Before Buying a Telecommunications System — Do Your Homework
Your telephone system can be a powerful tool — keeping your business in touch with customers, boosting productivity and building revenue. And, if you’re shopping for a system, there’s never been a wider array of choices. Even single-line phones are packed with features unheard of a decade ago.
Today’s sophisticated multi-line systems can answer, sort, automatically distribute and save calls. They can merge voice mail, e-mail and faxes into a single device. They can connect credit card readers, modems, cordless and wireless phones. They can even connect calls to telecommuters working at home as if they were in the main office.
With this bewildering array of choices, how do you begin shopping for a system? What’s right for your business? Once you’ve settled on a system, what’s the best way to finance it? Should you say yes to a service contract?
A good way to approach your purchase is to divide the task into three chunks planning, shopping and post-purchase.
Planning for your new system. Begin by preparing a work flow chart so you’ll know how calls are answered, who needs phones, how often callers are put on hold and other key aspects of your work flow. This first step may be the single most important factor in buying a telephone system, yet it’s often ignored. Other questions you’ll want to think about before starting to shop include:
?? Are you trying to grow your business? (What business person isn’t?) You’ll need a system flexible enough to grow with you.
? Does your work force need to stay in touch with each other and customers beyond normal business hours?
? Will you be using fax machines, answering machines, credit card readers, etc.?
? Who will provide the training needed to get the most out of your new system?
Shopping. Having done your homework, you’re ready to start “kicking tires.”
Where do you start? First, find a company and a sales rep who’s interested in solving your telecommunications challenge. Do comparison shopping with your business associates ask them which telecommunications equipment company they chose and why. Check the Better Business Bureau and get references. Look for “test drives” of equipment in consumer and telecommunications publications.
Be sure to check out repair options what’s available? What about emergencies and after-hours repairs? Who repairs the system and where do they get the parts? Is seasonal service coverage available?
Financing your system can be just as important as choosing the right system. If you can’t afford to or don’t want to buy equipment, leasing offers a number of advantages and flexible payment plans. A true lease is for those not interested in owning the system. It will give you the lowest monthly payment. A step lease offers lower payments at the beginning (when a business might be starting up) and higher payments later in the life of the lease. A finance lease is considered a conditional sale by the IRS and is capitalized. For tax purposes, the lessee can take depreciation and interest expense on the payment, like a bank loan. A bargain purchase option as low as $1 can make the equipment yours at the end of the lease.
The Service Contract. About 65 percent of the businesses that purchase communications systems also purchase service contracts. If you rely on your telephones, you don’t want to think about them you just want them to work. A comprehensive service agreement should include:
?? Around-the-clock system monitoring like that available from Lucent Technologies’ National Technical Service Center. Such centers monitor distant customer systems, often diagnosing and repairing trouble before customers are aware of it.
? 24-hour helpline support.
? A national network of trained, experienced service technicians.
? A sophisticated dispatch system that allows technicians to quickly fix your problem the first time out.
? An emergency service plan that delivers priority service when disaster strikes.
Post-Purchase Activities. Now that you’ve researched your system, here are a few pointers to make sure it’s smoothly integrated into your business. First, make sure installers have access to the area. Determine whether installation can be done during
working hours, or if it must be done after-hours (extra charges might apply). Make sure you and your people get trained. Be sure to keep a record of repairs, enhancements and new lines added. And know who to call for questions and repairs.
Investing in a telephone system is a vital strategic decision. It’s your lifeline to customers and it can be instrumental in growing your business. The key to making the right decision is doing your homework up front and looking beyond features and options to build quality and service into your new system.
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Patti Cain-Stanley is a Lucent Technologies general manager for General Business Markets in Southern California serving the telecommunications equipment needs for small-to-moderate-sized business. Information is available by calling 1-800-247-7000.