PBX phone systems have been with hoteliers for over a century. The call-routing technology made on and off-property communication easier by connecting hotel teams with the guests and each other.
As PBX technology advances, today’s solutions on the market bring us way more value than just a decent phone connection, such as syncing with your favorite hotel systems, automatically updating room status like check in, check out or housekeeping status.
On top of that, thanks to AI and Big Data, hotels and other businesses can now leverage large volumes of calls to better understand the customer and be smarter about their offerings.
In this article, we’ll go over what a PBX system offers, what types of PBX phone systems there are, and how to choose the best fit for your hotel.
Private Branch Exchange, or PBX, is a call-routing system that connects all your internal phones, as well as linking them to the public telephone network.
Before, PBX systems used analog switchboards, and hotel staff had to transfer all calls manually, and the phone lines were connected through buried copper wires through the Public Phone Network (PSTN).
Today’s PBX systems switch extension numbers automatically, that’s why they’re also called PABX – private automatic branch exchange. Also, the calls don’t have to go through PTSN, but through internet – VoIP. Some of the most popular PBX providers on the market are 3CX and NEC.
What do PBX systems do for hotels?
Internal Extensions – PBX systems allow the hotel to assign extensions to each room and department. Which means that the guests can easily call room service, front desk, housekeeping, or other hotel services from their room. And the staff can communicate with each other across different departments.
Automated Attendant – Incoming calls automatically switch to the right extension, such as reservations or customer service. It may include a pre-recorded message and menu of options for the caller to choose from.
Wake-Up Calls – PBX systems can schedule automated wake-up calls to the guest rooms.
Integration with Property Management System (PMS) – The PBX system can be integrated with the hotel’s PMS. This can facilitate automatic check-in/check-out, status of room cleaning, mini-bar use, and more.
Room Status Updates – In the more advanced systems, housekeeping can update the room’s cleaning status via the phone in the room which then shows in your hotel software.
There are two main types of PBX telephone systems, on-premise and hosted, or virtual PBX. In other words, you are choosing whether you want to set up and maintain your PBX system on your own property or your private cloud, versus if you want the service to be hosted and handled by a third-party provider.
As the name implies, on-premise PBX system is installed within the hotel’s physical location. This type of system connects all internal phones within the hotel and also links them to the public switched telephone network (PSTN) or Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) services.
On-premise PBX provides greater control over customization and data since the system is entirely located on-site and relies on you and your team. However, it involves higher upfront costs and needs dedicated IT staff for maintenance and updates. The costs of on-premise PBX solutions tend to be higher, as it involves the set-up fees, licensing, your own IT fleet, and maintenance costs.
Hosted PBX, also known as cloud PBX or virtual PBX, are provided by third-party vendor. The hosting company manages all the PBX technology and equipment off-site, and the hotel accesses the service over the internet. This means that when there is an issue, you do not handle it on your own, but dial customer service and let your provider take care of it.
Hosted PBX systems are cost and time-effective with lower upfront fees, as they operate on a subscription basis. They are easy to scale up or down based on the hotel’s needs and require minimum on-site maintenance. However, they might offer less control over customization, and you’ll want to find a provider with a very responsive customer service.
In your search for PBX systems, you’ll come across two terms: analog and IP PBX (IP = internet protocol). These relate to how voice data is sent across, whether it’s over the physical phone line or over the internet.
The term “analog” refers to the type of technology used to transmit voice data. In traditional or analog PBX phone system voice signals are converted into electronic signals and transmitted over copper wires. This is the oldest type of telephone technology and it’s been in use for over a century.
These phones are often called PSTN, landlines, Plain Old Telephone Service (POTS), or fixed-line telephones. PSTN phones are generally considered a standard means of communication, though their usage is experiencing a gradual decline.
While analog PBX systems can be robust and reliable, they are increasingly being replaced by IP-based systems.
IP PBX is sometimes called VoIP phone system, because the telephone signal travels over the IP based network, not over the traditional landline. Combining VoIP and IP PBX allows you to transmit calls through the internet, and VoIP also lets you connect to other internet-based devices, like smartphones, tablets or intelligent assistants through wire or wireless networking.
Analog PBX systems are increasingly being replaced by IP-based systems. These newer systems offer more advanced features, and better audio quality, and can be easier to install, maintain, and scale. They also enable integration with other digital systems and software, such as CRM or email, providing a more unified communication in your hotel.
Therefore, at your hotel, you can link different stations like a hotel bar and a restaurant with guest room orders. This happens through softphones, VoIP apps and intelligent voice systems. For example, once you receive a dinner request from a room through your IP phone system, the query is processed by the intelligent voice system and sent over to your F&B team automatically.
In this article, we talked about PBX telephone systems for hotels and their hosted and on-site options. The current offers on the market can get overwhelming with many providers and options to choose from.
Here are some points to consider when shopping for the PBX system that fits in your hotel:
If you just want to upgrade your existing phone structure and you have in-house IT technicians, on-premise PBX is a good option.
But, if you’re a new hotel or a hotel that is about to undergo a major renovation, and you can afford to switch to a new system, your business will benefit from a cloud PBX in the long run.
Hosted PBX systems require a reliable internet connection since its function depends on it entirely. If this is something that you don’t have in place yet, you can hit two birds with one stone. Impeccable internet connection is also a key decisive factor for the young generation of millennials and gen Z, and the hotel technology like PMS and CRM is and will operate almost entirely online.
On-premise PBX systems typically have higher upfront costs, require in-house IT staff, but they can be more cost-effective in the long run if you have a large number of users or need a lot of custom features. Hosted PBX systems have a lower upfront cost, as they are subscription-based, and maintained by the provider.
When searching for a new hotel telephone system, focus on finding one that enables easy communication between your teams and guests and easily integrates with your hotel software like PMS or CRM. Your main goal with any new technology should be to link your tech tools into an interconnected ecosystem that can work autonomously in the future and save you a ton of time.
And, if your front desk staff gets overwhelmed by having way too many calls from the guests, we’ve put together the essential tips on how to minimize them in this article.
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