Choosing a Voice Mail System

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Voice Mail put simply
In its simplest form a voice mail system is essentially just another phone answering system. They store their messages on a computer disk. Each user is assigned a mailbox where they only have access to his or her messages. They are also password protected so only the assigned user can access the messages in their mailbox. Voice mail systems also allow each user to create their own greeting message. This enables the user to pass on instructions or important messages without taking the call.

Voice mail systems can allow companies to redirect callers to other company employees. A voice mail system can answer calls rather than a member of staff; provide them with a common greeting, then guide the caller to an appropriate department through a selection process. This is more commonly known as the voice mail systems Auto Attendant feature.

Voice mail systems can merge fax, e-mail and voice messages into just one screen of a users PC. Some voice mail systems even offer voice recognition technology. A caller's voice is recognised by the voice mail system and the system acts accordingly to pre-defined instructions. This is known as Interactive Voice Response.

What to look for in a voice mail system
Voice mails systems are usually additional features of existing in house phone systems. When deciding which voice mail system to purchase you need to look at two key aspects of each one: the number of user ports and the hours of memory that is allocated to messages.

A good voice mail system will have enough ports to handle incoming calls without delay. If all the ports are full, then any new callers will be delayed in the system until a port becomes available. If a voice mail system has too many ports then its capacity is wasted. The trick is to balance the number of ports with the estimated number of potential customers.

The capacity of a voice mail system depends on the hours of memory it has available. A system with a large number of ports and traffic may need a large number of hours, where as a system with low traffic will need fewer hours. The term hours of memory refers to capacity of a voice mail system to store any messages.

Selecting a voice mail system, check list

1. How do you use your voice mail?
This depends on how heavily your staff will be using the voice mail system. A port is in use whenever the voice mail system picks up a call, someone leaves, someone is transferred, or whenever a message is picked up by a user. All these factors need to be taken into account when looking at suitable voice mail systems.

2. Many older phone systems may not support a modern voice mail system.
Unfortunately many business phone systems that are above five years old will not be able to fully support a fully featured voice mail system. The only solution would be to replace your phone system with a more modern one.

3. Adequate memory.
Most voice mail systems have an adequate amount of memory, usually more than you will ever need. When selecting an appropriate voice mail system it is important that you enquire about the systems memory capacity, because some suppliers now provide relatively inexpensive voice mail systems that do not have a hard disk for message storage. All the messages and greetings are stored on chips, which seriously affects the amount of memory available. These small inexpensive voice mail systems are only really suitable to companies or offices with only two or three phone extensions and not recommended for a growing company requiring a fully featured voice mail system.

4. Expansion and how much it will cost.
When choosing a voice mail system, you need to make sure that any quotes gathered from systems suppliers include a cost for expansion. If you decide upon a voice mail system that is only sufficient for your current requirements, then consider what will happen if and when your office/company expands, and the need for more voice mail capacity outstrips that of your current system. You will also need to ask any prospective supplier how long they will honour their quotation for the expansion of your voice mail system.

5. Remote maintenance costs.
Before purchasing a suitable voice mail system from any supplier, you need to find out what their costs are for remote maintenance. All voice mail systems will at some time require a little care and feeding, which more often than not can only be provided by the system supplier.

6. Voice mail system training.
It is important that all users attend the training sessions of any new voice mail system. Though voice mail systems are not usually difficult to use, some staff may require one to one or even extra tuition. When evaluating the training cost section of any proposed voice mail system suppliers quotation, it is important to ascertain that a low price does not mean a low standard of system training.

7. Additional training.
It is advisable that you acquire a cost for any future additional training sessions that may be required from time to time, as staff come and go and for the re-training of existing staff.

8. Should I purchase a larger voice mail system?
There are two main questions you need to ask yourself in order to determine whether or not you should purchase a larger voice mail system.

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Jason Morris is co-author of Business Phone Systems Direct. An established communications company, offering advice and implementation of high quality business phone systems.

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