The right call Featured

9:58am EDT July 22, 2002

If you shop for a new phone system, you quickly enter a complicated world of trunk cards, station modules, cabinets and phone features. Despite the complexities, you can find a system that meets your company’s needs by following a few basic guidelines.

Gather information in your own office

To buy the right phone system, you need to know what you’re looking for, so ask employees.

“Ask not only the receptionist, but people who have a lot of phone duties or responsibilities,” says Sondra Liburd Jordan, author of “How to Buy the Best Phone System,” (Aegis Publishing Group). “Find out what your call flow pattern is, so that when you shop, you have some sort of parameter.” Are all of your employees on the phone at once? Do you need an auto attendant to answer incoming calls? How many voice mail boxes do you need?

Know the basic components

There are several basic components to every phone system that you should know so you understand what the salesperson is talking about. Some examples:

• Trunk: A line or telephone number.

• Capacity: In telephony, this refers to the number of telephones, lines and software a system can handle. A 24-port system can handle a combination of 24 lines and telephones.

• MTBF: Mean time between failure. This is the average time a manufacturer estimates failure time of their product. Realize that no one is going to give a poor MTBF, and because the reports are cumulative, don’t let this be the ruling factor in your decision.

• Station: Several meanings, including where a phone sits, a jack where a phone could plug in or a telephone itself.

Pick the right vendors

“Ask questions about the quality and service of your business associates’ phone systems,” says Jordan. “All phone systems break down. When it does break down, does the vendor come next week or within the hour? Get the telephone number of their customer service line and test it.”

How long were you on hold? Did a person answer, or were you relegated to an auto attendant and voice mail? Was the person able to answer questions quickly and professionally?

When you’re ready to get price quotes, limit your choices to about four vendors.

“Decide on the kinds of features you need, put together a small request for proposal and fax it to the companies you chose,” says Jordan. “Ask them to call one person in your company with their response.”

Label above box should be “At a glance”

Quick tips on picking the right phone system, from Sondra Liburd Jordan, author of “How to Buy the Best Phone System.”

• Ask your employees what features they need.

• Understand the basic terminology of phone systems.

• Test the speakerphone function of the phones before buying.

• Test the vendor’s customer service line.

• Find four companies with good reputations and fax them an RFP.

Points of note:

• Any phone system will come with a one-year warranty, but the better companies offer two- or three-year warranties.

• Installation will be included as part of the total cost.

• Look for a company that will have someone come to your location to train employees until everyone is comfortable using the new system.

• Keep your system simple for both your employees and customers who may have to access the voice mail system.

• Don’t be swayed by glitzy features that will rarely be used.

• For most businesses, a ratio of one line for every three employees is good.

• Unless you plan on never growing your business, look for a system that can be expanded.