The 10 Questions You Should Be Asking When Looking Into a New Phone System

So it’s your job to figure out replacing your old phone system. You want to make sure you’re getting something that meets the needs of your organization and at a great price. Maybe you know a little about telecom services - maybe you don’t. Regardless, there are organizations every day getting stuck in less than ideal situations because they didn’t know what they didn’t know. Asking the right questions can make the difference and help you in acquiring as transparent a view as possible about what you need, what you’re going to be getting, and more importantly, what it’s really going to be costing you. Ask these to any service providers you talk to:

1. Do I have the network infrastructure in place for VoIP? What kind of benefits would I see using VoIP over an analog system?

VoIP is the future of telephony. It utilizes newer technology to offer a great level of flexibility and overall quality - think of e-mail compared to snail mail. Studies show the number of VoIP subscribers in the US alone has increased by over 300% since 2010.

While this may be the case, a lack of proper infrastructure can sometimes make implementing a VoIP system challenging and expensive. Rural locations may not have the connection speeds or reliability to service VoIP properly.

Older buildings may be built in such a way that a major remodel is the only way to bring in VoIP. Asking the question and inviting vendors in for a site walk-through is best way to see if your organization can manage the upgrade and if it would be worth it. Many organizations often find that they have everything in place already!

2. What type of service line would help me get the most out of my new phones? POTS, PRI, or SIP?

Phone systems can receive service from a number of different options. Asking this question will open up the conversation about the best means of placing and receiving phone calls both from within and outside the organization. Many organizations will prefer the flexibility and cost of SIP while others will prefer the PRI to avoid potential network interference.

Regardless of what’s right for your specific needs, it’s important for you to be aware of the options and carefully weigh which fits your needs and current circumstances. After inquiring about required infrastructure you may find some options may not be feasible at the moment. However, learning about the options and their requirements can serve as a reference for the future - your organization may not remain in the same location indefinitely and relocation could mean a better ISP option.

3. Does my organization need an on-premise solution or would a hosted solution be a better fit?

Vendors often like to convince organizations that an on-premise solution is the best way to go. Why? Because they’re significantly more expensive. The fact of the matter is, on-premise systems used to be the only way to provide telecommunication services to businesses and other institutions. Now that there are more options, you definitely should be evaluating why hosting your own PBX make sense when they’re so much more expensive and time consuming. For most organizations, a hosted PBX is by far the more effective route to go.

4. Do I need a dedicated Internet connection for voice? What would it look like in terms of cost and quality of service to run voice over my primary connection?

Assuming your organization did decide on a VoIP telephony solution, vendors will often draw up quotes that provide a dedicated service line for voice. These lines are often times the most expensive item on the invoice and often unnecessary. Providers will claim having the dedicated connection ensures you have enough bandwidth for calls and that your phones will work even if your primary Internet connection goes down. When it’s phrased like that, it makes a lot of sense. What they’re not telling you though is that voice data is actually very small by comparison of network traffic. If your organization was running 20 concurrent calls 24 hours a day, that would occupy only 2 Mb of bandwidth.

Most companies and institutions have significantly more bandwidth than that available are don’t come close to saturating their network. What’s more, your primary Internet provider will usually ensure something like 99.99% up time. While that .01% can and does happen, cell phones can be configured to ring in the case that your phones go down so key operations don’t skip a beat.

There are definitely cases where a redundant connection makes sense, but understanding what your options are and weighing the outcomes of different scenarios is the right mindset to have when designing your new system.

5. What kind of taxes and surcharges are included in the costs and how are they calculated?

You’d be surprised how much taxes and surcharges cost on a phone invoice (or maybe you wouldn’t!). What’s more is that companies often ignore these fees when advertising costs to potential new customers. They’re just “standard rates that everyone charges”. While they’re not wrong that a significant amount of the vendors include them on invoices, it’s certainly not everyone and there are parameters about how much they can be. Ask the question, learn what the limits are, and find out the real cost of your invoice.

6. Can you run through a sample copy of an invoice you might give to a customer?

There can be many different line items on a phone invoice and it varies by every company. Some companies even will have special quarterly or annual invoices with different lines items. Asking this question is the best way to become familiar with your bill and exactly what you’re paying for each month. Takes notes and then compare them with other companies you’re getting quotes from.

7. Does your quote include necessary support and maintenance costs?

Support and/or maintenance costs on phone system components are very often required by certain vendors. While you may think that it’s standard practice for the industry, it’s not. There are a number of companies that don’t charge a dime and offer the same level of service. Why pay support costs when your phones don’t need it? Ask vendors to show you how much you’ll be paying annually for support and then break it down to its equivalent monthly cost for a more transparent view at your phone bill.

8. Do prospective providers include a licensing fee for service?

Licensing costs are another area where some phone companies will tack on more costs to your invoice. Make sure you bring up this topic when looking at new phones so you know if it’s another thing you have to pay for, and what exactly you’re getting with that extra cost.

9. What am I getting with my current service provider? Do I need everything or is there room to “trim the fat”?

Making a comparison to your current provider is a crucial first step when determining your needs for a new system. One of the most often overlooked items is the number of phone numbers you have. Service providers often sell blocks of DIDs to customers that include tons of phone numbers you simply don’t need or use; most organizations will only have a few phone numbers and then a receptionist or auto-attendant that transfers calls to specific extensions. When you upgrade to a new system, find out what you’re using so you can optimize what you’re paying for.

10. Are there “premium features” available? Does it cost you extra to provide these features?

Some companies offer different pricing plans based on the feature quantity. This allows them to advertise low costs to get your attention, and then sell you on the more expensive option as “what you need” after they’ve got a foot in the door. Find out if the company you’re dealing with is transparent and honest by getting an idea of why they may be charging more for particular features. If it costs more to you, it should be costing more for them.

NocTel Communications is a hosted VoIP provider dedicated to solving the many problems that face educational institutions today. Known for providing the highest quality service at a fraction of the price of its competitors, NocTel is completely disrupting the telecommunications industry. Click here to get a hassle free estimate of what your district could be paying for phones.