June 17, 2024

Searching for Capital: Is It Really This Hard to Buy a Phone System?

Searching for Capital

A broker assesses the small-business lending market.

Our loan-brokerage business is almost three years old. We’ve been running our phone system in the cloud on a service called Onebox that makes us look and feel like a big company. A recorded voice answers our calls and then tracks us down on our cellphones, wherever we may be.

Well, after about 200,000 minutes of cellphone time, my mom’s nagging about those cancer warnings finally got to me, and I decided it was time to upgrade to real phones. We would go big time and invest in a four-line phone system.

And so, my office manager and I embarked on our adventure to buy phones – something we thought would be fairly straight forward. We started by calling a couple of the big providers. After a few conversations, we picked one, and we signed our agreement.

The sales rep encouraged us to go with traditional analog service instead of the voice-over-Internet protocol, known as VoIP, and we arranged for a technician to come in two days to get us set up.

All we needed were some phones. A quick visit to Staples or Office Depot would take care of that, or so I presumed. Yes, they carry four-line systems in their stores, but not necessarily the phones that go along with the switchboards they sell. Three stores later, we found someone who was able to put four phones together. We spent an hour and a half figuring it out, and the salespeople swore it would work. They felt so bad, they gave us a 10 percent discount.

As we carried the phones into the office, I suggested to Karen, the office manager, that she wait for the phone technician to show up before opening the boxes. I just had a hunch.

Sure enough, the technician arrived the next day. He smelled of cigarettes and had a terrible cough. And then the games began. The technician told us that his company’s sales rep had told us the wrong thing. It was out of his scope to do the installation we needed. He would have to call his manager. He would show us the pamphlets. Someone had made a terrible mistake. I wasn’t sure whether he was being serious or whether he was looking for an extra $50 to get the job done, but I left his ranting to Karen and went into our other room.

I decided to take matters into my own hands. I went onto the Web and filled out a site to get information about VoIP phone systems. I was so irritated that I filled out one of those lead-generation sites – and then the fun really began. The Web site sold my name eight or 10 times, and within minutes my cellphone was ringing like crazy with people trying to sell me systems. Meanwhile, the technician was still coughing in the other room.

One of the first sales representatives who called seemed like a straight shooter. He said he could get me up and running quickly, assured me it was easy and sent me a link to a site to buy phones that would be cheaper and nicer than the ones I had bought. I placed my order, and went to the other room and told the technician he was done. I had beaten the system, or so I thought. And then I fielded another seven phone calls from companies that had bought my name. Sorry, I said, you’re too late.

The swanky, new VoIP phones arrived on time, and I called a computer tech guy who moonlights for us occasionally to come in after work and help us set up. This was easy, I thought. But then it turned out the sales guy had neglected to ask if we worked on desktops or laptops, and nothing was going to work without special wireless adaptors. We spent an hour and a half hunting for them, and then we all threw in the towel and went home for dinner.

A few days ago, we returned the two phone systems we had bought. I was so frustrated with the experience and the dozen or so hours I had wasted on it that I decided to stick with our current system. I have moved on to other priorities.

Small-business owners and entrepreneurs desperately need services they can trust, especially when it comes to aspects of their businesses that they don’t fully understand. Time is too precious to waste.  When it came to my phone system, I just ran out of luck. The only company that benefited from my experience was that lead-generating site that promised to help. It probably made a few hundred dollars selling my name.

In fact, I’m still hanging up on frustrated sales people who won’t give up. There has to be a better way. Any suggestions?

Ami Kassar founded MultiFunding, which is based near Philadelphia and helps small businesses find the right sources of financing for their companies.

Article source: http://boss.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/12/11/is-it-really-this-hard-to-buy-a-phone-system/?partner=rss&emc=rss

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