How to choose the best small business phone system
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The pace of change in the global workforce continues to increase, but the need for real-time communication and collaboration remains constant. Choosing the best small business phone system starts with understanding your needs now and thinking about what they may be in the future. From there, you can begin to map those needs to the features and underlying technologies that separate the best business phone systems from the rest.
Whether you’re exploring new ways to connect your employees and customers or getting ready to move to a VoIP phone system, make sure you cover all the bases to find the best option for your company.
What is a small business phone system, and what is VoIP?
Let’s first get on the same page. When you think “small business phone system,” what do you see in your mind? A lot of wires, a funky handset, and a receiver? Maybe flashbacks to dialing the wrong extension, forgetting your voicemail password, or dialing 9 before making an external call? This sums up how many small business leaders feel: It’s way too complicated and we don’t have time for all of this. If you see your current PBX system, we feel you!
For a long time, those clunky on-premises phone systems that took days to install and deploy were the only option. That’s why VoIP technology is so important to consider as you search for the best phone system for your small business. But what is VoIP?
It’s much simpler than it sounds (i.e., it’s not how R2-D2 speaks). VoIP stands for Voice over Internet Protocol, and instead of using a phone line it uses your network connection to the internet to make and receive phone calls. It allows you to connect to customers and coworkers through virtually any device, from smartphones to laptops to desktop computers.
So, imagine the on-premises features you expect, accessible and available on one platform—no matter where you are working. Cloud-based VoIP brings all the cost and scalability benefits often associated with the cloud, but it’s important to see through some of the “cloud washing” out there so that you still choose a vendor that takes security seriously and commits to 99.99% availability.
In short, an on-prem vs. cloud business phone system feels a bit like this juxtaposition of GIFs:
But there’s a whole lot more to consider when you’re choosing a small business phone system. Let’s get to the why.
Why does your small business need a VoIP phone system?
There are a few primary reasons small business leaders begin their quest to find the best phone system for their needs.
- They want to ensure their growing team can stay connected in the easiest, most secure way possible.
- They never want to miss a call.
- They want to reduce operational costs.
- They want the productivity and customer experience improvements enabled by features such as visual voicemail, merging, call waiting, etc.
This Gallup poll from May 2021 found that half of all employees across the country still work at least part of the time remotely, and when you pair that with our hybrid work research (PDF here)—which found that this trend will likely continue to grow and that only 9% of the global workforce will return to the office full-time—it’s clear that communication from any device and location is no longer a “nice to have” for small businesses. It’s a necessity.
To stay competitive and ahead of the curve, many small businesses need a simple way to connect employees who work in the office and from home. And as the need to keep on-the-go employees in the loop no matter where they are increases, the feasibility of on-premises business phone systems decreases.
Small business VoIP phone systems and the customer experience
And it’s not just the feasibility of internal communications. Customers need to be able to reach your company at any time of the day. The thing is, the whole idea of “reach” has radically changed. Gone are the days when a good ol’ fashioned PBX phone system and voicemail could make a customer happy.
Today, as this research from McKinsey & Company found, “Consumers are switching brands at unprecedented rates.” All aspects of the customer experience matter more than ever. If your customers call outside of your regular business hours, you still need to provide an incredibly smooth experience; a misadventure through an antiquated phone system menu could be a factor that causes them to go elsewhere.
While connecting your internal teams and improving your customers’ experience are important reasons to adopt a better phone system, the market trends tell more compelling stories. As we’ll dive into, VoIP phone systems are easier to set up and deploy than on-premises systems. And if you choose the right cloud provider, that ease should come with improved reliability, greater security, and the seamless ability to integrate with other collaboration software for a unified experience.
Our research (PDF here) found that 77% of IT telephony investment in 2020 was directed to the cloud, and it provided a glimpse into the future of where things are going:
All to say, the benefits of adopting a small business phone system that uses VoIP technology are hard to ignore:
- It’s much easier to connect employees in the new era of hybrid work and connect with customers in the online, 24/7 availability world.
- The market trends show that cloud communication adoption is real, and momentum is growing.
And if you choose to go with a complete small business collaboration solution (yes, this is a plug for Webex), you also check off the video conferencing, messaging, and content sharing boxes on your list of needs.
Now that we’ve got a lay of the land, let’s dive into the what and the how of choosing the best small business phone system for your needs.
What should I look for in a small business phone system?
Finding the right small business phone system isn’t as daunting as it might seem. You need to know what kind of budget you’re working with, and you need to make sure you’re getting the most comprehensive solution for your company.
When it comes to your budget, we can only share our plans and pricing and let you do the rest. Whether you opt for a Call plan or go with the Webex Suite—where you get Meetings and Messaging along with Calling—you’ll get the enterprise-grade features you need, without the enterprise-grade cost. Plus, with any calling plan, you get free, unlimited domestic calling in the U.S. and Canada.
With the cost and longer lead times involved with implementing an on-premises PBX system, a move to cloud calling with Webex is more cost-effective and more straightforward. And if you are already committed to the cloud path, you are likely well on your way to taking my advice here: Finish this article and then stack us next to our competitors so you can get a clear-eyed look at the kind of plan you need and long-term partner you want.
To choose the best small business phone system for your needs in today’s changing workplace, stick with me for a deeper dive that I think will help you find what you need—whether it’s with us or not.
Many VoIP phone systems you’ll find have essentially the same features as a PBX on-premises system. While these are generally an upgrade for small businesses—thanks to the expanded flexibility of internet calling—there is much more you should expect from your solution, both in terms of performance and collaboration.
The top five features you want in a small business phone system are:
- A dedicated business phone number that can be reached anywhere, with numbers for every user in your company.
- Enterprise-grade performance: intelligent routing with a complete phone menu and extensions, plus call hold and resume, call transfer, call waiting, and a complete voicemail system—visual or non-visual.
- The ability to move calls from your laptop to your phone or to elevate a 1:1 telephone call to a conference call or full-featured video meeting. All with a single click.
- Features that eliminate distractions, like background noise removal, speech enhancement, and custom backgrounds.
- Integration into a full collaboration platform with meetings and messaging solutions included.
Take a look at how Webex incorporates all these features and more for your team.
What are the advantages of VoIP for a small business phone system?
Ok, so the features seem powerful. But what does it all mean—how does this kind of business phone system help?
VoIP phone systems for small businesses help distributed teams communicate more effectively. But moving to a VoIP phone system that includes video conferencing, messaging, and content sharing also helps remote and hybrid teams collaborate more efficiently. You’ll make workflows smoother by enabling real-time collaboration (think of sharing features like digital whiteboarding) and eliminating those headache-inducing, 50-thread emails (thanks to messaging features like spaces and teams).
With a phone system that includes collaboration software, your business’s everyday communication will get that much simpler. And if you’re worried about maintaining current workflows, that’s a good concern to have! The solution you choose should integrate with various platforms you’re using for sales, marketing, content management, and HR—everything from Google Workspace and Miro to Salesforce and Office 365.
And last but not least, a cloud-hosted VoIP phone system should give you the security, privacy and compliance that meets your needs. Here is a look at what we offer in this regard. Note: The Webex cloud platform is delivered from Cisco’s geo-redundant data centers worldwide, so there is no single point of failure. You can count on the power combination of secure calling with encryption and carrier-grade cloud infrastructure to ensure the safety of you and your customers’ data.
With all these advantages in mind, consider the real-world success story of Rent-A-Center. They completely transformed their operations by implementing a cloud-based business phone system across an organization of 14,000 employees—with 14,000 phones, no less—in just two months.
How do I set up a small business phone system?
If you currently have a free Webex plan and want to add Calling, the process is easy.
First, open your app, navigate to the lower left corner, and click the Upgrade icon (looks like a little crown):
You’ll be directed to our Plans & Pricing page, where you can click the plan you’d like to purchase.
Next, you’ll be able to select the number of licenses and fill out your contact information:
After confirming your plan, you’ll be able to select the area code you want or transfer an existing number to your call plan:
Once you finalize checkout, you’ll receive a confirmation code. After entering it, your Call plan will be ready to set up on your Dashboard.
From here, you can click “Complete setup” to select your main phone number, numbers for all of your users, and your phone menu experience.
Now you’re ready to start making calls!
After setting up, you’ll discover that cloud-hosted business phone systems are much easier from a management perspective. You can oversee all services and users in one place from a single pane of glass, eliminating the overhead of a physical phone system. In other words, cloud calling from Webex will reduce the burden on your IT management (We’ve heard this enough times from our customers).
If you don’t have a current on-premises system and are not a Webex user, we can guide you through the process. From setting up a multi-line phone system to deployment and migration, our experts can walk you through everything you need to find the solution that fits your needs.
Just contact our experts to get started.
Do I need a business phone number? Can’t I use my cell?
This is a trick question! With Webex Calling, you can switch between your phone number and your business phone number on your smartphone. It’s literally one tap, and you go from grabbing a coffee to answering a shipping question. This is where that background noise removal comes into play. When you take calls on-the-go or in a busy environment, your customers, your vendors, and your colleagues will all appreciate the call clarity.
Once you’re ready to adopt a plan, choosing your business phone number is incredibly easy. This quick 3-minute video will show you how quickly you can add Calling, get your business phone number, and assign unique numbers to users across the company.
Now that you’ve gone through all the variables, you should be in the right mindset to choose the best phone system for your needs. In other words, no more of this:
Jan 20, 2022 — Emily Brooks
Jan 20, 2022 — Manu Parhar
Jan 19, 2022 — Javed Khan