get through to another person, even when someone is already on the phone. Allowing the call to be passed through to an available person, means your callers are not sitting waiting for a response for a long period of time and less likely to give up and ring somebody else. Another key factor to include in your system is the ability to place phones on do not disturb. This means that your receptionist or team member who has taken a call, will know if the person a customer needs to speak to is unavailable and can progress the call to the next action, e.g. taking a message, diverting to somebody else or organising a call-back. In the new hybrid-working world we now live in, call-forwarding is a really important aspect of a good office phone system. It will provide the ability to forward calls to mobiles or desk phones outside of the office – keeping your team and your customers connected.
Call recording and logging is also really important to improve your customer experience. Analysing call logs can help you to track call times, length and the caller’s ID, as well as whether the call was taken or missed, which can help you to improve your customers’ experience. It can also keep track of who is handling a particular customer’s queries, so your team is kept informed and knows which team member to put that particular customer through to. Call logs and recording are also really useful resources for employee training.
You may be forgiven for thinking that all phone systems essentially do the same job, but the truth is that not all office phone systems are created equal.
There are two main types of business phone system:
On-premises PBX (Private Branch Exchange) relies on traditional PSTN or ISDN telephone lines and offers a solution for companies who prefer to have their phone system located within their business rather than in an external premises. If you have an onsite IT team that can keep on top of issues when they arise and are capable of troubleshooting problems with your system, then you’ll have an easier time when things go wrong. If you don’t, then you will have to invest in an external team who can come out to fix an issue, which can be costly in both time and money. The system will need to be installed by a professional, which will incur an expensive initial investment, but you won’t have to worry about figuring out the system yourself, as training is usually supplied by the provider. Although the initial cost can be expensive, ownership of your server can reduce costs overtime.
However, you’re probably thinking: ‘Didn’t you just say ISDN and PSTN lines are being switched off?’ Yes they are, in 2025 (which isn’t far off) and this poses some issues for businesses who are running solely on traditional telephony. Similarly, if you’re looking into buying a traditional PBX office phone line, you’re likely to run into some issues in the not-so-distant future. Firstly, providers are starting to curb the sales of PBX telephony solutions, as they will be no longer viable in the next couple of years. Secondly, after the switch-off, businesses who rely on PSTN and ISDN telephone solutions will need to adapt or change them to an internet-based system.
So, what’s the alternative? Cloud-based systems use the internet to send/receive calls, rather than traditional ISDN/PSTN phone lines and cover a lot of the key features we outlined in the previous section. Compared with traditional telephony, cloud-based handsets are easy to install, as they are a plug and play system that simply needs to be connected to the internet and doesn’t require specialist knowledge or professional installation. Cloud-based telephony, is (in most cases) much cheaper than traditional PBX and is instantly scalable – you just simply add the user onto your subscription and purchase another handset. Unlike PBX, there is no need to install another phone line. As cloud-based office phone systems use the internet, it is a perfect system for those who are implementing hybrid working as it means your team can use the same number and utilise the same system from anywhere. You can also connect your telephone solution to platforms, such as Microsoft Teams, to utilise laptops and PCs as ‘soft phones’ to make/receive calls and also utilise features, such as instant messaging and video calls to unify your business communications all within one solution. The scalability, functionality and unification capabilities of cloud-based telephony, makes it a far more efficient and future-proof solution, compared with PBX telephony.
If you’re not sure what the switch-off is, let us explain. By 2025 all ISDN and PSTN lines will be switched off, which means that the normal analogue connections that many businesses rely on for their telephony will no longer be functioning. In the UK, 42% of small and medium sized businesses 33% of larger businesses are still solely relying on ISDN or PSTN phone lines and handsets and haven’t started making arrangements to switch to cloud-based telephony. This is an issue, as a lack of preparation now could cause disruption for their business, as we approach the deadline for the switch off.
If you already own a traditional PBX office phone system that relies on ISDN/PSTN phone lines, you’re probably wondering how this could potentially affect your business communication and what you can do now to prevent interruption? Well, firstly, you’re doing the right thing by reading this article, as the better prepared you are before the switch-off, the less disruption you will face.
The best option is to switch to a cloud-based VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) system as it transmits and receives calls over the internet rather than traditional PSTN/ISDN phone lines. Although in some cases it is possible to adapt existing hardware for VoIP system, in most circumstances it is more beneficial to purchase new hardware that is already VoIP compatible to get the most out of the platform. There is also another way – utilising devices, such as laptops as ‘softphones’, which reduces costs due to there being no need to buy physical handsets and increasing productivity, as users can simply use the device they are working on to make and take calls. Eliminating the need to buy new devices means minimal change and no disruption to your communications whilst you prepare for the switch-off. You’re also going to receive all the features we’ve previously mentioned, when making the switch to cloud-based telephony. However, making the switch will start to become more expensive the longer you leave it, so we recommend researching your options now and make the switch sooner rather than later to avoid overspending.
It is key that you know the differences between PBX and VoIP before you make the switch. After all, if you don’t know what you’re looking for, how can you be sure you have the best product for you? If you’re still wondering what on earth PBX and VoIP actually are and what the differences are between them, don’t worry – let’s break down the features, advantages and disadvantages of PBX vs VoIP!
|Analogue based – PSTN/ISDN||Internet-based|
|Managed on-site by your own team or external support that you have sourced yourself||Plug-and-play setup – no installation costs – simply connect to the internet|
|Costly initial investment for hardware and installation||Cheaper initial investment as the main cost is the handset – you can even cut costs by using computers, laptops and tablets as ‘soft phones’|
|Cost variable depending on setup||Subscription-based|
|Slower scalability due to the requirement of additional phone lines, new hardware or the requirement of an entirely new system to accommodate more users||Quick and easy scalability, as you simply add more users to your subscription and connect extra hardware to the internet|
|Usually reliable, as long as you have an effective IT support team to fix issues, but could incur further costs if outsourcing your support||Reliability is dependent on provider, but you have the option to change your provider if not suitable and issues can usually be solved by your team and most providers will issue support if needed|
|Analogue phone lines are capable of being hacked – so security implementations are required.||Connected to the internet, so there is the risk of hacking and strong security features will be required|
|International calls can incur an extra cost||Cheaper international calls and (dependent on your plan/provider) they may even be free as they will be made via the internet|
|Limited call features||Lots of scope for personalisation to adapt the system to your businesses requirements|
In one word, yes. The connection that enables PBX phones to work will be shut off in less than 4 years’ time, so VoIP and cloud telephony will be king and traditional ISDN/PSTN reliant phones will no longer work. However, aside from the phone actually being able to work, which is the most obvious advantage, VoIP phones simply provide more advanced options, settings and features in comparison with their aging PBX relatives. They have better capacity for scalability and can be personalised to your business far more effectively. The only real downside is if you don’t have a reliable internet connection, as this is what your system will run on. If your internet connection goes down, then you can’t make or receive calls, compared with PBX telephony which is unaffected if your internet isn’t working. Similarly another issue is if your business is in an area with poor connection, then your call quality will also be poor. Before making the switch to any cloud telephony solution, it is obviously important to analyse your connectivity and research your options to improve it, if necessary.
In general, VoIP solutions tend to work out cheaper than traditional PBX solutions. There is no line rental, compared with PBX landlines, and the lack of installation costs and investment in initial hardware also brings the costs down significantly. Most VoIP providers work on a subscription contract, where you simply pay a monthly fee for your service, which works out cheaper.
Yes you can, but before you start your communication transformation, there are some key questions to consider. Can your handsets be converted into a VoIP phone? We mentioned earlier about VoIP adaptors that transform normal analogue phones into fully functional VoIP phones. However, if you’re using older legacy handsets that do not support VoIP functionality, then you can’t adapt them and will need to invest in VoIP handsets. So, before you look into VoIP adaptation, check your handsets first! Secondly, with VoIP phones, your call quality is only as good as your connection. So, how reliable is your connectivity? If you’re having issues with your broadband, this is going to have an effect on how efficient your VoIP communication can be, so we would recommend sorting that first.
So let’s return to the key question. Overall, who is king of the phone systems? I think we have established that the winner, in terms of scalability, customisation and cost-effectiveness is a VoIP phone system. You can adapt hardware that you already own (if it is compatible) and they are easier to troubleshoot with support, usually, available from your provider. They are internet-based, so won’t be affected by the imminent ISDN/PSTN switch off. Overall they are cheaper than their PBX counterparts. They have the capability to be connected to platforms, such as Microsoft Teams, to unify your communications and allow your team to connect with each other and customers regardless of whether they are working on-premises, in the field or at home. Finally, you can scale your solution with ease and without breaking the bank. So, no matter your business size, sector or working model, VoIP phones provide a wealth of flexibility and effective features for effective business communication.
If you’re looking to invest in a new business phone system or update your current system, speak to the experts. At Elite, we have been facilitating effective business communication for over 20 years and our consultative approach allows us to get to know your business to provide the best solution for your needs. Whether you’re an SME or a large enterprise, we have flexible, scalable and cost-effective solutions with expert support and guidance. We are experts in our field and know the industry inside out, so you know you are in safe hands. Why not take your business communication to the next level with our range of solutions that can effectively unify your communications? From connecting your business phone system to Microsoft Teams to combining voice, email and webchat interactions all within one solution – let us help you to release the power of modern business telephone systems to improve communication within your business and makes sure your customers feel heard.
Elite Group is one of the UK’s leading unified communication providers, supplying reliable and professional IT and telecoms services to organisations seeking Business Mobile, Cloud, Networking, Connectivity, and Telephony solutions.
For more information on how Elite Group can power your unified communication solutions, call us or request a quote today.