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Best Small Business Phone Systems for 2016

We review the best small business phone systems

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Best Business Phone Systems

Making the right choice from among the best small business phone systems is crucial. Whether for fielding calls from customers or keeping the lines of communication open, you need a system that can handle a high volume of calls. Newer, more developed technologies allow individuals to integrate computer and messaging tools as well as other advanced functions.

Business collaboration may take many shapes and forms but at the core is the need to communicate and share information seamlessly. With the proper phone system, you can accomplish just that. I've given you a jumpstart on enhancing office communications by reviewing five of the best phone systems for small business.

Considerations When Looking for the Best Business Phone Systems

There are a number of factors to keep in mind when shopping for a business phone system. While many of these systems can be customized to meet the immediate needs of your company, they also have the ability to expand as your needs evolve. Take these things into consideration:

  • Collaboration Capabilities - Does the system make it simple to communicate with customers or coworkers? Is there a conference calling option that allows you to integrate other mobile devices?
  • Features - Take a close look at what sorts of features the phone system boasts. Does it have things like automatic call transfer, customizable hold music, computer/phone integration, adjustable number of users, etc.?
  • Help and Support - Does the provider offer support via email, phone, or chat? Are they on call 24/7? What types of additional help services do they provide?
  • Cost and Product Offerings - Evaluate the line of products they carry (i.e., IP phone, softphone, DECT, etc.) in relation to their monthly or annual costs.

Next, I will go a bit more in-depth into how to decide on the right option for you from among the top business phone systems.

How to Choose the Best Phone System

When you run a small business you need to make sure people can actually contact you via a separate business phone line. This not only makes it easier for your potential clients and customers, it also helps you avoid any co-mingling of business and personal expenses when tax time comes around. In addition, the best office phone systems are equipped with functions to help your operations run more smoothly, such as queueing, automated messages, and hold music.

With so many options out there for business telephone systems, it can be difficult to narrow down the one that will work best for you. Use the following guide to help you determine which system suits your needs, then check out my small business phone systems reviews to pinpoint your preferred choice.

VoIP systems are among the most effective and inexpensive ways to build a professional image and look bigger than you are.

What's your budget?

Budget is a valid concern when it comes to purchasing a business telephone system. The more complicated the phone system, the more expensive it may be. That's why it's critical to decide which features are absolutely essential to your business and which ones you can live without for now. For example, do you just need a landline? Do you need a landline at all? Or would you also like to have your phone system run via an internet connection (VoIP)? Tech.Co has reported that going with VoIP can save small businesses 40% on local calling and up to 90% internationally. This is one major advantage of going with a network-based phone system.

What's the size of your company?

Company size will also play a big role in determining not only which phone system you use, but how many business phone lines you need. How many employees do you have? Do they each need their own extension? Do you need the capability to put calls on hold and transfer to another line?

Do you want to deal with hardware?

Some telephone systems for business require hardware while others don't because they are hosted on a cloud. If you don't want to deal with hardware other than a phone, such as private branch exchange (PBX) hardware, then a Voice Over IP (VoIP) phone system may be your best bet. VoIP uses your network as its gateway, which means the only on-site equipment will be phones.

Note, however, that nowadays you can also have companies host the PBX on their cloud system and have them maintain it for you. More on this in the next section.

Do you want an on-premise system?

Sometimes business owners prefer to own the hardware used in order to run their small business phone system. This would mean that they have an on-premise telephone system, so all the hardware can be found in the office. Furthermore, the hardware is owned and maintained by the business owner.

Over time, business owners are said to pay less for their small business phone system if they own the equipment. You would also get more of a say on the kind of hardware you want to use. On the other hand, it's important to keep in mind that on-site phone equipment like PBX hardware will need replacing from time to time. According to tech news authority BetaNews, the industry average for server and other hardware replacement is about every five years. When you use a cloud-based/VoIP option for your office phone system and/or call center, you don't have to worry about these recurring - and expensive - costs.

Feature-rich systems used to only be available to big companies. Times have changed. Now business phone lines can also come with mobile capabilities, the ability to transcribe voicemails into email, record phone calls, and much more.

When it comes down to it, there is no right or wrong when deciding between an on-site phone system or a cloud-based one. It mostly depends on how much control (and responsibility) you want as a business owner, and which option you believe provides you with a good balance of affordability and reliability.

The Best Small Business Phone Systems

Nextiva Review

  • Pros
  • No setup fees
  • Easy to use
  • Multiple pricing tiers to meet varying needs
  • One system for office phone and call center
  • Operates several servers for 99.9% uptime
  • Cons
  • No on-site option
  • Customer support not 24/7

Nextiva is an award-winning, cloud-based business phone service with a range of options for virtually any type of office communication. It's tough to find anyone with a bad thing to say about this decade-old company. The service was co-founded in 2006 by Tomas Gorny, an immigrant bootstrap entrepreneur whose history as a tech success began years before Nextiva. Today, the company is thriving upon Gorny's vision of superior customer service and an easy-to-use product that performs.

Nextiva's office phone system is available in three tiers, ranging in price from $19.95 per month for Pro to $29.95 per month for Enterprise. All three levels include unlimited calling, free local and toll-free numbers, HD hold music, and more. Enterprise adds a few more features like conference bridge and team presence.

Aside from the prompt and personalized customer support, Nextiva also offers call center functionality. One of the best things about this option is that it all runs on the same system as the office phone, so there's no need to install two systems. If you need a call center set up, there are two levels - $50 and $100 monthly per phone rep - and you get a dedicated technician to guide you through the process. After that you can manage all of your office phone and call center systems through the online portal. Add employees, create queue routes, and record greetings. This feature makes it simple to control which employees have access to which features as well.

In terms of equipment, you can purchase phones from Nextiva or use your own existing office phone system. They offer competitive pricing on everything from your basic cheap business phone to more advanced, multi-function equipment. They also have a simple four-step process for programming your own phones to work with Nextiva service, and offer support for IP, softphones, and DECT.

Whether you need the best phone system for small business, full-featured call center operations, or an entire suite of services with cloud storage, Nextiva has an extensive range of options. Their comprehensive plan selection and outstanding customer service reputation earn this company the top spot on my list of the best business phone systems.

RingCentral Phone System Review

  • Pros
  • Easy setup and use
  • Responsive interface
  • Useful online resources
  • Extensive support
  • Mobile application
  • Cons
  • Interface somewhat complex
  • No bulk user management

Getting your business's phone system set up has never been easier. RingCentral paves the way as far as cloud-based and mobile phone systems are concerned. They've combined a hosted phone system with advanced call management features, VoIP and fax service. Their smartphone app allows you to connect a range of mobile devices or tablets including iPhone and Android. Whether you're looking to outfit a small or midsize business, RingCentral has many of the capabilities and functions you've come to expect from the top business phone systems.

You can establish many of your customization features directly on their web portal including call queues, automated messaging, call attendant, routing, blocking, voicemail, etc. What's great with this provider is that you can personalize many of the features to meet your immediate or developing needs.

RingCentral stands behind their product so confidently that you get their 30-day guarantee just in case you're not satisfied at the end of your trial. Based on customer reviews, individuals are typically very satisfied with the quality and service they receive. Their support staff is available on-call 24/7 and their website has additional support guides and articles.

All in all, RingCentral has a nice selection of offerings that embody flexibility and advanced functionality features. Again, as far as mobile-focused phone systems go, this one is a winner for more than a few reasons. Some users have commented that their interface takes some getting used to and that the lack of a bulk user management system can be cumbersome. Even so, the extensive range of features and satisfaction guarantee put this company right up there on my list of the best business phone systems.

ShoreTel Phone System Review

  • Pros
  • Helpful resources available
  • Up to 1,000 users
  • Cloud-based, on-site, and hybrid options
  • Support via phone, live chat, tickets, and email
  • Award-winning products
  • Cons
  • One-year equipment warranty

ShoreTel boasts about their phone system's many accolades and brilliantly simple structure. ShoreTel speaks highly of their products and with good reason. This provider's phone system has a nice range of collaborative features including a cloud-based option if you'd rather have that than the on-site phone system. The benefit of having a cloud-based system is that it can be accessed anywhere from a computer which enhances usability and overall accessibility. For example, an upper-level manager could keep a close eye on the incoming and outgoing calls from somewhere other than the office with a cloud-based software.

ShoreTel can accommodate up to 1,000 users, which again is great for mid-sized companies. It has all of the standard features you need - caller ID, transfers, blocking, and hold. Plus you have access to those great collaborative functions including unified messaging, instant messaging, automated attendant, and more. What's more, you can personalize phone notifications and the voicemail recording.

While ShoreTel did not offer DECT or live chat in the past, they have rectified these two weaknesses. The company now offers a DECT-protocol phone as well as customer support by phone, email, chat, and tickets. They also offer a host of resources and guides on their website for additional information. If you're looking for a range of phone system options designed for medium to large businesses, ShoreTel may be perfect for your organization.

8x8 Phone System Review

  • Pros
  • Voice to email capabilities
  • Mobile app for smartphone/tablet
  • Computer integration features
  • Easy setup and use
  • IP Phone, softphone and DECT
  • Cons
  • No 24/7 phone
  • No live chat
  • One-year warranty

8x8 offers many of the features and services a small business would want included in their phone system. In line with the other providers on our list, 8x8, Inc. offers conference calling and mobile capabilities, unified and instant messaging, and more.

One of the most significant pros about 8x8 is the ability to integrate your computer and its file-sharing tools. The mobile app allows you to receive and make calls from your smartphone or tablet (iPhone, Android, iPad, etc.) and check things like voicemail, chat, and more. 8x8 accommodates 1,000+ users and also lets you customize many of the phone options like hold music, messaging, mailbox recordings, and automated attendant.

In terms of products they have IP Phone, softphone and DECT, which is great news for those who want a selection to choose from.

There are just a few cons with 8x8, Inc. It has a one year hardware warranty, which is not as longstanding as we'd like, although it is commensurate with the industry standard. Also they do not offer live chat or 24/7 phone support. On the other hand, their site features a number of helpful guides and resources in the event you need support and of course they provide email and standard phone support.

Vonage Business Phone System Review

  • Pros
  • Wide selection of phones
  • Collaborative calling features
  • Mobile integration
  • IP Phone and softphone
  • Cons
  • Complaints regarding customer support
  • No live chat support
  • Fewer users

Vonage has been a leader in VoIP service since 2006. Their customer-centric approach coupled with their quality service is what truly sets them apart. Your small business can have exceptional service with an IP phone or softphone and an internet connection, when you use Vonage.

Like most other virtual phone system companies, this provider offers the full suite of conferencing capabilities including unified messaging tools, automated attendant, voicemail integration, mobile device features and more. In terms of customization, you can personalize things like hold music, mailbox recordings, etc. Vonage supports IP Phones and softphones but does not accommodate DECT which is a drawback. Additionally, there have been many complaints regarding their customer support staff and being able to reach them after multiple email tickets.

While Vonage made my list, they do have many shortcomings when paired against some of the other providers like Nextiva and RingCentral. The maximum number of users is substantially lower than the other providers on our list (100+) which may be a deal breaker for some mid-sized companies. Nonetheless, they do provide a comparable array of phone features and their prices tend to be on the more competitive side.

Features of the Best Office Phone Systems

Feature-rich systems used to only be available to big companies. Times have changed. Now business phone lines can also come with mobile capabilities, the ability to transcribe voicemails into email, record phone calls, and much more. The best small business phone systems offer options which include:

  • Call monitoring features - whisper, barge, monitor, and record allow you to choose between listening in on a call while allowing the internal speaker to hear you, listening to both parties without making a sound, joining a call-in-progress, and recording and saving an entire conversation. Together these features create the ultimate call management suite.
  • Voice to email transcription - this feature allows employees to save time by reading their voice messages, which is much faster than listening on a traditional voicemail system.
  • Find me, follow me - this business phone system feature is really just a modernized, sophisticated version of call forwarding. You can set up a sequence by which calls are routed through your devices, or have them all ring at the same time. This is a handy service for very small businesses which may not have a full-time secretary answering calls.
  • CTI (Computer Telephone Integration) - this is fairly standard for call center applications, allowing you to view information about the caller such as their name, and even their purchase history with your company. CTI is the reason the electric company knows what phone number you're calling from before you even say anything, and it can help you provide personalized service to your clients as well.

Some businesses need more features than others, which is why you'll find a variety of plans available from the companies outlined below in my compilation of business phone system reviews.

Best Business Phone System Types

There are three main types of products a business phone system provider usually carries:

  • IP Phone - this is a type of phone which uses VoIP technology to receive or place calls over an IP network, typically the Internet
  • Softphone - this option uses a type of software hosted through an Internet connection instead of the regular telephone network. Rather than being the same as VoIP service, softphone is just one subtype of VoIP.
  • Digital Enhanced Cordless Telecommunications (DECT) - this is a form of cordless phone, much like the one you may have on your home landline. DECT office phone systems often have additional features such as conferencing and the ability to communicate with other personnel in the building.

Now that you're familiar with the different business phone service protocols, I'll go over the most desirable features available today - and there are plenty.

An Unexpected Benefit of the Best Virtual Phone System

While a VoIP system certainly gives you more options as far as handling business calls, as well as features to make your life easier, it also offers a specific advantage to new startups. Having an automated business phone can make you seem larger than you are when first starting out. According to Forbes, "VoIP systems are among the most effective and inexpensive ways to build a professional image and look bigger than you are."

In other words, fake it 'til you make it. There's nothing wrong with acting the part to gain confidence, even before you've got a long list of top-shelf clients, and an affordable, professional VoIP system can help you achieve your goal.

More Resources for Finding the Best Phone System

Do you need more tools for improving your communications protocol or your business practices overall? Check out our collection of advice on a wide range of topics - from e-commerce tools to hiring remote workers. Find a wealth of information you can count on to guide you as you navigate the waters of growing your company.

Small Business Phone System Review Recap

A business phone system can revolutionize the way your business serves customers and collaborates internally. These five business phone services all excel in their offerings and while they may each have their shortcomings, they are still very worthy providers. Remember to keep the considerations I've outlined in mind and evaluate their offerings in relation to your company's wants and needs.

While you're instituting or updating a new office phone system, it's the perfect time to investigate other business services which can improve your operations. Look over the best online fax service reviews and the best domain registrar companies for more great options to bring your business to the next level.

Best Business Phone Systems FAQs

Why are mobile capabilities important?

These days, cell phones, tablets, and other portable electronic devices have become a mainstay in our everyday lives. More importantly, it's crucial to stay up-to-date on the happening of your business while you're out of the office. What's great about VoIP technology is that employees can receive business calls and make outgoing calls without the need for a business-specific cell phone.

Many business phone systems offer smartphone applications that allow workers to get the complete functionality of their work phones, while out of the office. This not only expands the breadth of use but allows upper management to better track call related metrics. Say for example, a worker needs to step out of the office for a few hours. Instead of missing their work phone calls, they can have it transferred to their mobile phone and never miss a beat. Not only does it save the hassle of returning phone calls, but allows constant communication capabilities.

Does my business need a new phone system?

Often times, small business owners may question whether or not they need a VoIP phone system. Determining the ideal time and type of phone system to purchase is a decision which takes thoughtful consideration. Consider these points before electing for one:

Age of your existing system: The typical phone system lasts between six to eight years, although with developments in technology it's necessary to re-evaluate systems every few years. Depending on the age of your existing phone system, you may be due for an immediate upgrade.

Advanced features: Older systems may not have all the capabilities as newer ones like unified voicemail and messaging.

Consider the size of your business: Small businesses with just a few employees may not need to upgrade their systems if their existing phone meets the workforce needs. Larger enterprises, however with employees dispersed across multiple locations may find it absolutely necessary to have a fully updated and capable phone system.

What is a cloud-based phone system?

A cloud-based phone system (also known as internet phone system) operates with technology and networks that are stored on an external date center and delivered via the web. The beauty of a cloud-based phone system is that it eliminates the need for complex or costly hardware within your office. While this technology is relatively new, there have been great advances in the workplace as a result of it. Prior to the development of VoIP, the vast majority operated on a public switched telephone networks (PSTN) which consisted of a copper wire network.

Customers remark the many advantages of a cloud-based phone system including:

  • Simple setup - since the system doesn't require the tradition wire routing, it's much simpler and faster to setup in your business.
  • Cost and time savings.
  • Advanced features like the ability to add additional extensions, call forwarding, voicemail, and other features not necessarily available with physical phone options.
  • Remote capabilities which allow you to connect your mobile phone with cloud phone systems.
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In order for MoneySavingPro to remain a consumer free service, many of the companies covered in our industry reviews compensate MoneySavingPro for new sign ups.

However, the results of our comparison tools, the rankings of the providers and the information presented is not affected by compensation. Indeed, many of these companies approach us for an advertising partnership after we have already written a published their reviews.

While we try to research and review as many providers as possible in the 100+ industries we cover, we have not reviewed every company available.

Our rating system is independent of compensation and reflects our true understanding of the industry and the company based on a variety of factors. The companies that receive the highest rating will always be the providers that we believe offer the best value to the consumer.

Advertiser Disclosure

In order for MoneySavingPro to remain a consumer free service, many of the companies covered in our industry reviews compensate MoneySavingPro for new sign ups.

However, the results of our comparison tools, the rankings of the providers and the information presented is not affected by compensation. Indeed, many of these companies approach us for an advertising partnership after we have already written a published their reviews.

While we try to research and review as many providers as possible in the 100+ industries we cover, we have not reviewed every company available.

Our rating system is independent of compensation and reflects our true understanding of the industry and the company based on a variety of factors. The companies that receive the highest rating will always be the providers that we believe offer the best value to the consumer.