Small Business Phone Service Options
Posted by Timothy Platt on Aug 26, 2017
Phone Service for the Small Business
Today we are going to talk about phone service for the small business. Much has changed over the last 10 years regarding phone systems – there are now more options than ever – from onsite PBX (Private Branch Exchange) systems to cloud based phone solutions that integrate with your CRM (Customer Relationship Management) tool of choice.
Let’s talk a bit about the options – and what their relative strengths and weaknesses are. But first, let’s make sure we understand the basic technology we will use.
Internet Telephony and Voice Over IP (VOIP) – the foundation of modern phone systems
The last twenty years has seen the rise of Internet Telephony. This is near ubiquitous now, and there’s a good chance your home phone service (if you even have it) is based on Internet Telephony.
In a nutshell, Internet Telephony means “phone calls via the Internet”. It’s implemented via something called VOIP – Voice Over Internet Protocol. VOIP is the protocols and related technology that lets you make those phone calls over the Internet. Basically, with the right hardware (an IP phone) or software application (such as a “soft phone” or voice enabled messenger application) you can dial, connect and speak to someone else via the Internet.
Of course, this doesn’t happen for free. You need something to act as the gateway to the Public Switched Telephone Network, or PSTN. This is how your IP phone can call any cell phone, land line, or toll-free number globally. The interface between the two systems (Internet and PSTN) is enabled by an internet service provider (ISP), phone provider, or cloud service provider.
Internet Telephony has been the best thing to ever happen to phone service. The flexibility and new capabilities it enables are astounding.
But just because Internet Telephony is a commodity now – that doesn’t necessarily mean that your business is getting the best value for your dollar. There are many ways to benefit.
How can your small business leverage Internet Telephony?
What benefits can your business derive from this? It’s partially dependent on what your business needs. For example, consider these points:
- Is Phone Service a convenience or critical – Do you support customers via phone? Sales calls? Or is phone service a pure convenience?
- Inbound calling, outbound calling, or both? – Do you need to make a lot of calls, or receive a lot of calls? What sort of calls?
- Internal extensions or external numbers – Do you primarily need to enable communication between employees in the company, or with the outside world? Or both?
- Fax – What are your fax needs?
- Business criticality – what happens when the phones are down? Does the flow of revenue stop? How long could you afford to be without phone service?
- Do you use the phone for sales? And if so, do you use a CRM system?
- Price – What’s your budget? Are you in need of cost effective calling? Are you willing to sacrifice reliability or quality for price?
OK – maybe you now have an idea of your needs. Let’s talk about options. How can provide the best phone service for your business needs? We have these general options:
- Cloud PBX – “PBX in the cloud” is a great option when you want reliability, performance, and flexibility. Basically, you use hardware phones (“IP Phones”) or a program running on your desktop to place and receive phone calls. Because the entire back-end is “in the cloud” – you reap all the benefits of that – minimal equipment to manage, easy configuration, and reliability and uptime you can’t hope to match when hosting your own equipment. The downside is it can mean a significant monthly charge – forever. Further, cloud PBX providers vary in pricing – it’s usually charged per seat, but the various providers have different strengths – some are very reliable, with high quality, while others are more focused on cost-effective calling (and don’t offer quite the reliability, quality, and support that the others do.)
- Onsite PBX – For the most cost-effective phone service, you may wish to host your own PBX on site, in your data center. The PBX is the hardware or software controller that manages the phones, and enables outbound calling. You’ll need to connect it to a “PRI” line provided by someone else, or use a “SIP Trunk”. These are the essential ways to let your onsite system connect to the PSTN. Once you buy the PBX and phones, the only ongoing cost is that of the PRI line or SIP Trunk. This is probably the most cost-effective way to provide phone service, especially for a large number of phones. The downsides are that it’s as reliable as your local area network is. If your data center is down, your phones are down. Therefore, this option isn’t necessarily the best if your phone calls are business critical. There are open source software packages such as Asterisk that you can setup yourself. This further reduces cost, but the management overhead is going to be significant. If you only need a phone system to enable internal extension to extension calling – this is the best way to go.
- Cloud Providers with Advanced Options – Are you running a call center and do you need the advanced functions that enable that? For example -supervisor monitoring of calls, barge or whisper functions and advanced call queues and routing are all options available in some packages. Or how about advanced integration with your CRM system? There are phone systems that can automatically create and update records in your CRM system to help track customer calls and opportunities. Lastly, there are systems that let you build your own phone system more or less from scratch. This is a very advanced option, but something you might desire, if you need it. For example, you might need to integrate voice calling into a custom application.
Next Steps on Internet Telephony
So, as you can see, there are a lot of options. And what is right for your company depends on what your business needs. That’s where we can help. Contact us now with your phone service questions. We can advise, plan, and help implement these systems. We can ensure your business can reach its goals.
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