Your business phone system may be ready for a PRI

Business telecommunication systemsThere are two main reasons to install a digital circuit or PRI into your phone system to replace your analog lines: applications and simple cost justification. The PRI is often the same price or cheaper than a bank of analog lines, but offering a huge increase in capacity.

Small businesses often assign analog lines as “private” lines to key staff. There are severe drawbacks to this including the inability of the private line to transfer to voice mail when busy. Instead the caller gets the now old-fashioned busy signal. If your private analog line is part of a hunt group, a set up I just saw recently with a customer, then you really never know where a call will end up, defeating the whole purpose of dedicated lines.

The cleaner way to do private lines is with a PRI circuit and a block of Direct Inward Dial numbers (a block of 20 is about $5 a month). Think of the PRI as having the capacity of 23 analog lines, although technically they are channels not lines. The DIDs are assigned to a specific extension and when the number is dialed it flows into the system through a channel on the digital circuit and rings a the extension (or group of extensions). Technically, 23 callers could call at once and not get a busy signal. If the call is not answered, it forwards to the voice mail box or follows whatever path you have programmed, making it a truly private line.

In the interest of getting the most out of the PRI, fax machines, credit card verifiers, single line phones and other devices can also have DIDs. The more local lines you can eliminate the greater your savings.

The price of PRIs varies according to your phone company and region. In Central PA, the going rate is about $450 a month. Signing a multi-year contract always gets you the best rate and often waives any installation fees, which can be significant. It’s a good idea to get a few quotes for the PRI if you are not in a contract presently. Leveraging your internet bandwidth and getting a package deal will usually lower your costs as well. Keep in mind that the $30 or so that you pay for each of your analog lines will go away.

No need to change your main number or fax numbers – they will stay the same and just come into the system on an open PRI channel. This makes the transition seamless to your callers.

DIDs are assigned in sequential order and are seven digit numbers that are direct dialed. This does not override the ablility of a caller to get to you by simply dialing an extension from the Auto Attendant or having the call manually transferred to your extension. If you like your calls screened or you’re bothered by sales calls (unless it’s me!), only give your DID number to high priority callers.

The change that usually has the highest learning curve is Call Appearances. No longer will you see individual lines on buttons, instead you will see call paths. If you elect to have three call paths on your phone, then you will be able to get three calls at one time, if you choose to answer that many. If not, unanswered calls will go to your voice mailbox. Calls are transferred to your extension, not announced with  “Pick up Line 3” instructions.

I have found that the perception of this change is the problem. If you are used to doing something one way for years, it can be annoying to suddenly have to do it differently, but I can tell you I’ve never seen anyone die from it. The biggest hurdle can be the attitudes of those who typically don’t like any changes, which, as we know, severely limits you in the business world.

The improvement in call flow will be felt immediately by your customers. Calls will get to the  right extension a lot easier and faster and busy signals will be a thing of the past.

The last issue to address is having analog lines in place in case the PRI goes down, which, like any phone service, could happen. Having been in the business for over 20 years, I can say that PRI’s are very reliable now and many companies no longer bother with the expense of back up lines.

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