As internet access becomes increasingly universal, more and more businesses are turning to cloud phone systems (also known as PBX, virtual or internet phone systems and VoIP) instead of traditional landlines.
The benefits of a cloud phone system are numerous – they’re more flexible, allowing team members to make and receive calls without being tied to their desk, and they’re often more cost-effective for smaller businesses.
If you’re thinking of moving to a cloud phone system, or setting up your first business phone system, this guide will help you to work out which features you’ll need, and what to look out for when choosing a phone system supplier.
1. Is a cloud phone system right for your business?
Before you start considering which cloud phone system is right for you, think about whether you should invest in a cloud phone system or whether you should stick to traditional landlines.
If you live in rural area where you know you have a slower internet connection, it might not be worth having a cloud phone system as they rely solely on good online connectivity. Traditional landlines are more reliable than internet-based systems but they also have limitations – for instance, being tied to your desk at all times.
If you’re someone who wants the flexibility to work anywhere in the world, a cloud phone system is probably right for you.
One of the main advantages with having a virtual phone system is the low cost involved with it – so for small businesses and entrepreneurs who are just starting out, it’s is often the best solution.
2. Think about what features are important to you now
Most cloud phone system providers offer a range of features big enough to suit any small or medium business, so you won’t be restricted if you’re moving from a traditional landline setup.
However, you may find that prices vary between providers on a per-feature basis, and some may not be able to support particularly complex requirements.
Make a list of all the features you anticipate needing when you set up your cloud phone system. Here are some of the core services offered by most providers:
Business phone number
You can get a local or national phone number, making your business seem more established and legitimate (even if you’re just getting started).
Give each member of your team their own extension, so they can use a handset, softphone, or mobile app to make and receive calls from anywhere.
Connect your business number to your mobile and answer calls just like you would on a regular extension, but without any of the fancy features.
Make sure your customers aren’t left hanging if they can’t reach you by using a ring group to send calls to multiple team members at once or in a cascade.
If you’re having a busy spell and customers have to wait, you can set up a call queue so they hear a welcome message and hold music, and they’re dealt with in order.
Funnel calls to the most appropriate team member by using an auto-attendant, which will present callers with a list of options.
Voicemail to email
Couldn’t get to that call? Receive a transcript of the voicemail left by the caller straight to your email.
Monitor your team’s performance as well as call data, including cost, duration, and date, and the caller’s number.
If you need to record calls for compliance purposes, or just so you can review conversations, most providers will offer this service.
You should also be offered many phone features as standard, such as call forwarding, blocking, barring, and caller display.
3. Consider how your company will grow or change in future
One of the biggest benefits of a cloud phone system is how easy it is to change your setup, adding and removing features on the fly. It’s therefore important to think not only about the features you need right now, but also about what you could need in future.
For example, you may be starting a business with yourself as the sole employee, meaning you’ll need a very limited set of features, but if you plan on hiring new staff you’ll may need to think about ring groups and auto-attendant services.
It’s easy to scale up or down with a cloud phone system, so when your company grows you’ll be able to set new team members up with their own extension and add them easily to any ring groups you might have in place.
Scaling down is just as easy: just remove the extensions that you no longer need. With a cloud phone system, features will usually be added to your phone system immediately, so you can make changes as and when you need to.
Another benefit of using a cloud phone system is the fact it’s great for remote teams, so you no longer have to recruit solely from your local area – you can hire people from all over the world and they’ll be able to do the same job from their home.
4. Compare providers
Once you know the features that you need for your phone service, and what features you may need in the future, you’ll be ready to start comparing different providers to see what they offer and how their services differ.
What features do they offer?
You’ll see a lot of the same standard features on each provider’s website; make sure you compare these to the list of required features you’ve made to ensure they tick all the boxes.
How easy is it to manage your account?
You don’t want to be dealing with a provider that makes it difficult for you to log in and change things around as and when you need to. You want to make sure it’s easy to use and hassle-free, so find out how much control you’d have over your account.
Ideally, you want an online dashboard that allows you to manage features yourself.
Can you estimate how much you’ll spend each month/compare costs?
When it comes to pricing, you want your provider to be as transparent as possible.
As a small business, you should be able to just pay for what you ask for and keep on top of how much you’re spending without being shocked at the end of the month when the invoice comes in.
If a provider doesn’t have pricing on their website, it could indicate that there may be high or hidden costs.
Are you tied into a contract?
If you’re just starting a business the last thing you want is to be tied in a 12 or 24-month contract.
Many cloud phone providers work on a month-by-month basis and give you the option to cancel your account at any time, so make sure this is the case with the companies you’re looking at.
It’s also worth reading, What every small business owner needs to know about telecom contract before signing one.
Look at reviews
Take a look at some reviews and see what other people are saying about the providers you’re considering.
It might be worth seeing what people say about customer support rather than going with the cheapest provider as you’ll want to ensure your phone system is set up correctly and you aren’t held up by any issues with it.
Missing calls can be costly for your business, so it’s vital you go with a provider you can trust.
There’s now more choice than ever when it comes to cloud phone systems, so the power really is in the hands of the consumer. Make sure you do your research and choose a provider who’ll be able to give you the features you need now, as well as supporting your business as you grow and evolve.
Changing providers can be a hassle, especially if you’re looking to port your number; taking the time to do the research now will hopefully enable you to find a provider you’ll be happy with for a long time.
About the author
This guide has been written exclusively for ByteStart by Sabrina Bassi, marketing executive at internet phone service provider Nimvelo. Nimvelo are an innovative communications company who make it easier for teams to stay connected by inventing new ways of working.
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