In my last post we took a look at the benefits of a hosted VoIP system versus that of a premise based solution.

Today we’re going to take a look at what you need from your phone system. More specifically, what features you will need from a phone system.

Phone System Features

Phone system features, whether hosted or premise based, are different than the features of the IP phones themselves. Rather than determining how many line appearances you need on your receptionist phone you will be considering the more global question of how you want your calls routed to your receptionist, what call groups will exist, or even if you would like an auto attendant to handle the routing of your incoming calls.

The basics of what most businesses want in a phone system are voicemail, auto-attendant, extensions, call hold and transfer, conferencing, music on hold and dial by name directory. Nearly all premise based and hosted systems listed will do these types of features, and usually a lot more.

Several products offer upgrades to basic software packages that unlock enhanced features. Some of the enhanced features include presence based tools such as a java or software applet to visually display the users on the system, their extensions, status, and voice mail options. This is available right on the user’s desktop; or special administrative features will allow additional functionality for supervisors or system administrators.

Some of you will choose to integrate third party programs such as CRM, Outlook or Google maps into these applets. Additional enhancements could include recording, monitoring, call queuing, IVR and even hotel modules. These enhancements make running your business easier and allow for a more thorough and efficient interaction with your customers.

Getting Started

One of the easiest ways of examining which features you might need on your phone system is to determine what category of business you might fall into.

Are you a call center? A small business? Home office?

These are loose categories – many systems will fit into more than one type of business. This should help narrow down your choices though.

Next ask yourself some basic feature questions. Do you need call recording or call monitoring? Are there any special features that are a must-have on your phone system?

Answering these questions will allow you to narrow the choice down to either a premise or a hosted solution, and usually cut the choices down to just one or two selections.

Finally, take a look at the available features on today’s most popular VoIP systems. Create a spreadsheet to compare and contrast the phone system solutions that best fit your needs.

Some of the more popular premise based systems, and their current feature sets…

Some of the more popular hosted providers can be found in a great round-up by TMC…

Lastly, remember that the cost of the features versus the performance and support of the system deserve weight in the decision making process. Determining your main reasons for switching to VoIP and studying the inefficiencies within your business environment will help you make an informed decision when choosing a VoIP System.

Discussion

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  1. Most decent size VoIP Providers offer similar features with various twists. I would say of equal if not more importance to a business customer is the support provided by the VoIP Service Provider.

    While VoIP technology has come a long way, it is still fairly complex for the average company that does not have a dedicated telecom staff on-site, and that is why the VoIP Service Provider is so important. There are many providers that offer cheap plans, but cheap plans often come very limited support. If you need support from one of these companies, most often, you will have to make a call into a call center and speak with a person reading from a script. This is not what you want, especially during those times of real emergencies, like when your phone system is down.

    Most small business do not have on-site telecom expertise, and will therefor rely on the VoIP Service Provider for the initial implementation an ongoing support and staff training. If you fall into this category, make sure you select a VoIP Provider that will be there to support your company after the initial sale. This is true even if you are on the “best VoIP Platform” in the world.

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  2. Garrett Smith

    @ Neal

    I would agree with your thoughts. One thing people should note though is that your use of the term small business should be better defined.

    After all a small business could be 2 people or 250.

    That’s a big difference. For example:

    In the under 5 person space folks are definitely more likely to need a managed sort of solution. In the under 25 space, it’s split between hosted and premise.

    Above 25 and the majority (not all) of small businesses are going with a premised based solution.

    Now a lot of this has to do with economics and control, but I think you can see the point – make sure you are truly checking into what you are doing before you do it :)

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  3. Rebecca Hammonds

    My partner and I started a company together and we both work out of our home. We did not want to spend a lot of money on a phone system. We did some research and we signed up for a virtual pbx service online. We configured the system in less then a half hour including getting our greetings recorded. The virtual pbx system helps us sound more professional and streamlined our communications. We have been using http://www.iTeleCenter.com by COA Network, http://www.coanetwork.com, for a few years and we have been very happy with the service.

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