What do SMB’s want from a phone system?

By Jim Machi is the Vice President of Marketing for Sangoma

Each day, more and more SMBs are taking a step towards deploying a phone system which does more than just make and receive phone calls. They are looking at Unified Communication (UC) phone systems (either deployed on-premise or cloud) as their business phone system. UC is basic telephony and voicemail capabilities, but also includes other forms of communication, such as presence, instant messaging, collaboration, fax, video, and file sharing. It also enables your smartphone to be tied to the primary business phone system, essentially extending your office phone numbers beyond the physical boundary of the office. It’s important to note that more modern phone systems, whether they have UC capabilities or not, are also increasingly including some basic call centre features, such as IVR, call transfer, and call monitoring and analytics, as part of the phone system.

While this sounds like it could be expensive, in reality your typical business phone system should include these features and you should not have to pay more for them. So it makes sense to at least consider UC. Sangoma is seeing our small business customers fall into four broad categories when considering UC:

1.Upgrading a legacy phone system
2.Obtaining more call centre capabilities
3.Increasing employee productivity / combining disparate communication systems into one
4.Wanting to move to a cloud-based architecture

Upgrading a Legacy Phone System

Many small businesses just want a phone system that works, is dependable, is easy to manage, and is modern. They likely have an old phone system that sits in a closet. Their original vendor is gone, and it works “OK” so they just leave it alone year after year. But at some point, “OK” becomes not good enough because the phone system is really impacting the business in some tangible way. Maybe business was lost. Or it’s costing too much to maintain it. Or it’s hindering the business from growing. Regardless, it’s time to upgrade.

Upgrading from a PBX/key system is important. While businesses don’t really want to open the communications closet, it’s worth it. If you use a reputable reseller / integrator, one who has completed upgrades multiple times before, it will go fine. It’s just moving into the IP world. You will upgrade your phone system to move to an IP-based architecture, so all the communications in the office are converged together. You already have IP because of your internet, so you are just moving your phone system onto that.

Obtaining More Call Centre / Contact Centre Capabilities

Some businesses want the modern phone system as described above, but also want more features than what they have. In some cases, this is as basic as having voicemail and call forwarding. But in more and more cases, this means some basic call centre features such as music on hold, call-back when available, call queues, and routing rules (such as time of day routing or department routing). In other words, small businesses want to look bigger and treat their customers better.

Some businesses also want their phone system to integrate with other commonly used business tools, such as CRM, help desk, property management or practice management software. Many UC systems provide this integration. For instance, your UC system can integrate with your CRM by syncing up call history, providing click-to-call functionality, and displaying screen POPs. This would enable you to service your customers better as you would be able to understand their business without having to ask many questions.

Unified communications provide interesting features to small businesses to make themselves appear larger to the customer. With UC, the workforce stays seamlessly connected with each other regardless of where they are, which automatically improves communication with the customer. A feature like Follow Me allows an employee to receive a phone call that was made to their desk phone on their cell phone. And then there is Instant Messaging, which, with just a few clicks of the mouse, can be turned into a phone call or videoconference facilitated by a GUI (graphic user interface). These features ensure you are always connected to your business, whether you are driving or are offsite. In this way, UC gives the ability to your business to project ‘bigger.’

Increasing Employee Productivity / Combining Disparate Communication Systems into One System
Some businesses want some or all of the above benefits, but they also want to bring some sanity to all the different tools beyond the phone that employees might be using to communicate. The numerous options for communications available for a company, even a small company, have not necessarily made life easier or simpler. On average, an employee spends several hours every day toggling between instant messaging, voice, email, chats, audio/videoconferencing, file and screen sharing, and more to get through their work day.

Unified communications enables employees to manage all their communications from a single window. Studies have shown that UC applications significantly increase staff productivity by enabling employees to check and respond to all their messages from one screen, on any device.

Wanting to Move to a Cloud-based Architecture

For many small companies, massive investments in IT infrastructure or business communications systems are not an option. Cloud communications solutions can dramatically reduce CAPEX and OPEX costs, and thus enables you to focus on running your business while the cloud provider focuses on running your communications solution.

Another key advantage of a cloud-based architecture is that as new features become available in the product, the cloud gets updated and subscribers to the cloud can get these new features. There are no forklift upgrades required. As an example, many businesses are interested in adding video in the future – they know they’ll need it in a few years but aren’t quite ready yet. When they are ready, these businesses will want to do add this functionality quickly. In this case, the cloud-based architecture works well because they’ll be able to use the feature once the base UC platform has it and once they financially unlock (pay for) the ability to use it.

Conclusion

There are various benefits SMBs gain from moving to UC systems. No matter what your reason, it all comes down to whether you are getting exceptional value at your price points. Make sure you feel comfortable with your vendor or partner, and make sure they can discuss the pros and cons of the cloud vs. on premise, can understand what deployment options you have, and can plan out the implementation.

Sangoma understands SMBs, which is what has made us the leader in value-based communications. We also work through established local telephony distributors and channels, so you can get the expert help you need. We make upgrading from a legacy phone system easy because we offer businesses deployment options that fit their needs – whether they are looking for an on-premise, virtualized, or cloud-based UC system. We also include call centre functionality in our base system, without requiring SMBs to purchase expensive add-ons or packages. Most of all, we provide value, which is exactly what SMBs really want from their UC system.

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David Dungay

Editor - Comms Business Magazine