If your business has a large volume of incoming and outgoing calls, or you're quickly reaching that point, you need a multiline phone system. A multiline phone system maximizes communication, and improves productivity and efficiency so you can quickly and easily transfer calls and communicate internally with employees and externally with customers. There are many systems available with basic and advanced features, so you can find one that perfectly suits your business and its needs.
What is a multiline phone system?
A multiline phone system allows multiple people to be on the phone at the same time. The lines can be internal or external. External lines allow you to communicate with people outside of the business, such as customers, while internal lines allow communication with your employees and colleagues.
Multiline phone systems differ from traditional phone systems because they enable multiple parties to be on the phone at one time – traditional phones, on the other hand, are designed to only send audio data between two parties at once.
Editor's note: Interested in a business phone system? Fill out this questionnaire to have our vendor partners contact you with more details.
How does a multiline phone system work?
A multiline phone system works similar to a traditional one-line phone in that packets of audio data are transmitted through telephone wires to the recipient. Multiline phone systems, however, allow two, four or more lines to be transmitted. Multiline phone systems use a cordless extension that lets you attach another phone (or phones).
An option if you only need a second line is to use a line splitter; this separates the phone line into two lines, allowing you to connect another phone or device. You plug the splitter into the phone jack and then insert one of the phone cables into one of the ports.
How many phone lines does your business need?
As it pertains to multiline phone systems and small business deciding how many phone lines your business needs, there are a few factors to consider. Some of which, are as follows:
- 2-line phones: Although they are not ideal for bigger businesses, 2-line phone systems can be perfect for small businesses of all kinds. For instance, if you have a business that you are running from your home or a small business that includes just a couple of employees, the 2-line phone system may work great for you. According to Frontier, if you are more of a solopreneur and need a setup that allows one line for business calls and one line for personal calls, you likely need a 2-line phone.
- 4-line phones: On the other hand, if you have a small business that is slightly bigger than a solopreneur's, you may need a 4-line phone. In other words, if you are in charge of a couple of full-time/ part-time employees, each of which, needs access to a phone line at some point, you may need a 2-line phone. For instance, if you have an insurance firm that employs a handful of employees, you may need to purchase a 4-line phone.
- 5+ line phones: Lastly, if you have a business that employs a handful of full-time employees, this may require a 5+ line phone. For instance, if you have a telemarketing company that includes the owner and 3 or more employees, you may need a phone system that includes at least 5 lines.
Features to look for in a multiline phone system
Multiline phone systems for businesses come with a lot of features nowadays. Some may be included in the package your purchase, while other, more advanced, features may need to be purchased as add-ons.
Below is a brief explanation of the common features, but consider your current needs and what features will streamline communication and maximize productivity for your staff.
- Caller ID: Caller ID lets you see who is calling. You can choose from two options: caller ID, which displays the phone number of the caller; or caller ID with name, which displays the phone number and the name of the caller. This feature can help identify which calls are important and which ones are spam.
- Speakerphone: Speakerphone can be helpful if you need to be hands-free while you’re on a call, or, say if you’re in the middle of a meeting and need to conference in someone.
- Voicemail: This feature allows callers to leave you a message if you have missed their call.
- Message waiting indicator: This is a flashing LED light that alerts you to new voicemails you have received. It is usually included with the phone itself or as a separate answering machine.
- Mute and volume control: These options let you mute, increase or decrease the volume of your speakerphone, phone audio or ringer.
- Hold: Hold functionality varies depending on the phone system you purchase. Some systems play hold music (or you can play your own custom message), but some just place a call on hold only.
- Call transferring: This feature allows you to transfer calls internally to another employee in the office or to an external, or outside, number.
- All page/intercom: Paging allows you to speak to all phones at once via the speakerphone, while the intercom feature lets you broadcast announcements or inform other employees about a waiting call.
- Do not disturb: Do not disturb sends all incoming calls directly to voicemail without the phone ringing. This feature can be helpful when you're in an important meeting or when you cannot answer the phone.
- Auto attendant: The auto attendant greets callers and provides them with a directory of extensions. This is an advanced feature and may not be included with your phone system plan.
- Texting: Another advanced feature, texting services use your existing landline number to send text messages to customers’ mobile phones.
Tip: If you choosing a complete unified communications system for your multiline business phone systems, you can get access to a host of additional features. This includes the ability to host video conferences and use a softphone app that lets you make and receive calls from your computer.
Pros and cons of a multiline phone system
- Versatile communications solution: The greatest benefit of multiline phone system small business is the variety of solutions they offer businesses of all shapes and sizes. There are a plethora of options available from the number of lines the system supports and the features that are available.
- Cost-effective: Costs are generally low unless you need to purchase all new equipment for several employees. Many multiline systems are moving to internet-based models, which hosts all data in the cloud and sends call information over the internet, which keeps costs lower than if you use traditional physical phone lines.
- Ease of use: Multiline systems allow you to easily receive and transfer calls both within and outside of your organization, plus they offer productivity-boosting features like auto-attendant or do not disturb that also help smaller businesses project a professional image.
- Flexibility: Multiline phone systems are flexible and easy to scale – they grow as your business expands. Many of these systems let you easily add (depending on your configuration) extra handsets using cables, wired or wireless adaptors, or expansion kits that are easy to install.
- Reliable and secure: Last, multiline systems are highly reliable and secure. Many encrypt your data, and in case of a power outage, a battery continues to ensure customers can reach you. Additionally, if you are using landlines, these are still some of the most stable methods of communication in existence.
- Hardware issues: Multiline phone systems are dependent on hardware and cables, which can be detrimental to businesses that don't have the equipment or have a limited number of phone jacks.
- Traditional phones required: Further, they can only be used with traditional desktop phones, which limits mobility and flexibility. A multiline phone system is not ideal for a company with employees who often work remotely or travel frequently.
- Limited carrier options: According to Keatings Communications, one of the biggest cons associated with using traditional phone systems of any kind is that you will have limited options in terms of carriers. Many service providers are getting out of the landline business altogether, therefore, you may have issues in terms of finding a good carrier in your area. Moreover, if issues arise at a later date, it will likely be difficult to find a replacement carrier without having to deal with service interruptions.
- Contracts: Additionally, according to Ooma.com, most companies that provide business phone service and multiline phones lock their clients into long-term contracts. While this is fine when you are satisfied with the service and pricing, this can become a nightmarish situation is you become dissatisfied at any time. In the end, you will end up paying costly termination fees, while also scrambling to find a great quality company to get your phone system back up and running. [Check out our full review of Ooma Office.]
Alternatives to a multiline phone system
The main alternative to a multiline phone system is a VoIP or cloud-based phone system. These systems are rooted in the internet, and all data and call information is hosted in the cloud.
They require a strong, consistent internet connection but are generally very cost-effective due to the nature of being on the internet and requiring little to no physical hardware. They are easily scaled, allowing you to add numbers as your business grows. But if you do not have a strong and reliable internet connection, cloud-based phone systems aren't an option.
Things to consider
If you are thinking of purchasing a multiline phone system, ascertain why you think the system would be right for you and determine what specific features you need from the system.
A multiline phone system is a good idea if:
- You want each of your employees to have their own dedicated phone number.
- You have a significant number of incoming calls, plus you have employees placing outgoing calls.
- You want to assign specific numbers to certain departments or employees.
You should also give careful consideration to whether you want or require physical phone lines. Voice over Internet Protocol, or VoIP, is becoming popular in the world of business telephony.
VoIP is an internet-based solution that supports all incoming and outgoing phone calls over the internet; the costs are generally lower, plus there's little equipment to buy and install. [Read related: VoIP vs. Landline: Which is Best for Your Business?]
When choosing a system, consider:
- The size of your business. How many employees need a phone number?
- How many lines do you need? How many people are typically on the phone at the same time?
- Will your staff need to be trained? Is the system easy to use?
- Of the features offered, how many are basic and included in the package? How many will you need to add on and how much will that increase the total price of the system?
- Can the system grow easily with your business? Will you need to add new equipment as your business expands?