Going into 2021, your business is going to need flexibility for its communications. The office is no longer the only place where people work, so you need a solution that connects your staff regardless of where they are. What’s more, it’s the perfect time to upgrade your business office phone systems since your office probably isn’t at full capacity.
If you’re still stuck using the phone company and their pitiful landlines, then it’s definitely time to upgrade to something better. What could be better than a tried and true technology that we’ve relied on for over a century? The best business phone system today isn’t the one your parents used.
Best Small Business Office Phone Systems and Services for 2021
What Is the Best Small Business Phone System?
Small businesses usually look for affordable services: keeping the bottom line down is paramount to success. You might think that simply paying the phone company for a business phone number is the easiest way to go. But not only is this extremely limited, but it’s also more expensive than necessary.
You can get the exact same phone services from a virtual phone system for a fraction of the price of what your phone company charges. These virtual phone services offer features like caller ID and call forwarding, just like your phone company. But it’s better!
What makes a virtual phone service better than the phone company? It’s all about the technology that keeps it running: VoIP. Once you see what business VoIP service can do for you, you’ll see quickly why it’s the best option for every small business.
What Is VoIP?
VoIP is short for Voice over Internet Protocol. Internet protocols are different ways of transmitting data over the internet. Online, all of your data is put into data packets, which are sent from one device to the next. A protocol determines how those packets are packaged and transmitted.
For example, if you need to transfer files to another business, you might use FTP, or file transfer protocol. You’re reading this article right now by using hypertext transfer protocol, or HTTP. VoIP, then, is a protocol specifically designed for transmitting voice data, which has unique requirements. For instance, you must have low latency; otherwise, the conversation will be broken and confusing.
VoIP systems have been around for decades but have recently become much more useful for small businesses. Now that internet connections are much faster than they used to be, it’s possible to replace your existing business phone system with a VoIP phone system. This was virtually unthinkable a few years ago, but today it’s practically a must.
How Do VoIP Business Phone Services Work?
So how exactly does a business VoIP service replace your existing phone system? It’s quite simple, actually. Your normal, landline-based phone service only works with phones, which send voice signals down a line using electricity to the receiver on another line. But the internet can work on anything, and so can VoIP.
VoIP phone systems essentially turn every device with a microphone and a speaker into a phone! Your computer, laptop, tablet, and even mobile devices can all become phones. Instead of needing a physical phone to sit at a desk, you simply log into your VoIP system and you can make and receive calls from anywhere, on any device.
If you really need desk phones, you can use your existing ones with adapters or special hardware that connects your private branch exchange to a cloud-based PBX (more on those later), or you can buy IP phones that connect to the internet and work with VoIP. Regardless of the method you use, you’ll be able to make and receive calls with your business phone number wherever you wish.
What Is the Best Business VoIP Service?
If you’re starting to warm up to the idea of using VoIP phone services, you’re probably wondering which one of the many providers is the best for small businesses like yours. We’re going to give you a breakdown of some of the best small business phone systems that use VoIP, but before we do, it would be good to analyze your own small business situation.
Not every business needs the same features. Features like artificial intelligence and analytics sound cool, but they cost money. You may not need them now. Meanwhile, features like unlimited calling might be essential for your business.
Essentially, the best service provider is the one that’s best for you. Business owners need to consider their office situation and what they need from their VoIP system.
What Does Your Office Phone System Need?
If you’re going to continue using desk phones, then you definitely need to look for providers with a cloud-hosted PBX. The private branch exchange PBX is how your phone company splits your business phone number line into extensions and other lines within your office. If this feature is important for your daily business, make sure you look for a provider that can give you the same functionality as VoIP.
The alternative is simply giving everyone an account and a headset so they can make and receive calls from their desktop PCs. This option is easier but may be more difficult for some employees to adapt to. The advantage of handling calls from your PC is that you can multitask more efficiently and more comfortably since you won’t be pinching a phone between your shoulder and your ear for hours.
If calling isn’t the most important thing for your small business, then focus on unified communications for your internal operations. Many of these business phone systems come with software that lets you send messages between chat groups or to other team members directly. Some even include project management tools to improve collaboration. Regardless of what you need, there’s a provider for you, so let’s look at some of our top choices.
The Best Business Phone Systems for Small Businesses
Nextiva’s Reliable Virtual Phone System
Nextiva has frequently been ranked #1 by its customers and by review websites. That doesn’t automatically make it the best VoIP phone service for your business, but it certainly means we ought to talk about what makes Nextiva special. For one thing, their uptime is impressive, you’ll never have to worry about your calls being dropped or not going through.
But Nextiva goes beyond phone service and provides several features that can improve your customer service. They actually call their service a “cloud phone system with superpowers” and they’re not far from the truth. With features like artificial intelligence in nearly every facet of their software, it’s easy to see why.
Nextiva offers three plans with varying levels of features. Features like unlimited calling and a free phone number are standard with their base plan. Likewise, you’ll also get free toll free numbers for your clients to use. Nextiva has all the essential calling features, like caller ID, call forwarding, and conference calling.
If you bump it up to the Professional plan, you’ll get video conferencing and a unified communications platform for your business messages and internal calls. At this level, you dip your toes into the cool water of AI with voicemail to email, a feature that uses AI to listen to your voicemails and transcribe them into emails that are more convenient to read and respond to.
For the aforementioned superpowers, you’re going to need to splurge on the Enterprise plan. You can set up a fully cloud-hosted PBX and leverage the full power of Nextiva’s AI to get voice analytics with call recording. This feature will actually listen to your calls and give you reports about them, including information about the mood your caller and CSR were in during the call. Try doing that with a traditional phone!
All of the options we discuss here today follow a similar pricing model. You pay per user, per month, and there’s generally a hefty discount if you pay for the whole year upfront. There are also discounts when you sign up more users.
Remember that not everyone in your organization needs to be a user. You probably don’t have one phone line for each person in your office, so there’s no reason why your virtual business phone service should pay for each individual.
Nextiva isn’t the cheapest business phone service available. Their most affordable plan starts at nearly $24 per month per user, with the Enterprise plan coming in at $38 per user per month. If you’re a small business with only a few employees, you may want to look elsewhere, but the prices do go down once you sign up 5 people, and there’s another drop at 20 users.
RingCentral: Unified Communications and Office Phone System
RingCentral is a direct competitor to Nextiva, but it makes some of its features more available even at lower pricing tiers. They place a greater emphasis on calling, rather than fancy AI features and complex software integrations like Nextiva does. That doesn’t mean they’re an inferior or superior service provider, they’re just different.
RingCentral is easily one of the best VoIP services for small businesses because of how easy to use it is and how simple it is to scale up your phone system as your business grows. Adding new users takes seconds, and each user will get their own virtual phone number. You don’t have to pay for all of your users either, as you can invite anyone to join your “ring groups” or chat groups.
Overall, we really like RingCentral for startups or small businesses with a small headcount but big dreams. Let’s take a closer look.
RingCentral shines when it comes to calls. Their most basic plan includes tons of calling features like unlimited calling, toll-free numbers, and voicemail to email. You also get access to the mobile and desktop apps, which is great if you want to replace your business phone system entirely. Few other VoIP providers give you this much at this level.
The auto-attendant feature can give your callers a menu to help them find the right person. It can also be programmed for call forwarding, redirecting your calls until a person is reached. Each user can set up their preferences for how they receive calls as well. Perhaps one user prefers to get their calls on the mobile app, while another only wants them on their desktop PC. You can customize everything with RingCentral.
The second tier plan opens up video conferencing and makes international calling a breeze with business phone numbers in more than 100 countries! Go all-in with the Premium plan and get access to their cloud-hosted PBX and analytics features.
Since RingCentral competes so closely with Nextiva in terms of features and the quality of service provided, it’s best to put their plans side by side. RingCentral comes out as the cheaper option for small businesses that have less than 20 registered users. Nextiva’s plans are all a few dollars more per user per month until you get their discount at 20 users.
That advantage is even more pronounced when you only pay for a handful of users. Nextiva hikes prices significantly until you have at least 5 people signed up. For the little guy, RingCentral is the way to go.
It’s also worth noting that they have a lot of extra “add on” features that you can opt for, such as an international business phone number in a specific country. We like that RingCentral opens up these features to everyone, and not just their higher level subscribers.
8×8: A Business Phone Service That Does It All
8×8 is easily one of the most professional business VoIP systems we’ve come across. They have plans catered towards small businesses while also providing features that could make a massive corporation weak in the knees. You can swap out your entire phone system with their top-of-the-line, cloud-hosted PBX; or, you can simply use their mobile and desktop apps to make and receive calls on an easy to use interface.
You can keep your existing phone number and port it over to their service as well, which is nice for already established businesses. But if you’re just getting started, 8×8 actually has partnered with Wix, and you’ll get a free domain and web design if you sign up. They really have thought of everything.
8×8’s VoIP system gives you unlimited calling and all the standard calling features of the other companies we’ve mentioned. But they also have a few other tricks up their sleeve.
8×8 instantly makes your small business seem more professional. It’s the phone service equivalent of a tuxedo. Use hold music to soothe angry callers, or make happy callers angry. Their auto attendant can even integrate with your office as a whole using their paging feature. Imagine your employee is taking too long on their break and someone is calling their virtual phone number. Now your auto attendant can page them through your office speakers!
8×8 is great for customer support and call center functions. You can create ring groups so that calls to any single number will ring on selected devices. The call center will get better as you use call recording to review their work, and you can optimize your processes by using 8×8’s reporting to see how many people are in the queue at different times of the day and how long your phone calls are taking to resolve.
And if someone in your office thinks 8×8 isn’t easy to use, just direct them to the free online training tools that 8×8 has prepared for your convenience. Overall, it’s hard to beat 8×8 on features.
8×8 could be a bit more transparent when it comes to the price of their phone systems. Most pages encourage you to request a quote from the sales team, but if you dig around you can find that their 8×8 Express plan costs just $12 per user per month. That is a pretty amazing deal since you’ll get all the basic calling features and then some. You even get video conferencing through their mobile app at this level!
8×8’s entry-level plan is easily the best business phone system for the money. From there, you can upgrade to the X series, which can work on IP phones and give you a ton of additional features. There’s an X2 through X8 plan, and they don’t differ too much from one to the other. X2 costs $24 per user per month, and the price seems to go up about $10 per level.
X2 through X4 add more countries with unlimited calling. Once you enter X6 territory, you start getting advanced features like artificial intelligence and additional customer service options like post call surveys. However, these plans are definitely more expensive and probably don’t make sense for small businesses. Keep it simple with 8×8 Express and enjoy the cost savings.
Ooma Office: An Innovative VoIP Phone Service
Ooma Office is the business phone system offered by Ooma. Ooma is a very innovative VoIP phone system. They let you turn your regular phones into IP phones by installing a single device in your house that routes calls from your virtual number to your landline (if you still have one). It can even use call forwarding to send your calls to their mobile app so you can receive calls anywhere.
Ooma’s business phone systems provide you with IP phones to replace your existing phone system. They charge a flat $19.99 per month per user for basic phone services and the use of their mobile app. However, Ooma’s definition of “basic phone services” is quite generous compared to the competition.
You get a virtual receptionist (their term for auto-attendant) and virtual extensions at this level, letting you set up ring groups and call forwarding. But if you want some of the fancier features like video conferencing or call recording, you’ll need to step it up. Let’s look at what else Ooma Office has to offer.
Ooma Office Pro and Enterprise are the higher-level plans. At the Pro level, the biggest addition is the desktop app. That’s right, Ooma doesn’t give you the mobile and desktop apps with its base plan. Small business owners may not mind since we do more work on our mobile phones than ever before, but it’s still a bit of a letdown to pay more for an app that ought to be included.
You do get video conferencing and call recording at the Pro level. However, at this tier, there are other providers offering more bang for the buck. Going all the way to the Enterprise tier actually makes Ooma Office somewhat of a steal, as you’ll get analytics and dashboards, as well as access to their API so you can program your own solutions.
Another feature we ought to mention is Ooma’s impeccable customer support. They are consistently ranked highly in customer opinion surveys and their customer service has often been cited as a reason people stick with Ooma. They’re there for you 24/7.
This phone system isn’t the cheapest, but its pricing is straightforward and less obtuse than that of other companies. There’s no “pay the whole year” discount or a reduction in rates for multiple users. It’s $19.99 a month for the base plan, $24.95 for the Pro level, and just $3 more a month for the Enterprise phone system.
Frankly, we’d like to see the desktop app included in the base plan. If it had that, it’d be a top recommendation instantly. Otherwise, Ooma only really becomes a good deal once you go all in for the top plan. Even then, if you have a lot of users, you can get better deals with other VoIP providers.
We’d recommend Ooma most for home office businesses, as bigger offices can benefit more from the discounts offered by other VoIP providers.
Vonage: The Grizzled VoIP Veteran
We’d be remiss if we didn’t discuss Vonage. You might remember their commercials from back in the early 2000s. Wasn’t it such a simpler time? They boasted about the ability to give you VoIP phone service in your house to replace your landline. Well, they’re still going strong.
As one of the earliest companies to promote unified communications through VoIP, they’re one of the best business phone systems when it comes to reliability and call quality. Whatever problems VoIP service used to have, Vonage has been through them all. They know VoIP phone service better than anyone.
Their business offerings used to be less than stellar, but now they offer plenty of features at competitive prices.
Vonage sells several different products for businesses. One is their call center platform that gives you full control over how your calls are managed and handled by employees. If you need to give your customer support team a Christmas present, here it is. They have a powerful receptionist console that lets you manage up to 50 calls at once!
Their unified communications solution includes call forwarding, caller ID, and unlimited phone calls to the US and Canada. Their app lets you easily route calls to the right person, and enables team messaging as well as ring groups.
If you upgrade to Premium, you get video conferencing and the auto-attendant features, as well as integration with other CRM platforms. You can also use this tier’s cloud-based PBX to power your IP phones if you want a fully VoIP enabled business phone system.
Vonage comes in at $19.99 for its base plan. This is per month per line, however, you do have to agree to a 1-year contract for all of their business plans. Other VoIP providers give you more flexibility, which is something to keep in mind. You can, however, ask for a 14-day free trial.
The Premium and Advanced plans add another $10 each, however, we feel the Advanced plan really doesn’t provide quite enough for what it costs. You can only use call recording for 15 hours with the advanced plan, for instance. They do offer white glove set up, meaning someone will come out to your facility and install the phone system, but virtual phone systems really don’t take that much effort to set up in the first place.
Once you have at least 20 lines, each line drops by $5 per month across all tiers. Vonage definitely seems to be geared towards larger enterprises, and we wouldn’t consider it the best business phone solution for small businesses, although a single line may be a worthwhile investment.
What Do Business Office Phone Systems Business Office Phone Services VoIP Solutions Need?
So what do you need to get started? Well, once you’ve settled on the features you’re looking for and you’ve found the best business phone system for your needs, it’s time to take a look around the office. The most important thing that you need to get started with your new business phone system is a high-speed internet connection.
Upgrading Your Internet Connection
Now, you might think your internet connection is up to snuff, but it might not be able to handle this increase in data volume. Even though VoIP systems don’t consume tons of data, they can clog up your internet connection when many people are using the phone system at the same time. The best way to resolve this is to make sure that your users are all using Ethernet connections.
While VoIP systems will work over Wi-Fi, unless you’re using the latest Wi-Fi 6 standard in your office, it’s likely to collapse under the weight of dozens of VoIP calls. Wi-Fi routers struggle to handle more than a handful of users at once, so you’ll really need to blanket the office in radio waves if you plan on going wireless.
You may want to ask your internet service provider if they can upgrade your office internet connection. New technology like fiber optic may have been placed in your area in the last few years and you could get higher quality audio from your VoIP system with an upgrade.
Hiring a Phone Service Provider
Once you’ve made sure your office is ready, you know what features you want, and you’ve determined how much you’re willing to spend, it’s time to start shopping. Call the providers on your shortlist and ask them to give you a trial or demonstration of their service. You should absolutely test out your new phone system before signing any long-term deals.
Once you’re up and running, enjoy the power of VoIP phone systems. Watch your business perform like never before.