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What to consider when buying a telephone system

Small businesses may find very few independent places to look for buying a new telephone system. BT, will recommend a BT system. Local dealers will more than likely advise a Panasonic, because this is the switch most local dealers sell. But many telephone systems on the market may be appropriate.

With thanks to the Telecom Advice Service

What To Look For In A Telephone System
Technology used by computers and telephones is converging fast. Offering businesses new applications to change the way they work, and improve efficiency, more every day. This convergence (known as CTI, for computer telephony integration) is an important factor to consider when making the decision on a telephone system. For example, technology allows for "screen popping" when callers ring in. If their calling number is presented and their details are on the contact database, the details will automatically appear on the computer screen. Then, by the click of a mouse button, the return call is direct from your PC. Voicemail messages automatically transfer to mobile phones, or arrive as an audio file to your e-mail account.

Expansion possibilities and add-ons to invest in at a later stage seem to increase every day. For example, how many extensions does the system being considered have? How many lines will it support, and is upgrade to having voicemail or CTI possible? Will digital ISDN lines be required to get Direct Dialing In (DDI) functionality and will this result in a cut down of the number of lines you need? Alternatively, will analogue lines give the services needed now and in the future?

Features to Consider
  • Call logging--records numbers dialed by individual extensions
  • Call barring--barring users from dialing out certain numbers
  • Automated attendant--callers are offered a series of numbers to press to get to the correct department/extension
  • Conference calling--most systems provide this, but any handsets used must have a reliable and efficient microphone as well as a speaker
  • Paging--again, ensure microphones and speakers are adequate
  • Calling line identification (CLI)--requires a good handset with an adequate display screen
  • Music on hold--Make sure a personal choice of music can be added, or a radio station.
  • Directory phone book--an internal directory listing all company contacts available for users to dial
  • Door system--the facility to link a door lock to the telephone system
Consider all the options and talk to others before selecting a system. Once features that are important to you have been decided on, identify a number of manufacturers to investigate. Ask them to recommend a dealer in the area who can demonstrate the system. Do not be afraid to ask the dealer as many questions as needed. Touch and feel the system, practice using it, try transferring a call. It is the best way to know what the system is like

Check out the dealer thoroughly. Check out the company on the Web and look at their financial status through Companies House or credit agencies such as Equifax and Experian. Before making the final decision, take up at least a couple of references. When speaking to referees, ask questions to encourage the answers needed. For example: How well did XYZ deal with your problems?

Hints and tips
  • Too much functionality can be confusing and cost more. Features are of no use if they never get used so always ask 'What benefits would this bring to my business?'
  • Don't get pushed into 'state of the art' items by salesmen - remember it is their job to sell more. Get a clear explanation of the product's abilities in simple terms, without jargon. Tell them you will make your decision later. Do some research and check out product reviews in magazines. Talk to informed people you know.
  • Buy things that can be upgraded or added on to. Technology develops so fast, new and better things will be available tomorrow. Fulfill immediate requirements, and purchase a system designed for changes or upgrades. You can add on when the business needs it and can afford it.
  • What level of staff training would be required?
  • Can staff reprogram extensions for different users using simple computer interface? Or will constant support from the supplier be needed? How quickly can they respond to a request for support.
  • When decided on a particular system, get quotes from at least three separate companies. Using the same company to supply, install, and maintain the system will make technical help more streamlined.
Some of the most widely used providers by small companies are:
Network Alchemy (now Avaya)
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