Are Used Business Phone Systems Really a Good Deal?January 3, 2014 by Holly Regan
Buying a used, reconditioned or refurbished phone system can be a cost-effective option for businesses looking to save money. But while used phone systems come with up-front savings, they also come with additional risks. Besides general wear and tear, for example, they may not have a warranty or offer technical support. So, are used business phone systems really a good deal?
To find out, I spoke with vendors and customers of both new and used business phone systems. If your company is in the market for a phone system, here are the questions you should ask yourself before buying used:
What’s the phone system’s history?
Unlike a used car, you can’t get a report of your phone system’s prior ownership. When you buy a used phone system, the seller you’re buying it from may have also acquired it used. After passing through several owners, there’s no telling what malfunctions the system may have developed. Dropped calls or poor call quality can decrease productivity for your staff and, ultimately, impact your bottom line. And unfortunately, you probably won’t know about these problems until after you’ve purchased and installed the system.
If you do decide to purchase a used system, make sure you purchase from a trusted source. Go through a manufacturer or a distributor, not an individual. See what other customers have to say about the company you buy from on Yelp and other review websites. Odds are, any company that distributes faulty phone systems will have plenty of bad online publicity.
Is there a warranty?
Some used phone systems don’t come with a warranty—especially if you’ve purchased a system from a third party on a site such as Craigslist or eBay. In this case, if the system breaks, you’re out of luck: regardless of when your company purchased it, you could end up having to buy your system all over again. Another issue you may run into, says Nicholas Hamner, Business Development Manager at Source One Management Services, LLC, is finding yourself in need of replacement parts for equipment that is so old it is no longer produced by the manufacturer.
When buying used, only consider systems that are still in production to ensure that you will be able to get any necessary replacement hardware. And make sure you buy a system that comes with at least a limited warranty, which many retailers will offer for the first year.
“We would consider used systems only if they were certified and guaranteed by a reputed manufacturer or distributor,” says Nimish Thakkar, Founder of DontSpendMore.com.
Is there technical support available?
Technology can be fickle, and at some point, it’s likely that you’ll need help resolving an issue with your phone system. New systems come with tech support, which Minimus.biz Co-Founder Paul Shrater cites as the deciding factor for his company buying new. Malfunctioning phone systems can irritate customers, lose your company valuable business and decrease productivity, so having a lifeline for support is of the utmost importance—especially if you don’t have cellular backup for when phones go down.
“The biggest cost of a phone system is downtime and lost productivity… not the purchase price,” says Michael Bremmer, CEO of Telecomquotes.com. When purchasing a used phone system, make sure it’s from a vendor who can provide assistance when problems arise.
Will I need to scale up?
When you buy a used phone system, you can’t simply order more hardware from your provider every time you add new staff members, as you can with a new system. Instead, you have to go out and purchase more equipment—and the additional hardware you buy may be different from the system you initially purchased. Your new additions may not sync up properly with the original system, and you may have to learn how to use your phones all over again.
If your company is anticipating growth and you want to buy used, consider purchasing more phones than you need up-front—and make sure the system’s hardware is in plentiful supply. Scaling up becomes much more challenging when you’re working with two different systems. No matter what you choose, go through a vendor who can properly integrate additional and existing hardware.
What functionality will I need?
The older your used equipment is, the less robust its features and functionality will be. Ask yourself what your company needs, and what you can live without. Do you need to simply make and receive calls, or do you require digital tools like voicemail-to-email and presence management? Call reporting features are another component of newer systems that can be especially helpful for companies with a sales team or call center. Depending on what you want your phones to do and what the system requirements are, you may have to either buy new, or find a used system that was manufactured recently.
“The newer systems can really pay for themselves with the data they can easily provide,” Bremmer says. He cites the example of a call center customer who saved money by switching employees to a 4×10 workweek, after call reporting data determined that opening the office on Fridays wasn’t profitable.
Will I be able to configure the system properly?
Scott MacMartin, President of business technology company Concerto Networks, says that a lot of his business comes from customers who have purchased a used phone system and can’t figure out how to program it correctly. Sometimes, these customers are still making and receiving calls on the former owner’s VOIP system, which is not only a technical problem, but a privacy issue, as well. MacMartin reports that his company is often able to successfully re-configure the customer’s phones—but sometimes, they have to get another system and start from scratch. Either way, it’s an expensive proposition.
“These guys buy something on their own thinking it’ll save them a couple bucks, but it ends up costing more,” MacMartin says. “Paying someone like us to program it ends up being more than the cost of a new [system].” Make sure you only purchase a used phone system from a vendor who can help you install and program it properly from day one.
So, if your company is in the market for a phone system, make sure you weigh all the risks and benefits before you buy. A used phone system can be a good deal for those looking to save money, but only if it’s purchased from a reputable dealer who can help you out if problems arise.