Questions to Consider When Purchasing a PBX

Asking these important VoIP questions first when choosing a hosted PBX provider will guide you into making the best decision. Remember that it's not only about the lowest price.

You'll find that the quality of the service and the hosted VoIP companies' customer service will be an important part of deciding which hosted PBX provider you choose. Another point to consider is how easy is the sign up process. Effective communication solutions, whether for hosted VoIP or an IP-PBX business phone system, starts with an upfront understanding of the product and the knowledge and foresight to ask the right questions before entering into a long term contract. A little planning will go a long way towards delivering you the correct VoIP business phone system solution.

Will I get the features I need?

You should compile a list of the primary features that are absolutely necessary for your business model, size and operation. Your list should have the most important, "absolutely required" features first, all of which are real deal killers if a particular provider does not offer them. Then it should have the less important features, which would be considered beneficial, (but not imperative) if they were not included. These less critical features are the ones that you might actually find could become more important as time goes on, so treat them accordingly; they are not deal killers, but still carry weight. Then use this list to determine exact pricing, and the pricing changes that might occur if any additional features are added at a later date. These additional features can be categorized in two types, ones that are optional and available today (pricing known), and ones that may yet be developed (many times touted by the salesperson as coming soon). Ask if there will be an additional charge, such as a setup or onetime fee, in addition to the monthly cost, if a voip phone feature is added at a later date. How about the ones that might be developed?

What equipment will I need?

In addition to IP phones, what other hardware or network infrastructure equipment will be needed. Depending on the size of your company and the number of phone connections (or seats) required, you may need to add additional bandwidth or a more robust Internet connection. If you are running certain types of equipment, such as firewalls or routers, will the provider's product be able to operate efficiently through those devices or do they have "known issues" with any of the equipment you already have in place. These questions should be addressed at the beginning of the process, not after you have installed the system, only to find out that there is a problem 2 months later. Will any current phones that you might own be able to operate with the system? What, if any, additional equipment will be required for "good service"?

What is the cancellation policy?

Inquire about any potential contract cancellation termination fees; how much are they and how long will you be subject to them. Find out if there are any circumstances where you can get out of the contract without suffering termination fees. Are there any additional penalties or costs occurred when cancelling and what are the requirements to cancel, both in procedure and also in notice? If you rent or lease any equipment, you will want to know what the policies are regarding this equipment. If after the initial contract period you remain a customer, is it then on a month to month basis or will you need to resign a new term? Do the hosted VoIP provider's cancellation fees still apply after your initial contract, if you keep service and then cancel later on?

What if I change the number of lines?

If the initial amount of lines (seats) increase or decrease at some point in the contract how will that affect that contract term and any termination fees or other cancellation policies? Some contracts may have a per line cancellation fee, and depending on any changes that may occur at some point will you have to fork over a fee for turning off one line or one seat. What happens if you add a seat, will that be an easy addition to your extension setup and call treatments? And if you add another one or two lines 6 months down the road, how will that affect the overall contract for the other lines and the additional lines? For instance, you purchase 5 lines from a provider and all is OK until you have one less employee after a small downsizing. To cut costs you decide to cancel one line, maybe a $50./mo. savings. Then you find out that you need to pay a $100.00 cancel fee plus perhaps a next month's service fee, even though you will be keeping the other 4 lines. Given this scenario, most of the potential cost cutting savings goes away.

What support is included?

Support is certainly one of the big considerations and benefits of a hosted PBX solution, so it comes as no surprise that you will want to know what VoIP support includes and does not include. Will you get the initial installation and a complete setup of the call treatments, such as an attendant and call forward options that you will need, or are you on your own with over the phone support. What are the hours that the provider operates tech support (with live people at the other end of the phone) and what are typical hold times to get someone knowledgeable on the phone? If they have fairly good coverage times, what good is that if they only have two techs and 20 customers waiting to talk to them? Find out how many customer service people answer the phones and how many techs support customers. A reasonable ratio will ensure support. What about hardware purchased, like voip-phones; if there is a problem and something needs replacement do you deal with the provider or the hardware equipment manufacturer? Good customer service should be one of the main considerations when considering a VoIP provider. Typically how well a company handles their customers is an indication of how satisfied their customers are.

What other monthly charges might I incur?

Inquire about any other fees, special or otherwise that you may get charged for. Does the provider have a onetime "setup fee", or a "add a service fee" that gets charged for each additional service that might be added. Find out what the provider's international rates are. If they are high in comparison to others and you make a substantial amount of international calls, then these additional costs need to factored in.

How do you guarantee the quality of your service?

VoIP providers can vary widely in the quality of their service. Some providers use superior outbound termination with more consistent quality, while others may use less reliable partners. And as VoIP connections travel over other networks, they can face challenges that more traditional phone companies do not face. Realizing that there can be occasions, though probably brief, where Voice quality is bad, or worse yet, periods where calls may not complete, due to a myriad of possibilities; how will the provider handle those events. Will they notify you and work diligently to resolve the problems (most want to get issues resolved very quickly), or will they wait until you open a trouble ticket and then act as though it was everyone's else's problem but theirs? Do they have a failover solution?

How do I know you will stay in business?

VoIP providers have been going through a consolidation phase in the business cycle, so make sure your contract is binding if your provider gets acquired. Stability, longevity and financial solvency are attributes that make a VoIP provider less likely to have a financial upset, but knowing the financial strength of a company may not be that easy to determine. Use the Internet to search out information on the company. Check out the BBB (Better Business Bureau) and see what their record is when dealing with complaints.