Top 10 Questions Small Businesses Should Ask About Business Communications

NEW YORK - With competitors fighting for the telecommunications business of small companies, owners need to be cautious. Thousands of small businesses returned to Verizon last year after trying another company and finding their service was inadequate. But switching from one company to another is time-consuming for support staff and can be confusing for everyone. Verizon advises business owners to ask 10 simple questions when considering whether to switch to a new phone company.

"Verizon has nearly 3 million small-business customers, and we value their business," said Monte Beck, vice president of marketing for Verizon. "Even as competition for the small- business customers has increased over the past few years, we've gone the extra mile with product innovations like our Verizon Secure Mail encryption service and enhancements to our DSL service line, and with packages and bundles, term contracts and other innovations to deliver what small businesses need to succeed."

Despite this, Beck said, some customers do leave. And when they come back, what they most frequently report is that the competitive service did not meet their expectations in terms of quality or price.

"We're thrilled to have them back, but it would be better for all if they didn't leave in the first place," Beck said.

To support better choices by small-business customers, Verizon suggests business owners carefully analyze their needs and choices by asking 10 key questions.

What supplier should I use?

Analyzing a supplier's credentials is the most critical pre-choice activity. There are service resellers, competitive local exchange carriers (CLECs), cable companies, Internet-based services, among others. Getting a good read on any supplier from local, state and national Better Business outlets, small-business magazine Web sites or independent analysts like the Small Business Administration or Frost and Sullivan, is a key first step in considering a proposal, an ad or a recommendation. Do yourself a favor and shop for the best.

What do I consider in evaluating suppliers?

Verizon believes that true value is a measurement of both quality and price. Too many customers find that they buy based on price and are dissatisfied with quality. Not all services are equal in quality. Verizon's traditional network is 99.99 percent reliable and its price options are broad. Look for reliability proofs and pricing choices to evaluate the price/quality ratio.

How critical is reliability to my business?

The services that businesses use go beyond just local and long-distance calling and often include data services critical to the business. Some businesses can afford a few hours of downtime here or there. Others suffer severely in sales, productivity, production, or in other areas with just a few minutes of lost service. It's one thing, for example, if the cable goes out in the middle of "Lost" or "All My Children," but quite another if the broadband link goes down in the middle of a computer aided design file or an online regional sales presentation.

How much choice do I have?

One size fits all is often not enough. Look for a supplier whose services -- voice, data and video --can be customized. If you don't need unlimited nationwide calling, why buy it? Choose local and regional services at a fair price. Verizon's Freedom for Business, for example, lets businesses purchase unlimited any-distance calling on a line-by-line basis at great rates, but they can also buy local and regional calling plans. If you need symmetrical DSL service or service at a faster speed, consider your options and buy what you need. Look for package discounts and term contract deals that lower the price based on the term.

Can I leverage my purchase with discounts of any kind?

If you can't, look further. Verizon discounts pricing on business calling and business data services for customers who sign contracts. Verizon also lets you buy unlimited calling on a line-by-line basis and offers calling and data service bundles at attractive pricing.

Do I need to buy equipment?

Is the investment of capital for the purchase of telecommunications equipment the right decision? Some services may require a capital investment, while others may not. Verizon's CustoPak service, for example, customizes the service to each line in your business with no need for a PBX or other equipment purchases. On the flip side, Verizon has advanced hardware solutions that even include Internet protocol-based PBXs for good cost advantages in inter-site calling. There is no one right answer for everyone. Make sure you deal with a provider that gives you options.

Who's there to support me?

Nothing is worse than feeling isolated during a service problem. Repair services should be localized, full time and easily accessible. And, ask about monitored and managed data services that make operations worry-free.

What are my data needs?

The Internet has been a boon to small businesses. Web sites support sales and service, but the Internet is a fabulous tool for supporting all kinds of management functions, from banking and sourcing to payroll and legal support. Be sure you get the size pipeline and Web services you need with the right speeds and features by choosing carefully. And look for bundled-in safety and security services as well as domain name offers that let you meet your marketing objectives. Or, if you need a private network linking sites or functions, make sure your supplier can deliver that.

How easy is it to do business with my supplier?

Long hold-times to call centers, or force-feed recommendations from sales reps can be maddening. Verizon's reps are trained to do consultative selling. They discuss what you need to do and are trained to recommend only the services that will best meet that need. And the company's small-business Web site is a treasure trove of information and options. Service changes you make online are often hard-wired to our provisioning and network equipment so the flow-through in many cases is virtually instantaneous.

What premiums can I get?

Verizon's small-business customers today can accrue points for services purchased that can be used in future transactions. Members earn Bonus Credits based on their local and regional Verizon spending. Credits can be redeemed for a wide variety of merchandise, restaurant gift certificates, sporting events and travel or applied to future Verizon purchases.

And for good measure, here's an 11th question nobody can afford to ignore:

Is advice and help available?

Sterile service is weak service. Verizon's small-business Web site is chock full of tips and advice, white papers and headlines that can make the difference for busy small-business owners as they manage their work. And you can reach out to our call centers to review or modify your service bundle

Smart business owners can answer all these questions with just a little homework. Looking before they leap can save them enormous trouble.

Verizon representatives are trained to offer service consultations that factor in the business's needs and are available during business hours to help, or information and research tools are available online at www.verizon.com/foryourbusiness, or the solution recommender at www22.verizon.com/foryourbusiness/solutionfinder/Content/SFStart.aspx?.

Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE:VZ), a Dow 30 company, is a leader in delivering broadband and other communication innovations to wireline and wireless customers. Verizon operates America's most reliable wireless network, serving 53 million customers nationwide; one of the most expansive wholly-owned global IP networks; and one of the nation's premier wireline networks, serving mass market, business, government and wholesale customers. Based in New York, Verizon has a diverse workforce of more than 250,000 and generates annual consolidated operating revenues of approximately $90 billion. For more information, visit www.verizon.com.