Phone system upgrade
Phones are among the biggest expenses for CLCs. Therefore it it important to take an active role when deciding upon a new phone system.
Don’t be concerned with the technical aspects of the various systems available. Document your needs and provide a list of requirements to an independent technical advisor. Answering the questions below will help you to do this.
In addition to answering these questions, consider asking other similar organisations to recommend a phone system. You may learn from their experiences. A warning comes with this approach however.
In the past, some CLCs have signed up to unsatisfactory arrangements based on the recommendations of others. Apply the same principles as you would when choosing an IT support provider.
If you write down answers to these questions, with the help of other staff, you should be well on the way to defining the needs of your system. You can then provide the answers in writing to a technical expert for advice about the system you need.
Also include in your list of any other features staff have requested. Decide as a group if any of these are desirable.
- How much to do we spend on local calls (per month/year)? How many calls do we make (per month/year)?
- How much to do we spend on mobile calls (per month/year)? How many calls do we make (per month/year)? How much time is spent on mobile calls (per month/year)?
- How much to do we spend on interstate and international calls (per month/year)? How many calls do we make (per month/year)?
- Are most of our calls made to a few individuals or organisations? If so, who?
- How many phone users (staff) are there?
- How many outgoing lines do we need? (This often different from the number of staff – you may save money by assuming not everyone will be on the phone at the same time.)
- What phone numbers are important to keep?
- Do we want each staff member to have their own phone number?
- Do we want outside callers to be able to dial extensions directly?
- Do we want voicemail?
- Do we want voicemail for each staff member or a single one for the organisation?
- Do we want staff to be able to check messages from outside of the office?
- What options for callers do we want to provide (e.g. hold or leave a message for busy numbers)?
- Do we want multiple voicemail message types (e.g. one for business hours and one for after hours)?
- Do we want unanswered calls to move from one extension to another? (This may not be necessary in an office where everyone can see or hear incoming calls.)
- Do we want an automated voice function that directs callers to dial specific extensions?
Some notes about VOIP (phone calls over the intenet)
'VOIP' stands for voice over internet protocol. This means using the internet to make relatively cheap phone calls. CLCs that make many long-distance calls may benefit from using VOIP.
- VOIP can be cheaper than a conventional phone system but the quality is not as good. A decision about taking up VOIP should be based on cost versus quality.
- VOIP may require more administrative work than a conventional system.
- Trial VOIP before signing any long-term contract.
- Consider having a combination of a conventional and a VOIP system.
For further details, see the Phone calls over internet page.
Consider the skill level and turnover of staff. Staff may overwhelmed by many 'fancy' features are rarely used. Such features can get in the way of providing a simple phone and message service.
Simplicity is better, given that a provider will typically train current staff in use of a system – and future staff will miss out on this.
Lines versus numbers
How many lines determines how many people, fax machines or modems can be using the phone system at the same time.
Phone numbers is about what phone numbers you want the outside callers to use (e.g. one general number, one fax, one modem and maybe phone numbers for each of the staff).