Regardless of your type of business, your ability to communicate with employees, customers, clients, vendors and others is critical to your success. This makes choosing the right voice and data vendor one of your most important business decisions.
There are countless companies supplying voice and data services today, so your decision requires planning and research to ensure that you find the provider that is best for your business.
Below is a process you can follow to help you choose your next telecom vendor. You can use it to properly evaluate and compare prospective vendors and determine how well they are able to provide the specific voice and data capabilities your business needs:
Step 1 — Analyze Your Needs
Meet with your employees to discuss the various types of communications they need and usewhen communicating with customers, partners, and suppliers.
Analyze your type of business and the type of data that needs to be exchanged electronically. For example, do you typically send and receive large graphics files or simply text documents?
Make a map of usage patterns at your business. This will help you determine bandwidth requirements and identify typical daily demands on voice vs. data usage throughout the workday.
Understand your network infrastructure. This is important to know so your vendors can easily determine the compatibility of their system with your network.
Determine which phone features are necessary to run your business communications efficiently. These can include:
- Call Routing: Calls can be manually or automatically routed from office numbers to cell phones or home phones and other lines when employees are away from the business.
- Convert voicemail calls to texts or emails: This feature lets you and your employees receive transcriptions of voicemail messages to read at your leisure and keep a record of the content of important communications.
- Data Integration Linking: Many providers offer a feature that displays an inbound screen showing a customer’s complete relationship history when a call comes in from their number. This feature is essential for maximizing sales in many types of businesses.
- Usage Reporting: View data usage over time to adjust services and manage costs more effectively.
- Caller ID: Screening calls before they are answered is a capability that lets you better handle customers and clients and better manage calls from vendors and other business associates.
- Call Monitoring: Monitor how employees handle customer calls to make training more effective.
- Auto Attendant: This feature provides a programmable menu that lets you automatically direct callers to the proper extension and make your business appear more professional.
- Audio and Video Conferencing: Have the ability to put multiple people onto a call at the same time to better handle project planning and other business meetings with internal and external participants.
- Do Not Disturb: Just as it states, this feature lets you stop incoming calls to your phone line during meetings and other times you do not want to be interrupted.
- Hold Music: Choose what your callers hear while on hold when calling your business.
- Select a vendor that can continue to serve your needs as you grow. Determine the bandwidth and the features necessary to operate your business efficiently now, then project what you might need to accommodate more employees and more capabilities in the future.
Step 2 — Evaluate Vendors
Request recommendations from trusted colleagues.
To avoid potential confusion and reduce the time you spend on this important evaluation, it is probably best to limit your evaluation to three vendors. Recommendations are probably your best option for choosing which vendors to evaluate.
Measure the experience of each vendor you are considering by asking these questions:
- How long have you been in business?
- Are you a licensed and authorized dealer for the technology you offer?
- How many certified trained employees work for your company?
- What do you provide that your competition does not?
- What other businesses like mine do you serve?
- What is your percentage of guaranteed uptime?
Next, measure the quality of the vendor’s technology, the features and the support offered:
- Do they offer the type of technology you need and is it compatible with your network?
- Hosted IP solution
- LAN (local area network)
- WAN (wide area network)
- Advanced networking applications
- Voice and data cabling linking remote sites
- Is the voice quality good?
- Do they provide the user features you have determined are needed for your operation?
- Can they provide the bandwidth you need now and can they continue to serve your needs as your company grows?
- How many individuals will be assigned to help implement — then support — your service?
- Having fewer points of contact is actually an advantage because these individuals will
better know you and your operation.
- Request pricing for the features and services you want. Getting a good value is the most
important issue. Paying too little and not getting what you need can hurt your operation.
- Investigate their process for setting up your system, training your employees to use it,
maintaining it and supporting it.
- Find out the turnaround time on parts — can they be delivered quickly when needed?
Lastly, verify the vendor’s promises and credentials:
- Request the names and numbers of three references of companies they serve that are similar to yours. Then call and interview them.
- Ask to see a live demonstration of the systems you are considering.
- Visit one or more of the sites of customers using the same systems you are evaluating.
It’s also important to find a vendor with the right attitude. You want your communication system provided by individuals willing to take the time to understand your situation and needs, then proactively alert you to new features and technologies that will help you better run your business long into the future.