The first question to ask is “How important is it that you speak to your customers over the phone?”
Some companies are online-only, and don’t want to speak to their customers on the phone. For most small businesses, however, the phone is one of the most important methods of speaking to customers, both for sales and customer service. Having a local phone number e.g. 0161 tells customers that the business is local.
The ISDN/PSTN phone network is due to be switched off in 2025, but businesses will still have phone numbers, and still use phones to speak to their customers, it’s just that the underlying technology will have changed to voice-over-IP (VOIP). But whatever the technology, there will still be a need for businesses and customers to pick up the phone and speak to each other.
Historically an office would have a small number of phone lines coming in and would use an on-premise phone system or PBX to connect them to a much larger number of phone extensions around the office. Even now, if you are the kind of business where everyone comes into the office and sits at the same desk every day, then this might still work for you. Modern on-premise phone systems can use VOIP, and so will happily work after the 2025 digital switch over. An on-premise phone system is a capital purchase, which might not suit every business, but they tend to last 10 years and so can be very cost-effective in the long run.
Changing to a cloud-based world
In a post-pandemic world, most businesses have people working from home and on the road at least some if not all of the time. A hosted (cloud-based) phone system is much better at providing voice communications for businesses working in this way. That is why business owners are now choosing hosted phone systems or hosted PBX systems.
With a hosted business phone system, desk handsets and softphones running on laptops or mobiles simply need to be able to connect to the internet, where they will make a connection to the hosted phone system in the cloud.
The hosted business phone system that Concise provides as a service, assumes that every user will have the softphone on their laptop and/or mobile, this is part of the monthly subscription. Some businesses have no desk handsets at all, but if any user wants a physical desk handset they can have one, as a simple one-off cost.
Making use of Mobiles
One customer had several travelling reps who always used their personal mobiles to make and take business calls. Under the old system calls to the office were simply transferred to their personal mobiles, or the office would give out the rep’s mobile number and tell the customer to ring them on that. Under the hosted phone system, each rep had a DDI number and could make and take calls from the softphone app on his mobile phone. This had two big advantages. First, the reps didn’t have to give out their personal mobile number (and could turn the softphone app off at 5 pm sending calls to voicemail). Secondly, when a rep leaves the company the number for that user, which has been widely publicised to customers, now stays with the company, rather than going with the departing rep.
Another benefit of using a hosted small business phone system (as opposed to making do with mobiles) is that calls made and received to the softphone app on the mobile can be measured and reported on, and if required recorded. A hosted phone system can provide all the additional features such as contact centre, call reporting and call recording that traditional phone systems did, but they can be deployed much quicker and more cost-effective to a dispersed workforce than before. Call recording is a good example. You wouldn’t dream of not saving your emails to prove what was said at a later date. If you are speaking to customers on the phone, it can be invaluable to be able to prove what was (or was not) said, and how it was said at a later date.
Call reporting is important if you have incoming sales calls. It can give you the ability to measure the success of different marketing approaches. Many small businesses do like to think of themselves as a call centre, but the call centre technology is much less expensive than it used to be, and if your business relies heavily on talking to customers on the phone (sales or service), then being in control of the voice communications is important. If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.
Hosted vs On-premise small business phone system
Hosted phone systems are an OPEX cost, paid for monthly. The lack of an initial CAPEX cost can be a major advantage. This type of system also scales up and down easily as your business needs to grow.
The flexibility of the hosted phone system is very well suited to the way we work today, particularly after the massive changes brought about by the pandemic.
How to choose a phone system for a small business? ask the following questions
- How important is it that you speak to your customers over the phone?
- Do we need office desk phones? Can we keep our office extension numbers?
- Do we want an on-premise solution or a cloud-based hosted phone solution?
- Would being able to use mobile devices be helpful?
- What other features like call recording and reporting do I need from my phone system?
- I have a PBX already, can I still use this and still future proof my phone system?
- Is my internet good enough for VOIP?
- How much could we save by changing our phone system?
- How will the ISDN switch off in 2025 affect my business?
- Consider what else uses your phone lines and telephone systems within your business?
Concise Technologies can help you make the right choice for your business phone system for now and in the future.
Mark Howard is Technical Solutions Consultant at Concise Technologies and has been with the company for 10 years.