The sad state of my small business telephone system

I’m reviewing and looking for suggestions on the best setup for a small business phone system.

The stature of the telephone as a business tool has fallen dramatically in status and usefulness in my business career. I remember being one of the early adapters of cellular technology in the late 1980s and early 1990s that allowed me to relocate my business out of the ‘high rent’ office space in the Philadelphia suburbs to the beautiful New Jersey shore. In those days my total telecommunications bill ran about $700 per month for office lines, home office, mobile, pagers and fax lines. It was expensive but there was no doubt that I got good value from phone service. Back in those days prospective clients actually found me online through Google search and picked up their phone to call for more information. Those times are gone.

Nowadays 4 out of 5 incoming calls are robo dialers or other spam marketing. Rarely does a prospective client make an initial call but it still makes sense to be prepared for these calls. I am focused on making sure these business calls are answered promptly by one of the thee of us on staff.

For outbound calls, about 2 out of 3 calls foes to voicemail. We’ve become skilled at leaving short compelling voice messages that typically are reinforced with text and/or email followups. Perhaps 1 in 3 calls dialed results in reaching a live person.

The rest of this blog post is an unordered collection of random observations about my phone system that may serve as the basis of discussion to improve it.

The only cellular company that has a signal strong enough to serve my rural New Jersey shore location is Verizon Wireless. Even so, the signal strength is significantly less reliable than it was a decade or two ago. I vaguely understand that the technology has changed to improve internet signal at the expense of voice signal. I’ve tested others including Sprint and ATT with poor results despite reports by others that they have better luck. Verizon Wireless also happens to be the most expensive service. However every time the cost gets to the level of ‘outrage’ they seem to come up with a new plan to qualm my objections. So I conclude that my cellular service must remain with Verizon. The cost is about $250 per month for the handsets, mifi and ipad.

Cellular phone calls from a handset are inadequate quality for most business calls. People often tell me that the phone cuts out or they have difficulty understanding me on the cellular telephone. I always stie to make serious calls via voIP platform with a headset from my PC.

The best business phones we’ve ever had were Motorola cellular units on the Verizon Wireless network that included ‘push to talk’ features. The handsets were rugged and reliable and I could always reach family and co-workers. I kept five on a single service plan. I was also pleased with Blackberry units with hard keyboards. The Apple iPhone 7 and 7plus that I use now are OK, but nothing to rave about. Perhaps the best feature of the iPhones is the ability to produce high quality video content. I use smartphone features like anyone else but I prefer to use a larger screen whenever possible. I also use an iPad mini and I provide a regular iPad with cellular connection to my business manager.

For the Apple units, I am aware that we have access to FaceTime. I understand it is high quality and reliable but I don’t use it.

Similarly, I am aware of the voice, video, messaging and secure messaging features of Facebook Messenger. I’ve even written some bog posts on the use of secure messaging for transferring tax and financial documents. But I rarely use these programs.

The land lines at my Money Island New Jersey were destroyed by superstorm Sandy and Verizon declined to repair them. Even now, years later, we still have broken dangling lines hanging from poles. In response, I moved my office phone line to a Verizon Wireless ‘MiFi’ that plugs into a desk phone. The signal is acceptable but not great.

We have no cable lines so that means no high speed internet. This forced me to take down the formerly popular ‘bay cam’ and abandon internet-based security camera systems.

I pay Ringcentral $500 to $1000 per year for virtual phone service including an (800) line. Lately people tell me that I should abandon the (800) line. That leaves little reason to keep Ringcentral. Also, Ringcentral formerly linked to Outlook through an Add In application so I could make a phone call from the Outlook application. That feature no longer seems to work.

I pay Microsoft about $20 per year for a local Skype number. I rarely use it but I tested it this week on a long VoIP telephone call to the IRS. The service was fine. I don’t understand the limits on the free phone service.

I’ve used Google Voice in the past but since I am primarily using a Microsoft Office environment, switching to Google and Gmail is not convenient.

Zoom has become more important and is my favorite video call platform. But I have no success convincing people who are not familiar with it to use it. For that reason, I am reluctant to use or recommend a new but lesser known telephone or communications platform.

Most recently my business adviser convinced me to try Voxer for a walkie talkie feature on my smartphone. I still don’t know if my co-workers will be willing to use this technology. If they do, then I am pleased to pay the $29 per year cost for this service. I hope this might improve our internal business communications. Cell phone and text message alone simply aren’t working for us lately.


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