Market musings

12 Things People Wish They Knew Before Buying an Office Phone System

by Sasha Viasasha
October 26, 2017

There’s a fairly good chance that you hate your office phone system. If you do, you’re in good company. Overall, small businesses are more dissatisfied with their phone systems than larger enterprises are.

A survey by JD Power found that small business owners everywhere are not happy with their office phone systems. Their 2017 U.S. Business Wireline Satisfaction Study contained data showing that small businesses were most unhappy with the quality of their communications, the cost of maintaining the system and the lack of customer support for their business phone system.

Small businesses represent 99% of US businesses, so the size of this problem and it's impact on the US economy is enormous. SHRM estimated that small businesses lose around $420,000 per year on average due to poor communications.

A large part of that dissatisfaction comes from providers who overpromise and underdeliver. Over the past few decades, telecom solutions have earned a reputation for being unnecessarily complex, too expensive and tone deaf to the customer experience. Designed by IT for IT, these legacy systems can end up costing businesses a lot of money and time, without delivering any reciprocal return. It's estimated by IDG that unused phone systems are costing the average enterprises 8 million dollars a year. Imagine how much small businesses, who are even less satisfied, are paying out for inadequate solutions. 

Almost anything is easier to get into than out of, and business phone systems exemplify this motto. Here are some common lessons people learned after investing in a phone system that didn't quite meet their needs. 

1. Land lines are fading fast

In 41 out of 50 states, legislators have reduced or eliminated their oversight of land lines. 51% of American households are now mobile-only and businesses will soon follow their lead. AT&T no longer services land lines in 20 states. Paul La Schiazza of AT&T Illinois explained why they secured government approval to stop servicing land lines, “We’re investing in a technology that consumers have said they don’t want anymore, and wasting precious hundreds of millions of dollars that could be going to the new technologies that would do a better job of serving customers.”  Hardwired PBX systems are on the fast track to extinction, but there are many vendors still selling them. 

2. Not all businesses can run VoIP phone systems

VoIP providers often have VoIP readiness network testing tools on their sites to determine if your current internet connection can handle the traffic. Businesses with 25 employees or less typically run VoIP through a standard land line (see above about the end of land lines). For larger companies, VoIP providers recommend installing something like a T1 circuit or second internet service from a different provider. On premise offer the best quality and value, but they don't begin to make economic sense until a company hits 30 users or more.

3. The desk phone provider just went bankrupt

Avaya, one of the largest manufacturers of desk phones, announced that they were going into Chapter 11 bankruptcy earlier this year. Although industry analysts were not surprised by the announcement, many companies that had bought Avaya phones recently through third parties were taken off guard.  Computer Dealer News wrote, “This is a reminder to telecom users that the days of “big iron” PBX’s is effectively over.”

4. The importance of QoS settings for VoIP calls

The sound quality of your VoIP calls will be impacted by everything else happening on your network. VoIP providers often recommend setting up QOS (Quality of Service) controls to prioritize phone-related network traffic over anything else. Otherwise your network may not  to reserve sufficient bandwidth for the growth of VoIP traffic.

An important component of QoS is your bandwidth allotment formula:

C X 100 Kbps = Available bandwidth you will need, in Mbps

Where C is the total number of concurrent calls at peak times. Don’t underestimate because your C number should stay ahead of your growth rate.

5. ROI doesn't add up if employees don't use the phones

Some employees hate their desk phones so much they won’t even look at them. In the Wall Street Journal, Kevin Castle, CTO of Technossus, said that “unplanned calls are such an annoyance that he usually unplugs his desk phone and stashes it in a cabinet.” While most employees may not go that far, they don’t need to. They simply won’t use the office phone, invalidating the assumptions built into ROI projections. In any case, many employees will just forward calls to their mobile phones, making the investment in hardware less justifiable. 

6. Salespeople might not understand the technical details

Small business owner Ami Kassar wrote in his op-ed for the New York Times that a sales rep recommended analog, not VoIP, for his business. When the technician arrived to do the install, “the games began. The technician told us that his company’s sales rep had told us the wrong thing. It was out of his scope to do the installation we needed. He would have to call his manager. He would show us the pamphlets. Someone had made a terrible mistake.” No matter who made the mistake, the business has to pay for it in lost time and missed calls among other costs. 

7. The phone system isn't really ready for mobile

Many VoIP services work well for making calls while in the office, but it's difficult to sync them up with mobile devices. Apps using VoIP tend to use up vast amounts of expensive data packages. Also, some VoIP installations only work with certain types of mobile phones, so some employees will end up having one mobile device for work and another for personal use, resulting in more missed calls and inefficiencies. Beyond that, office VoIP phone systems usually handle security at the level of your local network, leaving security gaps when employees handle sensitive data on calls using a mobile extension.

8. Some phone systems can only handle US calls only.

Some VoIP providers have great prices, but when you look in the terms and conditions, you see something along the lines of “Unlimited U.S. calls are subject to normal residential usage limitations. See terms and conditions for current usage limitations. International calls are billed per minute and must be prepaid.” That can add up quickly if you work with a remote team or want to expand to global markets.

9. Canceling the contract can be a nightmare

Many of the new phone systems have excellent onboarding programs, but terrible offboarding practices. This is just a next-generation version of the old 2 year contracts that locked people into service that they didn’t want anymore. One frustrated business owner wrote, “When we tried to cancel the service, we have been unable to get our phone number released…. We are not receiving our voicemails or texts for the last two weeks.“

10. You might need an IT department just to maintain it

On-premise VoIP systems remove the worry about not having enough network resources to keep voice quality at a good level, but the costs can spiral out of control. Business News Daily explained, “On-premises systems require a large capital expenditure, as you are purchasing the equipment upfront. While you pay one-time fees for all the hardware with a self-hosted system, you pay monthly fees for your SIP trunking, or PRI circuit, which is what's needed to allow calls to be made and received. Your IT staff is responsible for handling maintenance, repairs and upgrades of the system.” If your business can’t support the lump sum cost of the initial investment or the ongoing costs of an IT staff, you are back to square one.

11. Calls that go to voicemail will very likely never be heard.

Fewer and fewer people are leaving voicemails, because those who do rarely get a call back. Bloomberg Business reported that CIO Ed Steinike eliminated the company’s voice mail service in order to “simplify the way we work and increase productivity.” JP Morgan Chase also canceled their voice mail service, with the enthusiastic support of employees who called it annoying and redundant. Far more useful is a phone system that keeps track of missed calls and whether anyone from the team has called back to resolve the problem.

12. There are better options on the market 

You don’t have to hate your phone system anymore. A new generation of virtual phone systems designed to work on your mobile phones can eliminate the need for costly hardware, wires and dedicated IT resources. The software as a service (SaaS) business model has put an end to buyer’s remorse. It makes long-term contracts noncompetitive and emphasizes the role of customer experience in reducing churn. Spoke Phone represents the next generation of virtual phone systems that give small business owners and employees the essential phone features they want without huge capital commitments or barriers to switching. Spoke strives to offer our customers the best quality phone service so they stay by choice, not by contract.

A phone system should actually help you talk

Traditional land lines, hosted PBX and VoIP business phone systems were designed for a different world. New systems like business VoIP services and SIP phones are still far too complex for the average small business.They can end up being so difficult to use and maintain that employees end up just using their own smartphones. 

Meanwhile, the consumer app market has changed what business buyers expect from a turnkey solution. 

Spoke is a next-generation virtual phone system, built to run on top of new technologies like VoLTE, HDVoice and 5G networks.

The Spoke app transforms the phones that your employees already love into a global mobile network, with local numbers in 56 countries.

In researching how employees at small companies actually use their phones, we've found out that less is more. The intuitive Spoke interface contains all the business phone line essentials that small businesses want and none of the bells and whistles that distract employees from doing their work.

Spoke is as easy to install and easy to use, yet powerful enough to replace your office phone system, eliminating up to 88% of your telecom costs.

Contact us for an interactive demo or a 21-day free trial of Spoke Phone. Find out what it feels like to love your phone system.