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Grow Your Business Technology

Which Multiline Phone System Is Right for Your Business?

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Gajus/Getty Images
  • A multiline phone system allows several people to be on the phone simultaneously. These systems maximize communication and productivity for businesses.
  • They come with many features that range from basic to advanced and can be customized to suit your business.
  • You should carefully consider your business's unique needs before choosing a multiline phone system.

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.

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.

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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. [Are you ready to sign up for a new business phone system? Check out our reviews and best picks.]

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.

The greatest benefit of multiline phone systems 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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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?
Kiely Kuligowski

Kiely is a staff writer based in New York City. She worked as a marketing copywriter after graduating with her bachelor’s in English from Miami University (OH) and is now embracing her hipster side as a new resident of Brooklyn. You can reach her on Twitter or by email.