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How to Plan a Phone System for Your Business

Office telephones are so pervasive that they are taken for granted in the same way that desks and chairs are taken for granted. After all, how much work could get done without desks, chairs and telephone systems? Yet those little dark gray boxes that look pretty much the same from office to office and company to company conceal all sorts of technology, features and choices.

When it comes to selecting an office phone system, the objective is to make sure that it delivers everything that users expect and need without making them think about it. In other words, it should be so functional and so easy to use that it is taken for granted. To that end, here are some points to consider.

Fit Phones to People, Not People to Phones
The best phone system is one in which most, if not all, the functionality is used. In other words, do not buy systems loaded with features that users do not care enough about to learn to use, or systems that are so complex that a cheat sheet is required to transfer a call or listen to voice mail.

On the other hand, a new phone system may have features that, once introduced, will be quickly adopted because users perceive a benefit, for example, increased convenience or increased productivity. So, do not shy away from new features just because they are new.

At the risk of stating the obvious, one of the best ways to find out what people want is to ask them. This can be done by chatting informally or by sending out a survey using a Web-based query tool, or soliciting input via the company news bulletin. A short survey with simple questions is best. Even when people cannot articulate what they like best or least about the current system, or what function they would like to have in an updated system, there will be a high rate of satisfaction simply because they were asked for input.

From Wish List to Plan
Once the needs of users are well understood, it is time to consider system capabilities and physical or organizational constraints in order to create a phone system plan. System considerations include the number of lines and extensions needed as well as the types of technology available to deliver the desired services. For example, if offices are spread across area codes, ZIP Codes or across continents, VoIP may save long distance charges, but can it deliver the clarity needed for transoceanic conference calls? While that might be an extreme example, the point is that potential systems must be examined in multiple dimensions. Yes, it is good to save money. No, it is not so good if conference call participants sit on mute and play computer games because they cannot hear or understand what is being said.

Physical and organizational constraints run the gamut from tapped out lines in executive office suites to organizationally-mandated spam filtering and voice mail archiving to legally mandated encryption of data transmissions. Phone system planning is about much more than just the conduit from the wall to the instrument on the desk.

From Plan to Purchase Order
The needs are known, the plan is written, but before issuing the purchase order, comparison shop. Talk with vendors to understand their level of commitment to your account and their level of technical knowledge and support. See how much they will negotiate. And consider lease options or purchasing used equipment.


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