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Choosing the Right Communication Solution: A Step-by-Step Guide for Small Business Owners

Table of Contents

Introduction

Communication in a business is a vital piece of its operations. Effective communication is the glue that binds all aspects of a business together. It promotes understanding, facilitates collaboration, and contributes to an organisation’s success and sustainability. Businesses prioritising and investing in solid communication practices will navigate challenges, foster innovation, and build lasting relationships with customers and employees.

People need to pay more attention to the impact of a business’s communication channels on its performance and reputation. Here are some examples:

Dispatch Operators

Clear and timely communication with dispatch operators is essential to ensure that logistics and operations run smoothly, enabling real-time adjustments and efficient response to changing circumstances.

Customer Service Agents

Customer service agents are the frontline ambassadors of a business, and effective communication with them is paramount to providing exceptional service, resolving issues promptly, and maintaining positive customer relations. 

Cross-Departmental Collaboration

Cross-departmental communication fosters collaboration, breaking down silos and promoting a cohesive work environment where teams can share knowledge, resources, and expertise for the benefit of the entire organisation.

Adaptability to Market Trends

Maintaining open communication channels with various stakeholders, including management and customer service teams, facilitates gathering valuable insights, enabling the organisation to adapt quickly to market trends and changing customer demands.

In every example, it’s easy to understand how misguided communication systems create under-performing businesses. For a dispatcher, this could mean late deliveries or missed job opportunities. For customer service agents, it could cause frustration and negative reviews. For cross-department collaboration, teams do not pass along information and create gaps in service offerings and support. When adapting to market trends, management may need more information from their team to make informed decisions.

This Article's Purpose: Guiding Small Businesses in Choosing the Right Communication Solution

In this article, we will compare several phone systems for businesses, from traditional phone systems to VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) to Unified Communications (UC). By the end of the reading, you should comprehensively understand what will work better for your business in the long term.

Types of Communication Solutions

Traditional Phone Systems

Traditional systems were previously one of the only systems you could purchase as little as 20+ years ago. For this article, we will define “traditional” systems as those using digital grayscale (no colour screens) telephones with analog landlines. Modern systems capable of traditional technology are usually hybrid, meaning they can work with VoIP services, too, utilising the Internet for voice communications.

Traditional System Pros and Cons

Pros
  • Reliability of using established infrastructure
  • Consistent call quality for local calls
  • Meantime between failures can be 20 years, depending on the manufacturer
Cons
  • Limited features for ring patterns and external devices like cell phones
  • Potential higher costs for long-distance calls
  • Loss in quality over long distances
  • Carriers are replacing infrastructure

VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol)

VoIP is the transmission of voice over the Internet. The term ‘VoIP’ can mean several things, from on-premises systems where the phone server resides inside the business to cloud phone systems where the phone server resides in the cloud. The fundamental similarity is that both systems utilise the Internet for communications and rely on a business’s data network, sharing the same type of connection as a desktop computer. These systems are considered more scalable, only requiring licensing and end-user devices to expand.

VoIP Pros and Cons

Pros
  • Cost-effectiveness, often including long-distance calling.
  • Feature-rich with more choices of phones, cell phones, and ring patterns.
  • Scalability: Easily adjust the system size to match the company’s growth.
Cons
  • Relies on internet connectivity, which can be problematic if the data network is unmanaged.
  • Limitations of features beyond voice.

Unified Communications (UC)

Unified Communications integrates business communication features such as voice calls, video, chat, SMS text messaging, and other collaboration tools into a single platform. UC seeks to bring more value to a business’s operations than just voice calling. By combining several features, companies can expect cost savings, a single user interface, and greater integration depth to other software such as CRMs, service hubs, and more.

UC Pros and Cons

Pros
  • Enhanced collaboration internally and with clients
  • Reduced overall software costs
  • SMS texting on business numbers
  • Greater mobility with mobile and tablet apps
  • Potential of reduced hardware cost if using softphones
  • Easy to implement remote work capabilities
Cons
  • Initial setup complexity
  • Potential for higher costs than voice-only solutions
  • Relies on internet connectivity, which can be problematic if the data network is unmanaged.

Considerations for Small Businesses

Budgetary Considerations

The below line chart roughly displays how the cumulative cost changes over time between traditional VoIP and Unified Communications systems. Typically, a UC system will overtake an on-premises VoIP system in cumulative cost in the third or fourth year. The timing varies by the system design, optional items, and other considerations. The y-axis is for reference only and may not be a typical price.

It will be easy to think “VoIP on-premises is cheaper”, but that is not necessarily true. Suppose a business can bundle multiple software and receive more benefits from a UC system in the long run. In that case, they will have saved more money in other areas than they have paid additionally for the UC system. As a company owner, you may find the extra features available on a cloud UC system to be more relevant to you, such as working from anywhere and taking business calls with you via your cell phone. All these pieces are critical to consider in realising which system will be more cost-effective for you in the long term.

Traditional vs VoIP vs UC

A cumulative cost comparison

Another key consideration with the above chart is the system setup and deployment. This is based on a single site, with multi-sites looking different. You may also value a cloud system for automatic backups sent into your company storage. Priorities here play a crucial role in identifying what is important to you for a phone system.

Other Costs to Be Aware Of

On-Premises Systems

An on-premises system works as a server kept within your office building. Our clients often call it the “phone box”. This server handles all the calls, and everything from software and voicemails to user information is stored here. Being similar to a typical business server, there are some potential costs:

  • Upgrading the system CPU – Your manufacturer may perform upgrades, and new features could reside with the CPU upgrade. NEC does this, and although it is an extra cost, it is significantly better than buying a whole new system. In some respects, this is a benefit of choosing specific brands.
  • Like any server, it requires maintenance. Software patches, parts being changed, and other changes are typically billable services. It is worth being on a service plan with your provider so you have standard maintenance covered.
  • Licensing – Some specific high-end programs, such as hotel software integration, may require additional licensing.
Unified Communications Systems

A UC system works similarly to an on-premises system; however, the server is no longer in your office building, only the end-user hardware, such as IP desk phones. What is nice about this is that the server is no longer your responsibility to maintain hardware changes, software updates, or network security vulnerabilities. With the system being hosted in the cloud, there may be different charges, such as:

  • Licensing – Most UC systems have tiered licensing to access specific features. Be sure to see the licensing breakdown to make sure you select and pay for what you need. Some businesses want something simple, and others need something more in-depth.
  • Third-party software may charge you for integrations. This point is not negative on the UC system but is worth mentioning. Your CRM, Medical Software, or Dispatch Software may charge a fee to integrate with the UC system. It’s essential to ask your vendors what they are capable of and whether it is included with your services.

Scalability

In any business, you are often changing sizes due to growth, refocusing service offerings, and the ebb and flow of sales. Choosing a system that scales with you for your communications can help keep expenses in line with your current operations and maintain a consistent approach as your business grows.

Traditional systems are notoriously difficult to scale as they require expensive hardware to install for more users or phone lines and cannot be reduced quickly. VoIP is well-known for the ease of adding/removing users and IP phone lines, or SIP trunks as we call them. Any VoIP solution usually takes just a few clicks to add, delete, or edit services, assuming you have no contractual obligations. UC systems allow for additional scalability over VoIP systems in the form of features released in new software updates. For example, you may have started adding business SMS texting, and now you have company group texting for your team to chat with clients. Additionally, now you use integrations to help link with your other systems. Specific pieces may be more critical to you, so if you need scalability but your team would not add value using the UC features, then a VoIP system would work great for you.

Features and Functionality

As you will already know, making it this far in the article, features differ across traditional, VoIP, and UC systems. Different vendors also vary by feature set. One UC system could have completely different features from another. We have made a general table below of what you could typically expect.

 

Feature Traditional VoIP UC
Voice Calls & Voicemail
Custom Ring Patterns
Voicemail to Email
Conference Calling
Cell Phone Apps
Video Conferencing
Instant Messaging
Custom Integrations

User Friendliness and Training

Any new system implementation requires some training for administration and end users. For communications, the nature of training varies. Natural habits like picking up the phone and dialling come quickly. Aspects such as transferring and conferencing can be learned. More extensive training is required for some VoIP and almost all UC systems. This is because the phone system bridges into Windows and Mac operating systems, and the user needs to be semi-proficient in navigating system settings, especially with notification settings, sound, and microphones. A lot of support we provide to softphone users is related to their peripheral hardware or operating system navigation. Because of this, it’s important to consider service agreements to include this kind of support unrelated to the phone system to avoid being billed hourly for your vendor to train users on Windows. The levels of training required per system type are outlined below:

  • Traditional Systems: Light user training for transferring, accessing voicemail, and call forwarding.
  • VoIP Systems: Moderate level of user training with core functions the same as traditional systems but with some additional features for reprogramming the system and phones.
  • UC Systems: Depends significantly on user proficiency with their operating system. Proficient users require light to moderate training. Inexperienced users require extensive training and ongoing support.
It will be wise to consider your team’s willingness to learn new systems or whether they have a choice, depending on your company’s market and your reasons for change. Many users, once familiar with new systems, will never want to return to the previous phone system, but growing pains may appear. Bear in mind that if your team will need extra training and ongoing support to achieve the most out of the new system, you should plan accordingly.

Exciting Your Team with the New Phone System

Reasons for exploring a new communication system can vary. Reasons could be one or multiple of the following reasons:

  • The system is ageing and may fail or has failed.
  • Users complain about the current system.
  • The phone system is causing customer service issues due to call quality, dropping calls, or other issues.
  • The monthly pricing of your phone system is not competitive.
  • The features offered in a new system would bring competitive advantages, more reliability, or greater flexibility.
When discussing or informing your team of the need to change, it is essential to outline the reasons. You can keep your team positive for the new change with the following steps:
 
  1.  Be transparent with your team about why the change must happen. This could be anything from finance to function or reliability.
  2. Understand how each department currently uses their phones and speak to the features that would be most valuable for them. This could include texting on the business number, call queuing in busy periods, better call history and analytics, or any other feature.
  3. Host a demonstration with your selected vendor to allow the technician and sales team to field your team’s questions.
  4. Have a plan in place for the transition. Your chosen vendor should be able to help you with this.
  5. Allocate enough time for user training. Your team will be frustrated if they must juggle tasks and be shown how to use the new system simultaneously. If a staff member needs to catch up on their job due to training time, they typically rush the trainer and say it is all simple. After this, they will become frustrated with the system.
  6. Set up some practice calls, group chats, or test SMS texts to play with. Your team will benefit by using and playing with the features.
  7. Ensure enough support is available. Users should be allowed to call the vendor or another colleague for extra tips and support or to answer questions after the system is installed and live.
  8. Review the system setup regularly at the beginning to fine-tune the settings to your liking.

Case Study: A Doctor's Office Moving to Unified Communications

The Scenario

We serve clients all over western Canada, but one case is from a small doctor’s office in Prince George, BC. The doctor’s office manager called us one day asking about a new phone system. They were not currently a client of anyone’s for the phone system because they were using an old Norstar phone system. The system was older than several staff members, and the internal battery had died. The phone system would completely factory default every time the power was turned off. It was so old that the system default was a rotary dial imitation, and calls took forever to dial out. The office manager, through YouTube, had learned how to reprogram simple settings on the system to make it at least usable after a power outage. Their team needed a new system desperately.

The Function

While reviewing the current setup and usage, we found the following:

  •  Most doctors like working from home and using their cell phones. This was an issue because they needed to block their caller ID and patients do not like answering unknown callers.
  • Office managers and receptionists also need the flexibility to work remotely.
  • The office was paying a high price for their analog lines with an old system.
  • Users needed to change their auto attendant regularly for new doctors, services, and hours.
The Solution

We recommended and installed one of our UC systems, Univerge Blue Connect. This system provided the following benefits:

  • Remote working capability. The desk phones worked over Wi-Fi; users could bring them home or install the mobile or desktop app.
  • Better system administration. We could serve the client remotely from anywhere, allowing for on-demand support. The client can also access the administration webpage to make changes as needed.
  • We could take over all phone services to provide a single monthly bill for services and remove the outdated landlines.

Conclusion

Throughout this article, you have learned the differences between various phone systems, from traditional to VoIP to Unified Communications and how they price and function. The most critical aspect for business owners to consider, which we have reiterated throughout writing this, is to base your decision on the company’s direction, your need for flexibility, and scalability. By using the guide for your business decision, you can ensure you have a system capable of growing with you and your team

The Next Steps: See Phone Systems in Action

DoTel has been helping businesses just like yours for nearly thirty years now. We help companies understand the best communication system for them and their team. Our services cover hybrid on-premise VoIP systems, maintenance of some traditional phone systems, and hosted-in-the-cloud Unified Communications systems. 

We offer full demos where your team can meet with us, see what system works for you, go through a live demonstration, and see how everything connects.

Book Your Demo Today

Wildix Communications

Our secure-by-design UC system has powerful softphones and manufacturer-built hardware for the ultimate flexibility and layered redundancies.

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NEC Univerge Blue Connect

Univerge Blue Connect is our UC system for small to medium offices. The Universe Blue Engage product line is for powerful call centre functionality.

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NEC On-Premises VoIP Hybrid

Our NEC on-premises systems work with analog and VoIP technology. The system can integrate with Univerge Blue Connect, providing businesses the flexibility of both on-premises and the cloud.

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