Best Phone System for Small Business – 2019 Review
How to get started buying a phone system for your company [Post updated JAN 2019]
Even with endless new forms of communication like SMS, instant messaging and video-conferencing appearing in the business space, the phone system remains one of the most crucial components of any business. Voice is still one of the most powerful ways to connect to your customers and colleagues, which is why phone system providers and manufactures in the small business world are continually working to deliver the best functions and capabilities for their customers.
As the world grows increasingly agile, small businesses, in particular, are moving more consistently towards phone systems that allow them to integrate, scale and build according to their needs. Many organisations are beginning to embrace the power of the “cloud,” and the versatility that comes with being able to adjust a phone system to suit their ever-changing needs. Some say VoIP providers are on a wave because the market is set to increase in value to $204.8 billion by 2020.
What’s more, as customer experience leads the way to better business differentiation, small businesses with the best phone systems are discovering how simple features like “music on hold” and intelligent IVRs can delight and retain their clients.
The phone system is evolving. The question is, how do you choose the right path forward?
Choosing a Small Business Phone System Isn’t an Easy Task
Let’s start by saying that choosing a new phone system for your business isn’t an easy task.
There are many phone system vendors in the world, and this can make the task of buying a new phone system a bit of a challenge.
It’s probably worth mentioning at this stage what a small business is. Within the phone systems market here’s roughly how they categorise phone systems:
- Micro Business = 1-10 users
- SMB (small to medium size business) = 11-250 users
- Mid-Market = 250 to 1000 users
- Enterprise = 1000+ users
Most phone systems capabilities nowadays are primarily software controlled and therefore scalability over the years has dramatically increased due to improvements in the hardware they reside on. For example, you can now buy a phone system the size of a shoe box that will easily support 100 users or more.
If you have a virtual server (e.g. Microsoft Hyper-V or VMware), a single host can support potentially hundreds if not thousands of users.
How to Buy the Best Small Business Phone System
It’s hard to overestimate the impact that the right business phone system can have on your company.
In a world of collaboration tools and apps, it’s easy to overlook the potential of the standard phone system. However, statistics show that something as simple as switching from a traditional PTSN line to a VoIP phone system can be a game changer. The average savings that occur after switching to VoIP can range between 50 and 75%.
So, what should you be looking at when you’re thinking of investing in a new phone system? Which considerations are crucial to your success? Let’s take a look.
The first and most important thing to consider when choosing a phone system is which features are offered. Critical systems like call queues, conferencing capabilities, and IVRs are common for many small businesses. Some of the other components you may want to look for include:
- Video or multi-media calling options.
- Automated directories that allow you to find employee extensions rapidly.
- Voice mail to leave messages for employees that aren’t immediately available.
- Call recording features
- Intelligent call queueing and call hold for when the correct agent is not available for a customer.
- Call forwarding, for when you need to move a conversation to someone new.
- Music on hold to give your callers something to listen to while they’re waiting.
Sometimes, even the simplest features can make the biggest difference to your call quality. For instance, we’ve all been on calls with terrible sound quality in the past. Good audio is essential to your business, so make sure that you know you’re getting the best before you invest.
2. Size of the System
Next, you’ll need to think about the scope of your phone system – how large is it going to be? You might need phones throughout your offices, in your reception area, in a conference room, and even in a shop or warehouse floor.
Determining the size of your complete phone system will help you to figure out how many lines or “trunks” you’ll need to implement to manage the number of incoming and outgoing calls your employees will need to handle each day.
Remember, it’s important to look for a phone system that can scale with you. For instance, as your business grows, you might decide that you want to bring new employees on board or add new features to your phone strategy. If that’s the case, you’ll need a phone system that can manage this growth.
3. Initial Investment and TCO
Although price shouldn’t be the only thing on your mind when you’re buying a phone system, it’s not something that you can afford to ignore either. The time of phone system you choose will impact your initial investment. For instance, hosted VoIP solutions typically have a very low up-front cost. On the other hand, on-premise phones are more expensive up-front, but they also have fewer ongoing expenses to worry about.
VoIP platforms are often the best solution for smaller businesses because it allows for cost-efficiency and scalability. It’s worth thinking about the total cost of ownership for your system too. Cloud phone systems often have a low TCO, because your provider handles things like maintenance and server configuration for you.
4. Flexibility and Mobility
Small businesses rarely stay the same for long. Think about how your business might grow in the years to come when you’re investing in a new phone system. If there’s potential for rapid growth, you’ll need to think about whether your phone system can adapt to those potential changes.
With a hosted VoIP or cloud system, you can add new users to your strategy as and when needed. This makes it easier to grow at a rapid pace.
Another form of “flexibility” you may need to think about is your ability to take your business mobile. Today’s employees are increasingly turning to remote working strategies as a way to achieve better work/life balance. VoIP phones often have something of an edge when it comes to providing mobility because they use the internet to make and receive calls.
Preparing for everything in the business world is difficult. Unforeseen events and natural disasters can wreak havoc on a company at any time. It’s a necessity to have a thorough contingency and recovery plan in place if you want to keep your customers happy.
Even for small companies, building redundancy into your infrastructure is crucial. Usually, this means purchasing additional failover hardware for your on-site phone system solutions or finding out what your hosted VoIP provider can do to protect you in case of a disaster.
Finally, if you do decide to go with a hosted VoIP provider, then you’ll need to make sure that the company that you choose has what it takes to keep your data and conversations secure.
A lot of small businesses find that hosted providers can provide exceptional peace of mind when keeping data secure because of their vast range of encryption options. However, it’s important to consider your options carefully based on what you know about your organisation’s commitments regarding local and federal security regulations.
The Dos and Don’ts of Your New Investment
Since choosing the right phone system can be quite complicated, it may take a while for you to decide what kind of route you’re going to take. While you’re considering your options, make sure that you think about the following dos and don’ts.
Don’t underestimate the cloud
A cloud phone system provides exceptional versatility, scalability, and mobility when you need it most. With the cloud, you can easily adjust your strategy as your business evolves, and you can implement technology in multiple locations. Your users can access the cloud system from anywhere with an internet connection, and the mobility of the cloud means that you can run a more efficient small business, complete with the option to work remotely when necessary. This also leads to additional benefits for your business, like saved costs on real estate.
Don’t Forget to Consult your Employees
If you need to change an existing phone system in your business, then there’s a good chance that your employees will need to go through a complex adjustment period. It can take a while to adjust to new phones and virtual interfaces for instance, so it’s important to make sure you understand how your employees are going to adapt.
Don’t be afraid to reach out to your team members and ask them what they need from a phone system before you begin making investments. This may help you to save some money and boost productivity in the long-term.
Don’t Forget Interoperability
Business interfaces are becoming increasingly complex and unified in the modern world. A unified business interface will give you a more empowered and efficient workforce, but you’ll need to make sure that all your tools work well together. This means ensuring that everything from your virtual phone system, to your presence tools and call recording features, can integrate successfully.
Do Think About How Your Business Will Grow
Not only do you need a good business phone system to match the needs that you have right now, but you also need something that will continue to meet expectations as your business grows. Think about how you’re going to evolve in the next couple of years, and how your transformation will have an impact on your PBX.
For instance, if you’re looking at creating a large-scale system, then you might need an IP PBX. On the other hand, if you’re looking for scalability and mobility, a virtual phone system could be the best choice.
Do Insist on Quality of Service
The only way to make sure that you’re going to get the best possible voice communication solutions from your VoIP or business phone system provider is to insist on quality of service. To achieve QoS, your provider needs to offer all the elements that are essential to your communication strategy, including the internet, the phone service, and any phone equipment you might need.
Providers should also be able to offer some control over things like latency and jitter. Make sure that the internet bandwidth provided by the company you choose is adequate, and that voice traffic is always given priority.
Do Consult the Professionals
If you’re not sure exactly what you need from a phone system – then get some extra help! The team at UC Today constantly produces high-quality guides and reviews that you can check out to help you make a more informed decision. What’s more, if there’s a particular brand that you’re interested in, most companies will be willing to talk through their products with you.
Small Business Phone System Reviews
Here’s a list of small business phone system reviews that we have carried as part of our 2017 IP-PBX Technology Track, which was created to help buyers navigate the decision-making process.
Bear in mind that all these fall under the banner of Unified Communications which means they offer more than just Voice. Other unified apps include video, messaging and team collaboration which many of these systems provide.
(alphabetical order, the reviews without links are not published yet however will be very soon)
On-Premises hardware-based phone systems
These are conventional VoIP phone systems that are typically hosted in your office, hence the term ‘on-premises.’
- Alcatel Lucent Enterprise OXO Connect
- Avaya IP Office
- Mitel MiVoice Office 250
- Mitel MiVoice Office 400
- Mitel MiVoice Business
- NEC Univerge SV9100
- Panasonic KX-NS700
- Samsung OfficeServ 7030
- Samsung OfficeServ 7200
- ShoreTel Connect On-Site
- Unify OpenScape Business
Virtualised phone systems (on-premise or cloud PBX)
These are software-based VoIP systems that can be hosted in your office or in the cloud.
- 3CX Phone System
- Avaya IP Office
- Microsoft Skype for Business
- Mitel MiVoice Business
- Unify OpenScape Business
Unified Communications as a Service (UCaaS)
Subscription based UC platforms, commonly known as UCaaS.
- 8×8 Virtual Office (multi-tenant)
- Alcatel-Lucent Enterprise Rainbow (multi-tenant)
- Avaya IP Office
- Cisco Spark (multi-tenant)
- Microsoft Skype for Business Online (multi-tenant)
- Microsoft Teams
- Mitel MiCloud Office (multi-tenant)
- Mitel MiCloud Business (dedicated)
- RingCentral Office (multi-tenant)
- ShoreTel Connect CLOUD
- Unify Circuit (multi-tenant)
Cloud Communications APIs
Cloud Communications APIs, also known as Communications Platform as a Service (CPaaS)
- Alcatel-Lucent Enterprise Rainbow
- Avaya Zang (Cloud)
- ShoreTel Summit
- Vonage Nexmo
Ready to Choose the Ultimate Small Business Phone System?
With the growth of new strategies like social media communication and collaboration tools, you may be wondering why you need a phone system in the first place. The simple answer is that voice is still a crucial part of our unified communications strategy. For more info on what UC is, click here.
Rather than removing an essential communication channel from your business, make sure that you’re giving people the solution they need when they decide they want to call your business to find out more about your products, services, and solutions.
Here at UC Today, we can guide you through everything you need to know about building a UC solution. Think of us as your partner for Unified Communications 101. From finding the ultimate small business phone system to checking out the latest Unified Communication trends for 2019, you’ll be able to upgrade your education one page at a time right here.
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