Some Things To Consider When Planning A Telephone System:
How many phone lines do you need initially? Most businesses use several (or many) phone lines tied together as a "hunt group" by the phone company. Fax lines and modem lines are not a part of the phone system and should not be considered here. This way you publish one company telephone number and incoming callers are automatically routed in on any available line in the "hunt group." Generally, you will use the lines in this group for your outbound calls as well. This gives you the most available use for your lines. So how many lines do you need? This is determined by estimating the maximum number of simultaneous calls you think your business will have going at one time. For example, you may have 8 desks with telephones in the office, but maybe only a few people are ever on a call at the same time. In this case, a "hunt group" of 4 or 5 lines is probably adequate to begin with. Businesses with 12 lines+ often use a PRI digital trunk or even SIP Trunks.
How many phone lines do you want room to grow to? Do you anticipate your call volume to increase over time by enough that adding more phone lines to the "hunt group" may be warranted? If so, you will want to make sure that you begin with a business phone system that can accommodate that growth. Be aware that systems come in different sizes and that cost rises with a system's maximum growth size. For example, a dental office may need 4 lines to start with and might anticipate the need to add a couple of lines in the future maybe. A system with a maximum growth size of 8 (or maybe even 12) lines would be appropriate. Anything larger would probably cause the system to be more expensive than was necessary.
How many telephones do you need to start with? You will want to consider every place in the business that needs to have a phone available for answering and making calls. Each office or desk area, reception area, sales counter, work room, file area, warehouse, shipping desk, and even break room should be considered. At this point, just consider the minimum number of phones you will need for now. If you will want wireless handsets, we will include those in a later question.
How many telephones do you want room to grow to? Similar to estimating your anticipated growth of phone lines, make an estimate of how many more phones you may need to add in the future. For example, if you start your office with 12 telephones and think you may squeeze in 8 more desks someday, then getting a system with a maximum growth size of 24-32 telephones would be appropriate.
Do you want an Auto Attendant? When you call a company and the first thing you hear is a recorded message giving you choices and asking you to make a selection on your dial pad, you have reached an Auto Attendant. You listen to the message, make your choice and then get transferred to the correct person to assist you. That's the plan, anyway. Each company must decide if Auto Attendant is right for them. It can save time and get calls handled more efficiently, but it can also detract from a personal touch. Many companies use an Auto Attendant to serve as a backup to answer calls that a receptionist or other staff don't have an opportunity to answer after the first few rings. Auto Attendants can be configured to allow callers to hear information such as directions or business hours and other time consuming repetitive tasks while always giving them the option to reach an "operator." Voice Mail is almost always used in conjunction with an Auto Attendant to make sure that all calls get answered and dealt with.
What is Voice Mail? Voice Mail is simply a means to allow callers to leave someone a recorded message that can be retrieved and responded to at a convenient time. Some companies use a standard answering machine or phone company voice mailbox for very basic message use. These options work for catching unanswered calls and putting all messages into a single mailbox. A more flexible alternative is to include a business Voice Mail system as part of your phone system hardware. This will provide individual mailboxes for everyone who needs one. It can be set up to catch unanswered calls and direct callers to their desired party's extension or mailbox. Furthermore, it allows callers to be transferred to an individual mailbox by whoever answers a call. You will be notified of a message by a message light on your phone. You can also set your mailbox to call your pager or cell phone to notify you of new messages. Messages in your mailbox can be transferred to other mailboxes and you can also set up group mailboxes.
What is Caller ID? Caller ID is an optional fee based service that you can order with your phone line service from the local telephone company. When your telephone system is properly equipped, this allows the incoming caller's name and phone number to be displayed on your phone as the call rings. It will also capture the phone number as part of a voice mail message. This feature is completely dependant upon the information being sent by the phone company. Often, callers have blocked their information or the information will display "out of area."
What is a wireless handset? A wireless handset is essentially a nearly full featured cordless phone that allows you to make calls, take calls, hold calls, transfer calls, intercom, page, transfer to voice mail, and almost everything you can do at your desk phone. The wireless handset can be configured to work as its own extension or to be in parallel to your desk phone. They can use an optional standard cellular phone type headset for hands free operation. This is not the same as a wireless headset. A wireless headset is an industry standard device that connects to your desk phone and allows you to take a call and walk a short distance from your desk. You must return to your desk phone to hold or transfer the call. The wireless handset gives you complete control whether you are near your desk phone or not.
What is ACD and UCD? This is Automatic Call Distribution or Uniform Call Distribution. Often referred to as a Call Center, it is primarily used in applications where you would have incoming calls distributed among "agents" in an even manner. If no agents are available, callers can be stacked in a holding queue where they hear a recorded message informing them that their calls will be answered in the order received. The agents can log in and out to adjust the number of staff available to take calls. A supervisor can monitor how many calls are in queue, how many agents are logged in, average wait time, and other functions to improve productivity.
Should you consider a traditional On Premise PBX, or a Hosted VoIP PBX Service?
Increasingly, businesses are installing "cloud" telephone systems. These are Hosted services that work over the Internet through your computer network. You would purchase special SIP telephones that plug into your PC network the same as your computers. Existing computer network connection locations can share the PC and one SIP phone via the built in switch on the SIP phone. For more information about the comparison of Hosted VoIP vs. On Premice PBX, please click here.