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RingCentral Review: Best Virtual Phone System

After conducting extensive research and analysis of business phone systems, we recommend RingCentral as the best virtual phone system.

RingCentral's virtual phone system is easy to use, offers a wealth of features and is offered at an affordable price.

RingCentral Professional is a virtual phone system that doesn't require any equipment, IP phones or special wiring. With this service, customers and clients call a business line, just as they would call any other business, but instead of the call being transferred to someone inside the office, it is transferred to a mobile employee's home or cellphone. 

One of the most appealing aspects of RingCentral Professional is how easy it is to get started, set up and use. Since the sign-up process is done online, you can have the system up and running in just a few minutes.

After signing up and choosing a service plan that best fits your needs, you pick a local or toll-free business phone number. If you already have a business phone number, you can transfer that number into the system for no additional cost. Some of the other providers we analyzed charged a fee for this service. 

Editor's Note: Looking for a phone system for your business? If you're looking for more information, use the questionnaire below to have our partner, Ring Central, provide you with information for free:

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Once you have your number, you have immediate access to the service and can start personalizing it via RingCentral's user-friendly online portal. The interface is well labeled and simple to navigate. It includes tabs for messages, activity logs, contacts, settings, billing and tools. [See Related Story: VoIP for Business: Why It Makes Sense]

After each employee is assigned their own extension, such as 101, 102 or 103, they can log into the system to set the numbers they want their calls forwarded to. What's nice about this part of the process is that employees can forward their calls to multiple numbers. They can then configure the service to ring their selected numbers simultaneously or in sequential order. They can also define the number of times a phone rings before calls are forwarded to another device. This capability gives on-the-go employees the ability to work from anywhere without requiring them to change their forwarding number when switching locations. Employees can have as many as 10 call-forwarding numbers in their queue.

From the caller's perspective, the process is just as simple as calling an office-based business. When a customer or client calls the main business number, he or she hears your professional business greeting, followed by the auto-receptionist asking them to hold while the service locates you. Then the call is either transferred immediately to you, or if you have it enabled, the auto-receptionist asks the caller to state his or her name. This allows you to hear who is calling before deciding if you want to answer the call or send it to voicemail. We like this feature because, if you're working on something important or are with another client, it gives you the ability to easily know if the call needs to be answered immediately.

In addition to setting up the call forwarding, the online portal provides access to voicemail messages and online faxes, as well as gives you the ability to set greeting messages, change payment options, upgrade to different service plans and access customer support.

Should your business grow to the point to where you need a full phone system, you can easily upgrade to RingCentral Office. This cloud-based system is designed for businesses that have an office full of employees who need to make and receive calls. What's nice is that the interface and online portal are exactly the same as on the Professional version, so it would make the switch rather seamless. 

Small businesses will find the low cost of RingCentral Professional appealing. The only cost you incur with this system is a monthly service charge. Unlike some of the other virtual systems we examined, there are no setup or activation fees.

You can pay for the service on a month-to-month basis, or annually. If you sign a one-year contract, each of the three service plans is significantly discounted. This was one of the only providers we examined that gave such deep discounts for committing to at least a year of service.  

While each service plan includes one local or toll-free number, the number of extensions included and talking minutes vary by plan. Minutes are incurred each time someone calls any of your extensions. 

The cheapest option is the "Pro" plan, for $12.99 per month if you sign a one-year contract, or $22.99 if you just want to pay month-to-month. It includes two extensions and 300 local, long-distance and toll-free minutes. If you run over your allotted monthly minutes, you are charged 4.9 cents per extra minute. This package includes all of the available features, except the option to have a dedicated fax number and dial-by-name directory. In addition, phone support is not available; only Web support is offered with this plan.

RingCentral's most popular option is its "ProPlus" plan, which is $19.99 per month with a one-year commitment, or $29.99 if you want to pay monthly. This option includes five extensions and a combined 1,000 local, long-distance and toll-free minutes. Extra minutes in this plan cost 4.4 cents per minute. 

The most expensive plan RingCentral offers is the "ProPower" package. This plan is $24.99 per month if you sign the one-year contract, or $39.99 on a monthly basis. This plan includes 10 extensions, 2,000 local and long-distance minutes, and 1,000 toll-free minutes. Extra minutes in this plan are 3.9 cents each. Both the ProPlus and ProPower plans come with a dedicated fax number, dial-by-name directory and phone support.

We like that the only other costs you can incur with this service are those for additional phone numbers or extensions. RingCentral charges $4.99 per month for each additional local or toll-free number and $2.99 per month for each added extension. You can also add dedicated fax numbers for $4.99 per month and purchase vanity numbers for a one-time $30 fee.

In addition to charging for additional phone numbers, some of the other providers we investigated tacked on extra fees for some features, like Internet faxing or voicemail-to-email service, both of which come standard on all RingCentral plans. 

RingCentral was also one of the only services we found that allows you to try out the system for free. The seven-day free trial gives you the ability to test out the service to see if it works for you, without having to spend any money.

What really sold us us on RingCentral's virtual system is the range of calling features that allow businesses with a mobile workforce to present a professional image. All of the features, except for the dial-by-name directory, come standard with all three service plans. Many of the other providers we examined charged extra for some of their best features.

One of the features we liked most was the ability to use "softphones," which let you receive calls on your desktop or laptop computer. All you need to do is download the RingCentral for Desktop app to your computer and plug in a headset to start answering calls. This feature is a nice option because it does not chew up any of your mobile minutes or tie up your own phone line. This feature was not offered by all of the companies we looked in to.

The auto-receptionist is another feature we found appealing. It welcomes callers with a custom company greeting, which you can record yourself or have professionally recorded by RingCentral partner Snap Recordings, and helps direct them to the person or department they want to reach.

We also like the voicemail options provided. In addition to being able to check your voicemail messages over the phone, you can have your messages sent directly to your email inbox. Users also have visual voicemail access via the system's online portal or mobile app. This allows you to see all the voicemails you have waiting for you and prioritize whom to call back.

The RingCentral mobile app, available on iOS and Android devices, gives you the ability to take your business calls using an Internet connection, rather than using your mobile phone's minutes. In addition, the mobile app also gives users the option to change their call-forwarding settings and check their visual voicemail wherever they are.

An added benefit of using RingCentral Professional is that Internet faxing is included. While some of the other virtual services we analyzed let you receive online faxes, RingCentral is one of the few that also allow you to send faxes via the Internet.

Some of the other calling features we found valuable included call recording, on-hold music, and notifications that instantly alert you via email or text message when you missed a call or have a voicemail message or online fax waiting for you. 

Overall, we found RingCentral's customer service to be rather hit or miss. To gauge the type of support you can expect, we called the company multiple times posing as a new small business owner interested in virtual phone systems. Initially, we were not impressed with the level of service the company offered. The first representative we spoke with gave short answers to our questions and seemed uninterested in spending time on the phone with us after we said we were only investigating phone systems and weren't ready to make a final decision immediately. 

However, during subsequent calls the level of support improved dramatically. The representatives we spoke to didn't rush us off the call and gave clear and detailed answers to all our questions. Over the course of our calls we discussed a wide range of topics, including how the virtual phone system operated, how it differed from a regular phone system, the pricing structure, the mobile app and the features offered.

We also evaluated RingCentral's live-chat support. Similar to what we encountered over the phone, the live-chat support was a mixed bag. While some of our questions were answered relatively quickly, it took other representatives between 15 and 30 minutes to answer us, and one time, our question went completely unanswered. 

RingCentral offers Professional service customers support over the phone Monday through Friday between 8 a.m. and 9 p.m. EST. You can also receive help via the live- chat tool and by filling out an online form.

We were impressed with the company's online support materials. The RingCentral website features a learning center and knowledgebase, as well as a litany of FAQs, user guides and videos.

The biggest downside with RingCentral is its inconsistent customer service. While our most recent interactions were very positive, our initial ones left a lot to be desired. If your business places more of an emphasis on customer service than on cost and features, we would encourage you to consider our second choice for this category, Grasshopper. While it doesn't measure up in terms of the number of features offered, all of our customer service interactions with them were positive ones. Grasshopper offers four different service plans, which range from $12 to $199 per month.

Another negative with RingCentral's virtual system is that when using the mobile app, you can't have your business line Caller ID displayed when making outbound calls. Some of the other virtual services we looked into, including Grasshopper, did offer this feature.

Editor's Note: Looking for a phone system for your business? If you're looking for more information, use the questionnaire below to have our partner, Ring Central, provide you with information for free:

buyerzone widget

We chose RingCentral from a pool of the dozens of business phone systems we considered. To read our full methodology and for a more comprehensive list of phone systems, visit our best picks page here.

Ready to choose a business phone system? Here's a breakdown of our complete coverage:

Chad Brooks

Chad Brooks is a Chicago-based freelance writer who has nearly 15 years experience in the media business. A graduate of Indiana University, he spent nearly a decade as a staff reporter for the Daily Herald in suburban Chicago, covering a wide array of topics including, local and state government, crime, the legal system and education. Following his years at the newspaper Chad worked in public relations, helping promote small businesses throughout the U.S. Follow him on Twitter.