Choosing a Small Business Phone System

Category: Phone Systems

If your business is very small - a sole proprietorship, or a mom-and-pop retail store - you may need just a couple of standard telephones and POTS - Plain Old Telephone Service. But once you have several employees with their own offices, you will need to consider a more sophisticated phone system. Here's some advice on how to choose a small business phone system…



Small Business Phone Systems

Small Business Phone System Choosing a small business phone system involves some planning. There are plenty of options when choosing a small business phone system, including PBX systems, VoIP (Voice over IP) systems, and a virtual PBX. A traditional PBX system is a computer-based phone switch that sits in a closet on your premises; all phones connect to it via standard telephone cable. A VoIP system is also a computer, but it uses the Internet to carry voice traffic; its phones are wired with Ethernet cable or may even be WiFi-based. A virtual PBX is actually a service provided by a third party; your phones connect to the service provider's PBX over the public Internet.

The features you need in a small business phone system depend on the number of employees, their location(s), and the workflow of your office(s). Do you need to transfer calls to remote offices? How about mobile device access to voicemail? Analyze your business needs carefully before going shopping for a small business phone system. Most phone systems on the market support these features, among many others:

  • Multiple extensions
  • Call-forwarding and transfer
  • Route-to-fax
  • Remote voicemail access

Some systems include teleconferencing, although that feature is readily available from third-party teleconferencing services. Likewise, with videoconferencing and other collaborative voice-data services such as Webinars and whiteboarding, you're probably better off not bundling those services into your business phone system.

Other Phone System Features

Other features you may find useful in a small business phone system include "call hunt" and auto-attendant. Call hunt means an incoming call never goes unanswered; the system hunts through all extensions in a given group or department until it finds someone who is available to take a call. An auto-attendant can be a simple computer-generated greeting that helps callers select a person with whom they wish to be connected, or a more complex Integrated Voice Response (IVR) system with voice menu trees and many options.

An IVR can let customers serve themselves to many simple business functions you offer - such as checking account balances or requesting a fax of an instruction manual. But an IVR is commonly called "Voice Menu Hell" because, if the menu system is poorly designed, people get stuck in it forever.

You can purchase entry-level small business phone systems at electronics and office supply stores such as Staples, Best Buy or OfficeMax. And installing one of these systems is usually just a matter of plugging them into the existing phone jacks. If you need additional phone lines or jacks installed, it's probably best to contact a local business that specializes in business phone systems.

Choosing a small business phone system correctly can give your business a big edge in professional image, productivity, and cost savings. Choosing the wrong small business phone system can lead to lost customers, dropped calls, and frustrated employees. Many small businesses turn to phone system consultants to help them figure out their needs; explore their options; and purchase the right system.

Training staff to use a new small business phone system is another service that consultants and vendors offer. Don't skimp on the training; it will get your people up to maximum productivity faster and give them the confidence to use all of the features for which you paid.


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Posted by Bob Rankin on August 3, 2010 06:32 PM


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