On the Line
The pizza business is uniquely dependent on takeout and delivery orders, so it’s critical to have a phone system you can rely on. A good phone system should improve the customer’s experience as well as make the most efficient use of your staff’s time.
Even with online ordering, a robust and functional phone system is important because some customers aren’t internet-savvy or don’t have access to the Internet.
Your phone system is critical for optimizing your incoming-calls game. If you need to upgrade your phone system, here are some pointers on what to look for and how to choose the right vendor for this critical business relationship.
Phone systems have gotten increasingly sophisticated in recent years. Identify which features matter most to you and choose accordingly. If you spend more for advanced features, learn how to take full advantage of them. Many products and services are designed for the specific needs of the pizza industry.
Main Options and Terminology
The three main types of business phone systems are:
- Analog (land-lined) based system, with in-house hardware providing an on-site phone system.
- Answering service with humans who enter orders directly in POS.
- Cloud-hosted VOIP.
Cloud-hosted VOIP falls into three categories:
- Directly from large telecom companies such as Comcast, Spectrum, AT&T, etc., who provide the proprietary software for messaging, etc.
- From a local reseller who partners with large telecom companies such as Comcast, Spectrum, AT&T, etc., relying on the software from the telecom company.
- From proprietary vendors who design and maintain the cloud-based hardware and software that govern the phone system. All back-end functions are the proprietary systems of individual vendors.
To help you navigate these choices, here are some important terms:
Analog: This is plain old telephone service, also known as a landline.
Hosted VoIP / Cloud-Based PBX / hosted PBX: All hardware and software is located on the Internet, not on site.
In-house: A usually pre-configured, off-the-shelf PBX system that’s physically on-site.
PBX: Private branch exchange (PBX) systems are business-grade, private telephone systems.
Third party: PBX services are not provided by your telecom company, but by another vendor.
VoIP: Voice Over Internet Protocol, meaning that the phone call is actually transmitted over the internet.
Technological Innovations to Consider
“There are quite a few new innovations and the pandemic accelerated a lot of them,” says Greg Rowe, senior account executive in the pizza vertical at Clarity Voice and a former pizzeria owner. “The main one we’re seeing today is flexible incoming call routing. It’s really the foundation for emerging technologies like busy period overflow, call centers, AI (artificial intelligence) ordering and text ordering. What’s really changed in the past two years is finding ways to counter the labor shortages that a lot of owners are still managing today.”
AI ordering means that a bot, integrated with the phone system, will take phone orders. For example, the Domino’s bot will ask callers if they’d like to place their last order again, “so that builds some rapport,” says Rowe.
The critical advantage of cloud-based systems is they are cheaply and easily improved. Because they depend far more on software than hardware, these providers are much more agile at responding to changes in the marketplace or changing needs of their clientele. This versatility ensures that you won’t outgrow the system in a few years, and the system can generally be updated to the latest technology.
“The most successful operators are looking beyond what they need today” when they make important business decisions such as choosing a PBX, says Rowe.
Features to Consider
Your first consideration should be ensuring that your new PBX system integrates well with your existing POS (Point of Sale) system, unless you are ready to get a package deal including both PBX and POS.
Next, consider the reliability of landlines and Internet in your area. If you’re in a remote area where Internet tends to be spotty, you may be better off relying on a land line. For most users, Internet may be more reliable than landline service.
“With local PBX system, you could have an outage,” says Kubilay Sevinc, a partner at Pacific.tel. While the outage is a problem, “it’s really about how quickly will it be fixed and how much will it cost to fix it. We are converting a lot of customers from analog PBX systems because their PBX system misbehaves and then getting a technician out there takes a few days during which they can’t take any phone calls or customer orders. Once they get a technician out, it costs a small fortune because parts are expensive and technicians are even more expensive these days.”
Call quality is paramount. Pizzerias are notoriously loud work environments and the phones take a lot of abuse, so choose a system provider who prioritizes call quality, offers a warranty on the phones and includes phone service.
Find out what kind of customization is available for the on-hold audio experience. Sevinc points out that “with cloud-based systems, it’s all configurable.” Operators can include upsell messages (“add a salad today for only 99 cents”) during the hold interval, and an excessive wait can trigger an offer (“we’re sorry – mention this code for a discount”). Operators can change messages via a phone app, and the technology can track what an individual hears when calling in and change the messages to keep it fresh.
Some systems make it easy for phone customers to opt in to receive promotional text messages or to order by text.
Other features to consider include emergency ability to handle customer calls when connections are disrupted; response time when service or a technician is needed; routing, redirecting and call forwarding capability; voicemail and data reports.
If you want to route calls to different extensions (“press two for catering”), ask about an automated attendant feature.
Lastly, you’ll benefit from phone number portability. Make sure that you own your number so you can retain it should you change vendors.
Comparing Your Options
Let’s consider some basic pros and cons.
Analog systems have a limited number of lines, so customers may get a busy signal during peak call times. Service can be disrupted by weather or internal issues at your telecom company. They also lack the capacity for smart, high-tech features such as AI and custom, targeted hold messages. Generally, maintaining such a system requires having an IT expert on site, and these systems are hardly nimble.
Call centers should have unlimited line availability, so no busy signals. Some customers and operators respond better to the human touch. Since they tend to be priced based on volume, the cost can be unpredictable.
Cloud-based systems will never reject a caller with a busy signal, they can be customized with smart on-hold messages and other features, and they are generally fast and easy to set up, because it all happens remotely. Changes and improvements are performed remotely with software instead of hardware, so they are much more resilient to obsolescence. The redundancy of multiple cloud-based servers protects against system failure. Ask prospective vendors how the system ensures service in the case of an Internet outage. Make sure that your provider will be able to assist you beyond the standard nine-to-five hours.
Naturally, price will play a role in your decision. Ask about set-up charges, and how you’ll be charged for technical help or repairs. Hosted services are generally set up remotely, which is very cost-effective. Most solutions are priced per month, while human-powered call centers may be charged by the minute.
Your Phone Line Is Your Lifeline
Most folks in the pizza business depend on a phone line like a lifeline, and it can have big impact on your bottom line. Competing on the 21st-century playing field might require an upgrade to cutting-edge technology.
Annelise Kelly is a Portland, Oregon-based freelance writer.