This article is part of a larger series on VoIP.
The best business phone systems offer value that just can’t be found in mobile or home plans designed for personal use. For one, a separate company phone number helps provide work-life balance. There are also features like dedicated voicemail, call handling, and call routing to help make business processes more efficient. We’ve created this guide to help you understand your options so you can pick the business phone service that is best for you.
Top Business Phone Systems at a Glance
Business Phone Systems
$19.99 per user, per month
$25.95 per user, per month
$22 per user, per month
$15 per user, per month
$20 per user, per month
$19.95 per user, per month
Free for a single user; paid plans start at $10 per user, per month
$29 per month for 1 phone number
$19.99 per user, per month
Read more about the providers in our guide on the best small business voip service.
Types of Business Phone Systems
Modern VoIP business phone systems rely on a rich feature set. Not only are these systems powerful, but their costs are also typically much cheaper than landline phone systems. This has led many businesses to adopt VoIP as the underlying technology behind their business communication stacks.
Another benefit of VoIP technology over its traditional landline counterpart is its portability. VoIP phone systems only need an internet connection to work. Some, less feature-rich systems, don’t even require you to maintain equipment like desk phones or even a physical office. These are known as virtual phone systems, and these are particularly good for solopreneurs.
There are also phone systems that are designed specifically for businesses with higher than average call traffic. These are known as call center phone systems and can leverage either traditional landline or VoIP technology. You can learn more about the top providers in our guide on the best call center phone systems.
How to Pick the Best Business Phone System Type
Not all small business VoIP services are going to fit your precise needs, which is why a little due diligence is going to be required to determine what business phone type is best for you before researching providers.
1. Determine Your Budget
There’s a variety of pricing options when you’re looking for the best business phone system. As a result, the service you pick can be either as low-cost or as expensive as you want it to be. For instance, a provider like Google Voice, which is one of the best cheap VoIP services, lets you make entirely free calls using their personal plan, but you’ll be short on calling features.
Still, as a general rule, VoIP costs tend to run much lower than the cost of a landline carrier, even as you scale to more lines. These providers also tend to provide several features, like call transfer, call routing, and call recording, as part of specific plans, whereas landline carriers tend to upcharge.
2. Consider Your Hardware Needs
Equipping on-premise office phone systems can be expensive. You will need to decide if you want to purchase hardware, like desk phones, up front. Some systems also require additional equipment. For example, if you decide to use an on-premise PBX VoIP system, you’ll need an IP PBX, which will be housed within your office. You may also end up paying fees on a monthly basis for SIP trunking or a primary rate interface (PRI) circuit, which allows for 23 concurrent calls or data transfers on the network.
Hardware requirements for cloud-based VoIP aren’t very extensive, but they do exist. For example, VoIP won’t work without a dedicated internet connection, so you’ll at least need an internet service provider (ISP) to make calls via a wired desk phone, a computer, or through Wi-Fi when you’re using a portable device like a softphone app on a tablet or mobile phone. In fact, there are several VoIP hardware and accessories that your business might need, such as call center phones, analog telephone adapters, and business VoIP routers.
3. Check Your Available Internet Speed
If you’re operating out of a particularly rural area, then a traditional telephone may win out in the VoIP vs landline debate. This is due to the fact that not every area has the internet speeds to accommodate an internet-based business phone system.
If you’re not sure if your office has the connection speeds, consider taking advantage of our free VoIP speed test. It measures things like your download and upload speed, your ping, and jitter.
How to Choose the Best Business Phone Provider
There’s a lot of competition in this space, so it’ll take some trial and error before you can find the right system to meet your specific business needs. Here are a few things to look for before you settle on a particular provider.
Guaranteed Call Quality & Uptime
As a rule of thumb, most VoIP providers have a service level agreement (SLA). This is a guarantee that their service will remain reliable up to a preset percentage. A reliable base for this is a 99% uptime guarantee, but many providers rise well above this, with some offering up to 100% guarantees. It’s important to understand that this offers a huge amount of variation.
For example, while 99% and 99.999% might not seem far removed from each other, these actually account for a massive differential. Here’s a breakdown:
- 99%: Per year, this amounts to three days of potential service downtime.
- 99.9%: Per year, this amounts to almost nine hours of potential service downtime.
- 99.99%: Per year, this amounts to 52 minutes of potential service downtime.
- 99.999%: Per year, this amounts to five minutes of potential service downtime.
Supported Phone Numbers
Business phone systems typically offer several direct inward dialing (DID) number options. DID numbers are also called virtual numbers, and these allow your business to have a dedicated number for customer contact. There are four types of virtual numbers to consider:
- Local: This number features a local area code and can attract more nearby clients.
- Toll-free: The prefix for this type can be 800, 833, 844, 855, 866, 877, or 888, and makes you more accessible across the country.
- Vanity: These can feature either a local or toll-free prefix, but end with a number combination that would spell something to make them more memorable.
- International: International numbers provide global customers with a number local to their country or area. This is very useful if you have agents who speak the same language as those calling in.
Some providers, like Google Voice, provide a completely free business phone number that you can use on your personal phone to separate calls. However, most require you to sign up for monthly service for business phone numbers, and additional phone numbers cost extra.
Additionally, not all providers have every type. For example, 800.com has just about every toll-free prefix, but this provider doesn’t have numbers in international territories. For this reason, it’s critical to evaluate your needs before selecting a provider. You can learn more about the different options and their best use case in our more in-depth article on business phone numbers.
Basic Call Routing Capability & Menu Support
Effective inbound call routing is absolutely critical for businesses. Professional-grade phone systems allow you to create menu systems that will help customers navigate your business’ various departments. Both auto-attendant and interactive voice response (IVR) systems help your customers find their needed department, and more complex systems will help your customers perform tasks like bill pay and callback scheduling.
It is also important to consider how you want calls to be answered. Some providers have virtual assistant-like software (where a computer speaks your text messages to callers), others allow you to record your own messages, and some have actual paid voice actors who speak each menu option.
Added Calling Features
Simply put, there are several calling features that many businesses will need. There are also some that your business might not need at all. For example, if you have employees who have to often take their calls on the go, a feature like remote call forwarding can really come in handy but would be near-useless for a company with office-bound agents.
Advanced business calling features can include things like call routing, call recording, call analytics, and customer relationship manager (CRM) integration. Ideally, you should evaluate your calling needs to determine which provider has the best overall features for your company.
The best small business phone system will also include conference calling. Whether you’re using audio or video conferencing, your team will be able to collaborate extensively with multiple colleagues simultaneously.
There are multiple essential business phone features to consider in addition to call handling. Check out our in-depth guide to the top VoIP phone features for business to learn more.
Number of Supported Extensions
Extensions and dial-by-name directories are very useful ways to link remote office locations and provide an easy means of customer contact. For example, Grasshopper, one of the leading virtual phone providers, offers three extensions for its base level plan, which scales to unlimited extensions at the top tier.
This provides your company with one- to three-digit numbers that can be directly dialed within the call routing system to reach a department or a specific employee. For example, your customers can quickly reach John Smith by dialing 299 when they call your company. Colleagues can also dial this three-digit number when they need to collaborate.
Integrations & Scalability
One of the better features of a business phone system is its ability to adapt and grow with your company, especially if it’s cloud-based. For example, providers like RingCentral have four plans with numerous business phone features to consider. When you’re first starting out, and you’re smaller, you can choose plan one. When you start to need more detailed analytics and integrations, you can easily scale upward to incorporate more features with higher-plan tiers.
This also extends to the number of phones and endpoints you’ll need as you grow. Providers like Nextiva also offer volume discounts, so that you actually end up paying less per month as you increase your agent count. There are also options for pay-as-you-go and prepaid VoIP that will provide benefits for businesses with low- and high-call volumes.
Setting up an on- or off-premise VoIP system takes some serious planning, but not as much as a traditional landline business system. To learn more about how to set up a VoIP system, check out our guide.
Why Businesses Need a Professional-grade Phone System
As a business, you need a dedicated service for reaching your customers. While some solopreneurs use their own smartphones and home phones for their business, this is problematic for your work-life balance. Also, a private cell or home phone will typically be lacking in calling features.
A dedicated small business phone system simply packs in more dedicated features, and many are accessible using multiple endpoints, like laptops, smartphones, IP and desk phones, and desktop computers. With a business phone system, you can keep your personal number yet have your customers reach you via a dedicated 1-800 number on the same device.
Here are a few other significant advantages to having a solid business phone system:
For Benefiting Your Customers
Call routing systems are fully automated. They use menus to help your customers reach the right person or department. An IVR system can be used to increase customer satisfaction and provide customers with self-service options.
VoIP business phone providers have these routing options almost always by default, enhancing the overall customer experience. On top of this, these systems usually have high-definition (HD) voice, so communications with your customers tend to be clearer than they are with landline calling.
For Employee Needs
Customer calling isn’t the only key use of a business phone system. These systems are particularly effective at providing your agents with a means to communicate among colleagues. Providers like RingCentral and Nextiva deliver unified communications as a service solutions since they also offer multiple means of communication that expand past VoIP calling.
For example, a provider often rolls in these kinds of features with a subscription:
- Team chat
- Calendar integration
- Project and task management
These can all be used to help teams collaborate on a daily basis. Additionally, tools like self-service IVR will help agents more efficiently manage their time. Rather than take calls that could be managed automatically, your team members will primarily be able to handle those that need a human touch.
For Reducing Your Bottom Line
Another major benefit of phone systems for small businesses is their inexpensive and time-saving nature. With a traditional PBX phone setup, you’ll need a phone room to house the associated communications hardware. Not only is this expensive, but this also reduces space in an office.
Cloud-based business phone providers massively cut this requirement. Their servers are geographically located, so there’s no hardware cost on your end, and they only charge a nominal monthly fee for access to their services. As we covered in our VoIP cost article, some VoIP service providers, like Google Voice, have completely free calling plans.
Overall, a VoIP solution is highly customizable. Several providers have structures where you only pay for what you need. Not every business needs a plan with video conferencing or extensive integrations. Rather than investing the extra few dollars a month for these services, you can opt to only pay for unlimited calling and features like mobile and desktop apps. This is very convenient, and should you eventually decide that these are valuable features, upgrading your service and utilizing them is only a call away.
For Reaching New Markets
One of the biggest drawbacks of traditional landline systems is that long-distance packages are typically very expensive. This is due to the fact that connections using these services utilize old copper wiring that links calls through the network. Maintaining this infrastructure costs the old carriers millions of dollars, and, of course, this expenditure is passed on to the consumer.
Modern VoIP-based business phone systems help you sidestep this cost since calls are made exclusively through the internet. While the internet is still reliant on transatlantic and transpacific cables, the network is much more agile and inexpensive to use.
Compared to international calling made via landline, VoIP is much cheaper. VoIP international calls cost as little as 2 cents per minute. The best international calling providers, like 8×8, GoTo Connect, and Ooma, even have unlimited calling to some international locations.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Is there a difference between a VoIP business phone system & a virtual phone system?
Yes. Typically, a full-fledged VoIP system will include some extended capabilities, like unified communications as a service (UCaaS) features. With a virtual phone system, the focus tends to be on calling and calling features. For a deeper dive, take a look at our VoIP vs virtual phone system guide.
Will I be able to send faxes to my partners with VoIP?
Yes. By default, many VoIP and virtual phone providers include some form of electronic faxing, which is known as e-fax. We’ve created an entire guide on how to use VoIP fax so that you can send it through your provider.
Do I need dedicated phones for VoIP calling?
VoIP calling is very versatile. For example, you can call using most providers utilizing an IP phone, and some providers, like Ooma, even have telephone adapters so that you can call from landline devices. For those without extensive calling hardware, there are calling apps called softphones that you can use to make calls from desktop computers and mobile devices.
Are these kinds of business phone systems secure?
This depends on your provider and their encryption practices. Take a look at our guide on encryption at-rest and in-transit to learn more about VoIP security.
Finding the right provider might seem a bit daunting at first, but the transition to a dedicated small business phone system will both save you money and provide you with excellent features. There are so many excellent providers out there that you never have to settle.