|Office Telephone systems are a fundamental necessity to your company’s productivity. As hot as the Internet is, the telephone is often the easiest way to reach your customers, clients, and partners.It should also be the easiest way for them to reach you. You don’t want anyone calling your business only to have calls routed incorrectly, to get disconnected, or to be faced with a bewildering array of automated options.There are many factors to consider when buying a telephone system. For example, you’ll want to coordinate your purchase with other equipment that you already own or may need to purchase, such as a voice mail or messaging on-hold system, phone headsets, toll fraud equipment, or tabletop conferencing equipment.Or if you’re a very small firm, you may not need a full-blown phone system, but still require something more sophisticated than single or multi-line phones.
Types of Office Phone Systems
There are a few different major types of office phone systems on the market: Key systems (KSU), Private Branch Exchange (PBX), and KSU-less. The type of system you choose will depend primarily on how many stations (working phones) you require.
Key systems are typically used for offices of less than sixty (60) stations. Prices begin around $200.00 per station.
These types of phones use a central control unit, called the Key System Unit (KSU), to provide features that are not available with ordinary phones. For example, a central unit typically allows users to make calls to another in-office extension, and prevents other users from accidentally picking up a line that is being used.
Key systems require professional installation and maintenance. All outside telephone lines must connect to the KSU, as well as all inside extensions. Unfortunately, configuring and wiring these phone systems can be nearly as costly as the phones themselves.
For a company of more than sixty employees there are PBX systems. The configuration of a PBX system is totally programmable, so PBX systems can support the most complex features. But watch out – prices start at around $500 per station.
More recently, the distinctions between the key and PBX systems have become relatively blurred. Many key systems include features that were once available only on PBXs, and some systems operate internally as either a key or a PBX depending on the software that is installed. The term “hybrid” is often used to describe systems that resemble both key and PBX systems.
And for the smallest firms (ten or less employees) there’s KSU-less, which generally cost around $130.00 to $225.00 per phone. KSU-less phone systems are designed to provide the features of a small phone system in a decentralized manner. These phones contain proprietary circuitry that allows them to communicate without requiring a central cabinet.
KSU-less systems are not permanently wired into your office. These phones can easily be unplugged and moved to a new location, or sold. This flexibility allows you to treat a KSU-less system much like any other business machine, rather than as a permanent investment in your premises.
Make sure any KSU-less system you are considering is compatible with the type of telephone wiring used in your office. The system should also be able to work with telephone accessories such as answering machines and modems.
Sizing an Office Phone System
When buying a system, a primary concern is to make sure that the system is the right size for your office. This means understanding the size constraints of the system.
In the case of key systems, system size is usually indicated as a combination of “lines” and “extensions.” Lines indicate the total number of outside lines used by the company, while extensions refer to every phone within the company. For example, a system might accommodate up to 12 lines and 36 extensions.
In contrast, most PBXs define size in terms of “ports.” Ports indicate the maximum number of connections that can be made to the system. This includes outside lines and inside extensions, as well as accessories such as voice mail or automated attendants.
Even if a system can handle your current phone traffic, you also need to check that it will be able to handle your future expansion needs. The ideal system should be able to handle such expansions in a very cost-effective manner.
Check which items will need to be purchased or replaced as your needs grow in order to get a good sense for your future costs.
Digital vs. Analog office phone systems
Most newer and more expensive phone systems communicate via digital technology. This means that sound is transmitted as bits of data rather than audio waves.
Theoretically, digital transmission has many advantages over analog transmission. Digital signals are less affected by interference and line degradation, meaning that digital lines have virtually no static or hiss.
However, most businesses make outgoing calls over regular analog lines. This means that even a digital phone system must convert signals back to analog waves whenever a call leaves the office. Because very little sound degradation occurs within the smaller confines of an office, analog systems actually sound about the same as their digital counterparts.
The main reason for buying a digital system is that these systems tend to be better equipped to connect with accessories such as voice mail or caller ID.
Office telephone Systems can be equipped with literally hundreds of features for switching calls and directing traffic. However, dealers estimate that 95% of system features are never used within a company.
Instead of comparing features on a one-to-one basis, you should examine how a phone system is used. Limit your feature search only to those features that will improve the work flow in the office. This will allow you to focus on the real differences between systems for your office environment.
Although having the right features is important, even more important is making sure the features are easy to access. Because most employees devote very little time to learning how to use a phone system, it is very important that the most common functions be extremely simple and intuitive to use.
Virtually all office phone systems require the assistance of a dealer for programming and installation. As a result, finding a good dealer can be the most important part of the purchase, since any phone system you choose needs to be properly installed for optimal performance.
The most important consideration in choosing a dealer is the number of installations completed with your system. A dealer who has installed many of the same systems will be much more familiar with the problems that can occur.
Ideally, the brand you are considering should be the best selling brand sold by the dealer. Knowing that the dealer is committed to the line, you can be assured of a long-term source for service.
You should inquire about the dealer’s specific installation experience. Ask about the size of the companies involved, and what options or features were added. Also make sure to obtain a list of references, including several completed in the past year, so you can ask about their experiences in detail.
KSU-less office systems generally cost between $130.00 and $225.00 per phone. Comparable key systems generally start at $250.00 per phone, including installation.
The savings from buying KSU-less phones can quickly exceed $1,000.00 on a typical eight-phone system. But keep in mind that this option is really only best for firms of 10 or fewer people.
While the smallest systems may cost a few thousand dollars to install, the price tag for more complex models can quickly climb to tens of thousands of dollars. Phone system prices vary based on four factors:
Factor one: The Central Cabinet
The central cabinet is what controls and oversees the entire phone system. This price differs between systems, and rises as cards and accessories are added to a system. A small central cabinet can cost as little as $3,000.00, with the price increasing considerably for larger systems.
Factor two: The Actual Phones
Most systems can be equipped with several different types of phones. The least expensive sets may cost less than $100, but can make accessing features very difficult.
On the other end, some “executive phones” sell for many times the standard price. These phones can make using the system slightly easier, but are more often just a significant source of profit for the dealer.
Factor Three: Wiring and Installation
It can be very inexpensive to install wires in an unfinished building. However, installing wiring through already finished walls can quickly add up.
Factor Four: Everything Else
This includes training, programming, service, and future modifications. Pricing is usually based on the time these tasks will require, and can often be the most flexible portion of a bid.
Sometimes, it is best to compare the hours that will be spent completing training/ programming/ service tasks with the price tag for the service.
Consider used phone equipment for your office. One good way to save money is to buy used components such as phones or cards.
Check voice mail compatibility. If you expect to use voice mail with your phone system, make sure that any phone system you are considering is capable of working with a wide range of third-party voice mail systems. By keeping your options open, you will minimize the chance of getting stuck with an inferior or overpriced product.
Get extra wiring installed. To avoid rewiring down the road, you should request that plenty of wiring be installed when the system is first purchased. A good benchmark is to ask for at least double the wiring you currently need. While this will add to the cost of installation, it will really only be a fraction of the cost you will face if wires need to be added later.
When to Shop and Buy.
Shop for a dealer’s advice at the beginning of the business quarter when sales targets have just been set, and make your purchase at the end of the quarter when you can get a much lower price.
Look into phone line rates before selecting a system. Many local phone companies charge different rates for phone lines that connect a key system versus phone lines that connect a PBX, even though both have essentially the same functionality. Check rates beforehand to see if this may affect your buying decision.