Telephone Systems 101

How to Buy a Telephone System 101

A short, unbiased tip list

Do not buy an exclusive telephone system that is sold and serviced by only one firm. When you buy a system, you should have at least two local sources for service on the system you are considering. In other words, do not lock yourself in – leave yourself options. This point cannot be overemphasized.

Keep it simple. Sophisticated features are not always a benefit. What do you want the system to do? Do not be oversold on features – what good are 300 features when you only need intercom, speed dial and a speaker phone?

Software Upgradeability. Many telephone manufacturers are famous for changing their system configurations and telephones on a yearly basis. You cannot simply keep the same sets and upgrade to a current version through software. This built-in obsolescence means service on your new system may be difficult to come by down the road, not to mention potentially sky-high prices for replacement parts. Are there ongoing charges for software maintenance or upgrades?

Review response times and rates. What is the hourly rate for adds, moves and changes after the installation? How is response defined? If response time is quoted at 4 hours, is that a call back or is a technician guaranteed on site? Does the company provide remote maintenance on the system? If so, what are those charges?

Downtime. How long will your lines be down during installation? Will the vendor be willing to complete the cut over after your business hours or on a weekend? If so, will additional overtime be charged?

Future costs. What would it cost if you decided to add lines or telephone sets at or after the initial installation?

Standard feature or option? Many proposals list a feature, but to activate that feature is an extra charge. For instance, if the proposal lists music-on-hold as a feature, does the vendor provide the necessary music source or is it an extra chargeable item? If VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) is listed, does that feature require additional equipment and/or a licensing fee?

Hands on demonstration. Have the company bring you a phone. Is the handset solid? How do the buttons feel? Seam lines? Brochures often make an inferior telephone look fabulous, when in reality it is substandard in construction. Trust your judgment.

Contact names. Write down names. Who will install the system and what are his/her qualifications? Is he/she an employee or a subcontractor? Who, if anyone, will train you on the system? If problems arise, who can you call at the vendor office? Will the sales person stay with you before and after the sale?

Last note. Make sure the company you are choosing is registered with their Construction Contractors Board. Check their Better Business Bureau rating. How long has this company been in business? Every year there are many new telecom companies – and the following year, they are gone. It is better to buy an “average” phone system from an excellent service company who will do a detailed job on the installation and programming than the best phone system money can buy, with a poor installation and set-up design. Forget the slick salespeople (and their promises) employed by some phone companies – remember – it is highly unlikely the salesperson is going to be interested in seeing the job through once the sales order is signed… Ask to meet with the technician who will actually install your system for answers.