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Message on Hold & IVR: Small Business Phone System Fix

Sometimes, despite the best of intentions, knowledge, and effort, there is no simple answer to a problem. Take matching a phone system to a business’s needs. There is no simple answer, because first you need to ask important questions. What features do you need?  How many lines do you have? Have many users? What’s your budget?

As a content provider, supplying professional recordings for business phones, we often encounter small business clients who want to add greetings to their phone… but they can’t. The limitations of their phone won’t let them. They come to us for custom greetings that will enhance their call processing, or Message On Hold content to promote their business, and we have to tell them we can’t help them, because their phone system won’t support it. So they respond by insisting they need our services and are willing to invest in a new system. “So tell me what I need,” they ask.

The simple answer (for us) is that they need a phone that will support Message On Hold content and auto attendant greetings, but that answer would be a disservice to our customer. If they’re investing in a new phone, they’re also going to need to decide on the other features they’ll require and the budget they have to work with, so they’ll get the most out of the upgrade.

So our typical response is “Well that depends….” 

  • What’s your budget?
  • Which features and flexibility do you need?
  • How involved do you want to be in setting up and supporting your equipment?

Cost vs. Capabilities

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To help other customers in similar situations, we’ve boiled the decision-making process down to three basic questions:

Often, small business owners have limited budgets and tend to go with the lowest priced option available. Since the phone is an integral tool for your business, we encourage investing in a solution that will not only meet your needs today, but will also meet your needs and last into the future.  We also highly recommend you work with a reliable vendor who will be with you through the purchase, setup and ongoing use of your system. If you have the budget, having a knowledgeable representative who you can call when you need something changed or fixed is a must. Especially if you don’t have your own IT department.

If your budget is limited and you or someone in your organization is somewhat hands on, then you can purchase the phones online, or at an office supply store and install them yourself. But you have to take the time to review all the features you need today, and in the future. Research each solution to confirm it has the capabilities needed. This is the time to go down the list: auto attendant, check, call transfer, check, Music On Hold capability, check.

Your phone system is the life blood of your business. When it breaks or isn’t working the way you want it to, your customers can get frustrated, your people can’t do their job, and your business suffers.


Just because the phone can put a caller on hold, and may have built in music, it doesn’t mean you can play a custom message to callers. Don’t be afraid to research the system on your own by reviewing the manual. Don’t just take the word of a sales person. They may not know and just give you the answer you want to hear.  I can’t tell you how many times someone’s brother, uncle, or neighbor setup their phones for them, thinking they had what they needed, only to have to replace hundreds of dollars’ worth of equipment.


If your phone is older than 5 years, you’re probably hurting your business by trying to hold out and hang onto something that prevents your customers from getting to the people and information they need, while limiting the efficiency and productivity of your employees. Get together with your key people and discuss what features they need, or which ones will enhance your caller experience. Certain features may give you flexibility that you didn’t have before, such as the ability to hire people outside the area, or allow them to work from home when their kids are sick or when something else prevents them from being in the office.

Though we have an IVR for our phone, we still want to answer all our calls with a live person. That’s our business model. Sure, we have an IVR, but with our new system we can direct sales calls, vendors, family and friends to specific extensions. By routing calls to a specific extension, it allows our reps to have more time to speak with our clients. These are things you can add to your business process. Additional features like voicemail transcription, or using your mobile phone as an extension, may not be important to you.


Talk to your staff to understand what limitations your current phone system has. Consider what features you’d like to add today, but also what you may need in the future. If you have plans of adding another location, or hiring reps who will be in the field and you want them “connected”, these are features your new system will need.

If you’re just starting out, but want to create an image of a larger organization there are options available which are budget sensitive. There are some off the shelf, and VoIP options that will get you many of the features you’ll need without breaking the bank.


Hosted VoIP

Many of the issues with needed features are solved these days with hosted VoIP phone systems. They’re packed with the latest features and updated constantly to keep pace with changing times. They use an internet connection instead of a traditional phone line from the telephone or cable company.  Caution though: If you have a cable modem for your internet, which may be fast and efficient for your data needs, it doesn’t mean it can handle voice traffic too. Especially, if you’re adding more than a few phones. You may need to boost your cable speed to handle the additional data traffic, and that cost should be considered in the overall project budget.



Traditional business phones can now be a hybrid. A hybrid system works with local phone lines and VoIP lines. If you don’t like the idea of having a phone “in the cloud” but like the features they offer you may be able to add similar functionality with a hybrid system.

Get Involved

Even if you don’t want to do any research, or touch a handset, you need to be involved in the process. No one knows your business like you do. Or, you may want to roll up your sleeves, and get very involved. Perhaps even help design and manage the new system?

Many VoIP solutions offer robust dashboards, and excellent online support. Some of the online support includes training videos, and live support to help you setup and maintain your system. But, keep in mind before proceeding if you really need another hat to wear. A qualified vendor will allow you to keep working on your business, and will handle the heavy lifting. If you would like us to recommend a vendor in your area, we have a network of thousands! Yes, we have thousands of installers we can connect you with.

Final thoughts

So you see, there is no simple answer, but there is a best answer for your business. Understanding how much you want to spend, the features you want/need and how involved you want to be in maintaining your system will help you make the right decision. 

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