Hosted PBX, the Cloud, VoIP. All of these terms can be intimidating, especially as you need to find the right phone system for your business at the lowest possible cost?
Please use the below questions as a guide to help you as you sort through the myriad of Hosted PBX providers.
Then ask us. We specialise in helping companies just like yours update their phone systems without any upfront costs and, often times, without increasing current monthly spend. We are confident that answers you get from Vital Telcom will assure you that we are the right service provider for you.
What is the contract termination policy?
Contract termination issues are often the last thing anybody wants to think about once all the technical and service issues are researched and resolved. However, it is this very fact that causes headaches down the road, so don’t be backwards coming forward with your questions at an early stage.
Remember that contacts should serve the needs of both parties. If a provider offers you lots of free up-front benefits like installation and on-site training, network analysis, new equipment, etc. you should be prepared for a term to be attached to the contract. A quality provider may have to make a significant investment to deliver the quality service that you need. In exchange for that, you must make a commitment back to them in the form of committing to many months of service or to pay early termination fees.
If you truly require a “no commitment” contract, then don’t expect savings in the set-up costs from your provider.
You should have a list of your “must have” features in hand before you start looking for a Hosted PBX Provider. You should also consider what features you might need in the future if your business grows, or if you will be adding additional locations or employees who work from home. Another important consideration is if you will need any Call Center or other advanced or custom features in the near future.
Confused about equipment?
Hosted PBX is often delivered as an Over-The-Top service that uses your existing internet connection and Local Area Network (LAN). If either of these elements are not sufficient for the added load that a Hosted PBX puts on them, you may need additional equipment, as well as network and/or IP connection upgrades to ensure the quality of service that you need. Getting optimal quality-of-service often requires that you purchase a new modem and/or router. Ask if the service provider includes a QoS (quality of service) router with their offering. QoS Routers are dual purpose. They can enable remote insight and support from a service provider perspective, and also allow for traffic shaping to prioritize voice over data traffic on an IP connection, ensuring optimal call quality.
Number of lines/channels?
The flexibility to scales up or down users and lines required is one of the key benefits of using a Hosted PBX. Remember, if you have made a term commitment to your provider, there may be a minimum number of lines or users per month that you must maintain. However, you should be able to add lines above that minimum commitment and drop back to it on demand. This is key for seasonal businesses. Ideally your provider should give you the ability to add or modify services on your own via a web portal or ticketing system, without the need to call support.
Is Support Included? Hours required?
Every service provider wants to tell you that their service is so reliable and easy that you will never need support or any training beyond your initial set-up. However, adding new employees, changing requirements or feature requests, power or ISP outages, or any network issue could create an immediate support need.
Have the provider inform you of the level of support available to you. Are support techs available to take a live phone call, or is support only provided via a ticketing system or chat interface? Providers should have a clear set of instructions outlining the procedures for getting your issue resolved quickly. There are few things more frustrating than unresolved service-affecting issues. Ask what the process is to escalate and resolve issues, should the standard support process fail.
If you require a guaranteed level of service reliability, ask the provider to produce a SLA (Service Level Agreement). The SLA requires the carrier to adhere to a certain level of performance, with predefined consequences (usually in the form of account credits) for a provider’s lack of performance.
Can I keep my current number? Are there charges to Port?
This is another key question. Whether you port or use a mixture of existing and new numbers, ensure your provider can provide total inbound redundancy.
Ideally, your new VoiP PBX provider should have a vast supportable phone number footprint – whether it is their own network, or one that they’ve created by partnering with Tier 1 providers. The point is that if they are a reputable provider and are asking you to become a customer, they should be able to support your local phone number.
Porting a phone number should be a painless task that requires only that you submit a bill copy and a Letter of Agency (LOA) form that grants the service provider permission to take control of your number. The porting process itself should be seamless, with no “down time” or service interruptions.
Many times, porting fees can be reduced or even waived, especially if you opt to sign a contract term. Be sure to review the provider’s terms and conditions carefully with regard to porting your numbers out. Some providers might try to keep your numbers to prevent you from going elsewhere. This is particularly true if the provider issued new numbers to you from their own pool of numbers. If you choose to move to another service provider after your contract term is up, you should have the freedom to be able to take your phone numbers with you without a hassle.
What startup costs are there beyond setup and equipment fees?
This is where many providers try to sneak in additional equipment and hidden charges. Their fee may only include their service, but your internet connection or LAN may need significant upgrades to be able to handle the additional load of using a Hosted PBX.
A reputable service provider will recommend a site survey/network analysis before bringing you onto their service. The site survey serves several purposes. It helps determine your network’s readiness to support the hosted pbx, identifying available bandwidth and other LAN/network considerations. It also helps the provider from a network planning perspective. A proper site survey will account for all administrative extensions, call queues, hunt groups, phone numbers, fax or conferencing lines, missing cable runs, etc. This information becomes an inventory and a template that allows the provider to build your hosted pbx. The more thorough this pre-work is, the smoother the new service implementation will go.
Expect to pay for a site survey, especially if the service provider has associated travel costs. Many times, service providers will include the site survey costs with the monthly recurring charge. You might also be able to negotiate a reduced total cost if the service provider will be doing the actual on-site installation of the new equipment for you.
What day-to-day usage costs are not covered by my service plan? What are the rates for international calls?
Service fees, per-minute charges, and connection fees are often places where a provider can tack on additional monthly costs.
In general, inbound toll free service is always per minute, as is international calling. Become familiar with your provider’s rate decks for these services and review your bill to make sure these charges are properly applied so that you are not overcharged. Additionally, services like 411, 911, and multi-party conferencing may carry a per occurrence or per minute fee. If there is the possibility of any charges above your monthly service fee, make sure they are all enumerated before you sign that contract.
Can the system handle outbound and inbound faxes out of the box? Can I just plug in a fax machine or do I need special equipment?
Decent hosting providers will be able to eliminate your business from requiring a FAX machine or dedicated line. FAX to email and Email to FAX.
The hosted (cloud-based) is a good option to avoid extra fees associated with special faxing equipment, plus you can take advantage of other associated cost-savings like reduced paper and toner costs. Talk with your service provider to determine the best fit to serve your faxing needs.
How does the system handle remote worker/homeworkers ?
Supporting remote, mobile, and work-from-home employees is often a key driver when upgrading a phone system. Make sure that these types of workers are able to access the entire suite of features from the new system, even when they are not in the office.
Some providers offer softphones or mobile apps, which can eliminate the need for expensive handsets for mobile/remote workers. Discuss the options with your provider to determine which solution is right for the way that your company does business. See remote worker/home worker.
Upgrading options – up or down?
Another major benefit of using a hosted PBX is the elimination of concerns over upgrades, company growth, or dealing with seasonal fluctuations. Your provider should provide an easy to understand plan on how to deal with these situations.
Guarantees on the QoS (quality of service)?
Quality of Service is often the big differentiator between providers. A quality provider will have more than one data center, geographically separated, so that an outage or natural disaster in one location does not interrupt service.
They will also have specialised equipment and monitoring tools to monitor their network (and your network as well) so that they can deal with network issues BEFORE they impact the quality of your calls.
They should also have a plan in place to reroute your calls in in the event that you have an unexpected or emergency closure in your office. They may offer some sort of fail over service that routes all of your internet traffic (including your VoIP Calls) to the internet via a mobile data/cellular carrier that has sufficient bandwidth to handle all of your traffic.
Emergency services cover — Will dispatchers know my location automatically — and how about remote workers?
Delivering a 911 or E911 service is very complicated when using a hosted PBX. It is further complicated when we add mobile, remote, or work-from-home agents to the mix. Every legitimate hosted provider should be able to explain how they deliver this vital service. The most reliable service providers will have invested in a solid 911 solution, which is directly integrated with the 911 system and handles emergency calls via PSAPs (public safety answering points). Make sure that the provider you choose has a way for you to update your 911 registered locations on the fly, as the services are only effective if emergency personnel are dispatched to your correct physical location.