In age of remote working, access to quality remote communication such as business phones systems may be more important than ever. Yet, countless business phone systems on the market and the emergence of new technologies (cloud-based services and smartphones) make selecting the best option for your business a bit of a chore.
This is made even harder considering there are no one-size-fits-all solutions for all businesses, as each of them will have to make their decisions based on the existing demands and the projected needs for business phone systems down the road. The best course of action here is to apply several key selection criteria for picking up the best option, and this buying guide is designed to help you do just that.
We've compiled what we consider the best all-around business phone systems, based on their features, prices and availability. Whichever system you choose, bear in mind that even seemingly “ordinary” technologies such as phone systems can have a significant impact on your business performance. Choosing an obsolete system could mean jeopardizing the quality of customer interaction and productivity.
The focus on a small business niche may be the only weakness of this business phone system as it is not exactly friendly to supporting the business growth down the road, but the market offers pretty competent solutions for these scenarios as well (see below).
Ooma Office wants to cater to the needs of small businesses, which is obvious from looking at its price and a range of available features. It uses a flat fee pricing model ($19.95 month) that doesn’t include obligatory minimum length for the use of its services. At heart, it is a budget-minded VoIP system with a simple and quick installation.
If you do not have your own onsite equipment, Ooma can also provide it for you. For those already using IP phones, all you need to do is plug them into your local area network to start making calls. While having your own hardware onsite may speed up the setup process, the equipment has to be checked for compatibility with Ooma in advance.
In this instance, the low price does not mean compromising on features. Ooma offers support for mass conference calls via a dedicated bridge, unlimited long-distance and local calls, virtual receptionist service, call logs and transfers etc. At a slightly higher price, Ooma Office Pro will also add support for turning one’s PC into a phone system, together with advanced call blocking options and other features.
8x8 is a VoIP-based business phone system running in the cloud. Judging by its pricing model and a range of features on offer, you can see that it seems to be designed with small and medium businesses in mind. 8x8 wants to support both with a variety of plans, all of them designed to offer a mixture of features at varying price levels.
8x8 Express ($12 per user/mo) is designed with micro-businesses in mind, with almost budget price for a range of quality features on offer here. These include ring calls, caller ID, HD & secure voice, intelligent call routing, support for mobile & desktop apps, business SMS, etc. X1 is also a quality option, with added support for recording, multi-line and paging at a marginally higher price ($15 per user/mo).
Its X2 plan is described as an all-in-one voice, video & chat solution, with added support for VoIP fax and integration with enterprise apps. Yet, the price of $25 per user/mo is almost 100% higher compared to a preceding plan. X4, meanwhile, is 8x8’s flagship plan for smaller businesses, with main selling points including analytics features aimed at administrators and supervisors, with a price tag of $45 per user/mo.
The company also offers X6 and X8 plans for more demanding enterprises, but with eye-watering prices reaching upwards of $110 per user/mo.
No matter which plan you pick, quality customer support and reliability of service remain the hallmark of this business phone system at all price levels.
Built around the idea of integrating video conferencing with phone services, GoToConnect is one of stronger VoIP business phone offerings in the market. The platform is designed around the unified communications concept which means that it packs GoToMeeting software for management of virtual meetings with Jive’s full-blooded business phone service.
The platform supports a wide range of deskphones and a dedicated mobile app for Android and iOS devices. The app comes packed with the support for conference calls, forwarded business line calls, call histories and logs, statistics and text messaging. Apart from the app, the system supports pretty much everything you may expect from modern-day business phone systems, such as auto attendants, voicemail-to-email, customizable on-hold music together with integration with platforms such as Oracle and Outlook.
GoToConnect is big on video as well, with its video conferencing features including support for more than 200 attendants and more than 20 simultaneous HD video feeds. In addition to supported screen sharing, you can easily organize individual private meeting sessions with callers.
All of this is made easier with an intuitive visual interface which allows for dragging and dropping of its elements in line with the demands of individual call sessions. The same goes for an uncluttered dashboard featuring analytical data which may inform the way you organize your business and plan on improving productivity.
Finally, the pricing model for GoToConnect is based on tiers, meaning that its per-user prices go down the more employees your business has. While having an umbrella plan which does not limit its features based on prices may sound attractive, bear in mind that this solution will be proportionally less cost-efficient for smaller businesses with fewer employees.
RingCentral Office is a robust VoIP business phone system which prides itself on being chock full of features and easily accessible by means of its flexible plans. The system integrates conference calls, SMS and faxing features on a cloud-based platform which, among other things, supports advanced call management features such as interactive voice response (IVR) at various levels, team messaging, document sharing, call forwarding and recording, individualized access control, custom music etc. It is also possible to automate the use of voicemail after business hours and program an attendant to help the caller reach the desired address as easily as possible.
At the most basic price level ($19.99/mo), the Essentials plan will still leave you out of reach of the video and automatic attendant features, and limit the number of users to no more than 20. All of this points to the need to look towards the higher priced plans, starting from Standard ($24.99/mo) which supports video meetings with up to 100 participants and integrations with Office 365, G Suite and Slack. The Premium package ($34.99/mo) offers advanced call handling functions including whisper and barge together with CRM integrations with Salesforce and Zendesk. Finally, the Ultimate plan ($49.99/mo) offers device status reports and alerts and unlimited storage.
Unlike its competitors which offer attractive business phone features with the low-price plans, RingCentral Office will probably require you to treat its Standard package as the starting one.
Aircall is a VoIP business phone system operating as a cloud-based UCaaS platform, with a strong focus on customer relationship management (CRM) features. It is promoted as a phone solution for enterprises that seek to improve customer engagement and productivity across the board.
Aircall is all about intuitiveness and user-friendly setup, with the ability to turn it into a virtual communications hub in literally just a few minutes. In addition to calls, the platform will support messaging and video communications regardless of their point of origin. Its main features include voicemail, interactive voice response and blocking lists. To help add contact center functionality to your business, Aircall allows for custom routing of calls based on the pre-set criteria, such as customer’s technical and linguistic ability.
Aircall also focuses on easy integration with globally relevant services such as Salesforce, Hubspot and Zendesk as well as with various helpdesk tools that allow for easier tracking of call handling performance. Analytics are also available, with access to live feeds that can help managers better allocate their assets and assist the call takers with their tasks without interrupting the calls.
The plans on offer include Essentials ($30/mo) and Professional ($50/mo) which differ in the number of productivity-boosting features, all of which can be tested by way of a free trial option. Businesses can also create their own custom plan with features that are best aligned with their needs.
Business phone reserve team
If you are looking for the best business phone systems, bear in mind that the list given above is by no means an exhaustive one. This led us to include two additional reserve options, which may be just the perfect fit you need for your business.
Avaya is a business phone solution for users who demand scalability. Smaller enterprises get access to Avaya’s features via a public cloud, which brings the convenience of not having to worry about keeping the system up-to-date and equipment purchases. Larger companies that have access to their own cloud can have a custom installation, with an added bonus that Avaya’s teams are available on call to help any customer set the system based on their specific needs. While the interface may be slightly daunting, this is compensated by an offer of the provision of training in the use of the platform for all of its future users.
Vonage cloud-based business phone service is all about catering to the needs of your growing businesses. With that in mind, the platform comes in three basic versions – Mobile, Premium and Advanced. Mobile is aimed at businesses that do not need desk-based phones. The communication is managed via mobile devices and desktop apps, making it suitable for businesses that rely on remote work.
Video conferencing, chat & file sharing and CRM integrations are supported with a Premium plan which is billed as the best option for traditional office users, while Advanced offers support for call recording, visual voicemail and other advanced features. Whichever option is selected, all packages will come with an uptime guarantee of 99.999%.
What are key available technologies?
Business phone systems hardly need any introduction, but in 2020 they come in a variety of flavors. Whatever your preference, all of them will have to be able to handle multiple incoming and outgoing business calls as well as transfer them at the organizational level.
This segment has undergone significant changes over the past decade, with business phone services migrating to the cloud, smartphones becoming ubiquitous and landline technologies turning into legacy systems.
VoIP technology makes use of the existing infrastructure, such as internet connections. It allows for easy management of conference calls (both phone and video-based ones), automated greetings, call logging, file storage, online faxing, email, etc.
Some of these features are now parts of the unified communications platforms that go beyond mere phone services and offer features such as web and video conference calls, instant messaging and online fax in a single platform.
The popularization of smartphones also introduced a new factor to the business phone landscape and allowed the workforce to stick with the same communication system, no matter if they are at work, at home or on the move. The BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) policies are now firmly established in the mainstream, despite the security risks they pose and the need to keep tabs on them.
Finally, the movement to the cloud offered access to the wealth of user-generated data and the use of analytics. In addition to supporting streamlined communication, analytics gave deeper insights into how the customers interact with businesses via phones, informing the creation of better customer engagement strategies, lead generation, etc.
Cloud vs. On-premise phone systems
VoIP is the name of the game in the majority of new phone business systems and they rely on a broadband high-speed internet connection to allow you to make and receive calls. Its key features are the ease of use and simpler integration with personal computers, which is particularly important for companies that rely on their phone systems as customer management tools. In 2020, concerns over the quality of VoIP calls can be put aside as the technology of conveying voice over the internet now matches whatever landlines could offer back in the day. Based on this, the only situation in which analog phone systems would be a suitable option is the lack of access to a reliable internet connection.
Depending on the technology you want to invest in and the related payment policy which best suits your needs, VoIP systems now come with two basic usage models:
Cloud-based systems - with the equipment hosted in the cloud and maintained and kept secure by your service provider. The only physical components of this setup are the phones themselves and network PoE switches.
On-premise systems - with which the leased or purchased equipment is installed and run from your premises. They include on-premise VoIP and digital installations.
As both cloud-based and on-premise systems offer similar call management features, deciding on what will work for your business depends on other factors, including your business size, preferred payment model and need for scalability.
Business size can be a decisive consideration, as it can limit the ability to cover for the costs of deploying either of these models. If your business is not ready to cover for heavy upfront investments in the equipment, cloud-based systems are a cheaper option from the outset. Using these systems usually entails paying monthly fees in exchange for phone business services. It can help your efforts to cut down on hardware (such as servers or server racks) and overhead costs, as they do not need physical components. The only technical concern, in this case, would be establishing a decent broadband connection, as the maintenance of the equipment will be handled by the provider who is also in charge of the cloud system’s security.
On the other hand, using cloud systems means that monthly fees need to be accounted for in your budget for an indefinite period. There is also the risk of providers changing their fees over time. All of this can be avoided if you are ready to invest in the phone equipment from the start, while also covering the cost of maintenance, repairs, and upgrades yourself. So, when it comes to costs, it all comes down to deciding whether you want to save money in the long or short run and checking if you have the resources to maintain the on-premise systems in the future.
Which system is better for scaling and control?
In general, if you are a medium or large size enterprise with well-developed in-house IT assets and you demand full control of your business phone system, on-premise solutions can be a viable option. On the other hand, smaller enterprises without significant IT and initial investment resources and less need for control would do well to consider deploying a cloud-based business phone system as a long-term or temporary solution.
Other key factors to consider are your scalability and control requirements. Once again, scalability is tied to the general cost considerations, but there is also the question of how you want to handle responsibility – in case of projected increased demand for phone services, opting for a cloud-based system usually means fewer risks in experimenting with what works best for you. This is because the necessary technological upgrades will be handled by your service provider and you can easily switch back to an earlier solution if the upgrade backfires. With on-premise systems, however, investing in a business phone system that will scale with your changing demands means that you’ll be the only party to shoulder the costs of failure or miscalculated investment.
The final element to consider is control. With on-premise systems, the IT department at your company will be in charge of every single operational detail of an on-premise system, without having to delegate any task to a third party. With cloud phone systems, your level of control over the system’s functionality is limited, but less control means fewer concerns so this issue really depends on how important the total control over the business phone system is important to you.
How to decide on the best business phone system and plan?
Picking out the best business phone system provider is not an easy task and even when it is done, there’s still the question of which customer plan will work out for you. To help you with making this important decision, we prepared a list of criteria you need to consider in advance of inking the deal with a provider.
Available budget and IT resources
This is a no-brainer and the costs remain an essential consideration in every situation relating to purchasing the best available solution for your business. As we explained earlier, the amount of initial investment with on-premise and cloud-based systems varies significantly and you’ll have to decide if larger upfront costs of buying equipment are more acceptable to you compared to the monthly fee model. Having access to larger IT resources means that you’ll not have to delegate maintenance tasks to third parties, but this comes with its own set of responsibilities for the system’s operation. In any case, you’ll need to check each of a provider’s plans for hidden costs which may be lurking in the fine print.
Before making any final decision, consider that a future phone system of your choice will need to reflect the needs of your employees, not just customers. You’ll need to look at the amount of remote work your employees are required to perform and choose accordingly, as well as decide if your new business phone platform will be sufficiently accessible for the majority of them.
Features on offer
Yes, it can be hard to predict the changing needs of one’s business in the long run, but having a clear idea of at least the current needs can help a great deal with buying a new business phone system. Do you really need all of those fancy features for your SME if you are not running an equivalent of a call center? Having said that, we want to help you with a list of key features that enterprises of all sizes can make use of.
Other business phone features to look out for
It makes it possible to place the calls on hold without taking or transferring them, particularly when a phone agent is not immediately available. It is an important consideration if your business foresees an increase in the number of received phone calls down the line.
Interactive Voice Response (IVR)
This feature provides an automatic greeting to a caller and is often the first thing they hear from you. In addition to this, IVR can take messages and transfer phone calls to the desired address. Today, it is often the first point of contact with customers and it adds to their perception of your level of business professionalism.
Being able to listen to and record calls helps you learn about the ways you can improve your call handling performance, marketing efforts and your agents’ role in it.
If you ever need to change your provider, you’ll appreciate the ability to keep your old numbers and this service will help you achieve just that.
Voicemail to Email
With this feature, voicemails are recorded as audio files and sent to email addresses. It should help you stay on top of any urgent matter that needs your immediate attention as emails are checked more often than recorded audio files.
Mobile and 3rd Party App Support
In our day and age, the quality of the business phone mobile app is essential. Make sure you check the reviews of the apps which your business phone provider offers at the moment. The same goes for the support of integration of business phone systems with 3rd party apps such as Google Drive, Slack, Outlook, etc.
While these are now becoming a standard, checking the level of support for this feature and the pricing of plans associated with it is a must.
The usefulness of this technology relies on the fact that it is often easier to check SMSs compared to emails. Check if this is included in a provider’s plan together with internet faxing.