Finding the perfect business phone system in 2019 can be a challenge. With dozens of options on the market, each with its own valuable features and tools, deciding which one is the best fit for your business isn't so simple. To help in your search, we researched and analyzed more than 75 providers. Our best picks are below, as well as a comprehensive list of phone system and unified communications providers in case our choices don't fit your needs. To learn more about phones systems, check out our guide to choosing a business phone system.
Best for Call Centers
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The cloud-hosted system only requires access to a high-speed DSL, cable or fiber optic connection. Instead of making you figure out the setup on your own, RingCentral provides each customer with an implementation specialist who walks you through each step of the process, ensuring that your service works perfectly from the start.
Once it is up and running, RingCentral takes a number of steps to ensure to it stays that way. This includes using 17 redundant data centers worldwide and a seven-layer security process. Taking these steps and more, RingCentral maintains a 99.999 percent uptime.
What really sets RingCentral apart from competitors is its wide selection of features. Virtual receptionists, hold music, call forwarding, call recording, call screening, call logs, message alerts and answering rules are among the available call management features.
In addition to the calling features, RingCentral's collaboration tools make it a true unified communications system. It offers a conference bridge that can support calls with up to 1,000 callers and video conferencing services that allow each user to host their own video meetings, complete with screen sharing.
For employees who are regularly on the go, the RingCentral app makes sure they are always connected to their business phone line. From the app, employees can make and receive calls from their business line. The service also includes a softphone that turns their computer into a phone.
Virtual services, call center services and integrations with a number of popular programs, such as Microsoft and Salesforce, are what makes RingCentral such an impressive phone service.
The service is among the most reliable we found. It utilizes 15 redundant data centers around the world. This ensures that if one goes down, service isn't interrupted. 8x8 boasts a 99.999 percent uptime, which means service is down for just a handful of minutes each year.
Another impressive aspect of 8x8 is its vast array of calling, collaboration, and mobile features and tools. It has all of the features small businesses are looking for in a unified communitications system, including three-way calling, call forwarding, call waiting, call transferring, voicemail, online voicemail, automated attendants, ring groups and caller ID.
For businesses that put a premium on collaboration, 8x8 offers a number of valuable tools. Among them are a conference calling bridge that lets each employee host conference calls with up to 50 participants at a time, as well as video conferencing services that allows each user to host video meetings with up to 100 participants at a time. Internal online chat tools and presence features are also available.
The ability for employees to tap into their phone systems from outside the office is an important consideration for small businesses. The 8x8 mobile app ensures users have access to their business lines wherever they are. With the app, you can make and receive calls from your business line, as well as make video calls, record calls and check voicemail.
Other factors that make 8x8 an excellent choice for small businesses are its numerous integrations with other popular programs, like Salesforce and Slack, and the company's top-notch customer support. The customer service was among the best we encountered during our research of office phone systems for small businesses.
There are several reasons why this setup is good for very small businesses. Firstly, someone without any technical experience can set up the system in just a few minutes. All you need to do is plug in the system's base unit, which is a full router that can prioritize voice traffic over other online traffic, and then connect the base unit to a high-speed internet router. Additionally, the system is compatible with both analog and IP phones and can be managed in an online portal.
Very small businesses will also be pleased with the included features. While it doesn't have the vast array that some services offer, it does include those that microbusinesses will find most valuable. Among those are voicemail, call transfer, call log, call park, music on hold, extension-to-extension calling and dial-by-name calling.
There is also a virtual receptionist that answers all incoming calls. The receptionist then directs callers to the person or department they are trying to reach. Virtual extensions for remote workers, conference calling and ring groups are among the other important features.
Ooma Office provides good customer service, and its website has valuable resources that will help very small businesses troubleshoot any problems they may run into. This level of support and resources means that keeping this business phone system up and running without a full-time IT team won't be a problem.
The system works by providing each business with its own dedicated phone number and each employee with their own extension. When a customer or client calls the main business line, they are greeted by an automated attendant, which then connects the caller with the employee they are trying to reach. Instead of connecting the call to an office phone, the system sends the caller to any phone of the employee's choosing. This could be a mobile phone, a home phone or any other number.
Employees have full control of where callers are directed. They choose the numbers they want their calls forwarded to and the order in which those numbers are rung. From the caller's perspective, the experience is exactly the same as calling a traditional phone system.
Grasshopper includes a number of other important features, such as voicemail, voicemail-to-email, voicemail transcription, on-hold music, dial-by-name directory, call screening, online faxing and business texting. Each user can also host conference calls with up to 10 participants at a time.
Grasshopper has a sophisticated mobile app that allows employees to make and receive calls on their business lines and send and receive business text messages. This helps ensure that personal calls and texts stay separate from business calls and texts. Additionally, the app lets users make and receive calls using an internet connection, instead of their cell reception.
What makes Mitel such an impressive option is its flexibility in hosting options and service plans. While many phone systems only offer cloud-hosted or on-premises hosting, Mitel offers both. You can choose to host the system in the cloud and not worry about any maintenance or service upgrades, or to host it on your business's premises so you have total control over how the system works.
Mitel offers similar flexibility in service plans, with three different plans that vary in price and included features. What's nice is that not all employees need to be on the same plan. Your business can choose the plan that makes sense for each employee, so you aren't paying for all features and tools for an employee who doesn't need them.
Businesses with call center needs are looking for two main things from a phone system: a unified communications system that can support the calling and collaboration needs of their entire organization, and all of the tools to run a productive call center. Mitel checks both of these boxes. It has a feature-rich phone system filled with valuable calling, collaboration and mobile tools. These include an auto-attendant, hold music, call screening, call blocking, the ability to dial by name or extension, voicemail-to-email, Microsoft Outlook integration, online faxing, call blocking, and both audio and video conferencing.
The call center services are tacked on to Mitel's regular business phone system. The features call agents have access to include a variety of queue options, integrations with numerous CRM solutions and call recording. It also offers several valuable supervisor tools, including the ability to listen in on agent calls.
Today's business phone systems offer much more than just a way to make and receive phone calls. A number of today's solutions, including some of our best picks, are considered unified communications systems.
Instead of focusing solely on a business's calling needs, unified communications systems support all of the ways employees now communicate with customers, clients and co-workers. This means not only traditional phone calls, but audio conferencing, video conferencing, instant messaging, online faxing and text messaging.
While many organizations offer these services to their employees, each component used to be provided by a different vendor. A business might have had one provider for its phone system, another for its conference calling and a third for its video conferencing. Unified communications systems tie all of that into one platform.
These are the main components of a unified communications system:
Phone calls: This is traditional phone service that allows employees to make and receive calls.
Conference calling: Unified communications systems include a conference bridge that allows each user to host their own conference calls. The number of people who can be on a call at one time depends on the provider. Some systems allow conference calls with 5-10 people, while others allow for hundreds of people at one time.
Video/web conferencing: This allows employees to host video meetings with video conferencing hardware, or via a computer equipped with a camera and microphone. Employees can host meetings and see others' faces on the call. In addition, most of these services allow for screen sharing, which lets everyone in the meeting view documents or presentations together. The number of participants who can be on a video call at one time varies by provider. It can be just a handful or as many as 100.
Instant messaging: Many unified communications systems include the ability for employees to instant message each other. By logging in to the system, they can send messages back and forth to ask questions and collaborate on projects.
Text messaging: Some solutions allow you to send text messages from your business line. Since texting has become so popular, this allows employees the ability to send messages without giving out their personal numbers.
- Faxing: These systems allow users to send online faxes rather than using a dedicated fax machine. They can send a fax to a recipient's email or fax machine from the platform.
Having all of these tools on one platform can make communication much easier for employees, in turn making them more productive.
Cloud-hosted systems have really driven the expansion of unified communication systems. Instead of paying tens of thousands of dollars for an on-premises system that house all of these features, cloud-hosted services offer all of this for a low monthly, per-user fee.
Business Phone System FAQs
Q: What is unified communications?
A: Unified communications is the ability to access all of your communication tools from one platform. Many of today's business phone systems are in fact unified communications systems. While these systems still offer traditional phone service, they also include a number of other communication tools that professionals now rely on.
Among the added features in unified communications services are audio conferencing, video and web conferencing, instant messaging, and text messaging. Previously, in order to use all of these communication tools, organizations had to use a different service provider for each. Unified communications streamlines the process by allowing you to access all of these tools from the same company. This not only boosts production among employees, but can also be a significant cost-saver for businesses.
Q: What should I look for in a business phone system provider?
A: There are multiple factors to consider when choosing a business phone system provider. First and foremost, you want to ensure the system has all of the functionality and features your business needs. Can it support the number of employees who need the service? Does it have all of the features your business relies on or would benefit from?
While some businesses only want standard calling features like caller ID and voicemail, others want added functionality like ring groups, automated attendants and on-hold music. Also consider any other communication tools your business needs, like video conferencing and instant messaging.
Another factor to consider is a business phone system's reliability. A phone system is of no use if it isn't always up and running when you need it. This is especially important for a cloud-hosted solution. Be sure to ask each provider what its annual uptime percentage is. If it isn't 99.999 percent, find out what the company is doing to correct those issues. In addition, be sure to ask about its service-level agreements and if it has any uptime-related clauses. Many business phone system providers will give users money back if the system doesn't hit a certain uptime percentage.
Finally, what type of customer support does the company offer? If you don't have a full-time IT staff that can handle any issues, you want a business phone system provider that will be available to answer questions when you have them, preferably through multiple channels and online resources.
Q: What is the best business phone system?
A: Since every business is different, it is hard to say that one business phone system can fill the needs of every business. That's why our recommendations for the best business phone systems are based on specific use cases, like best for small businesses, best for remote employees and best for call centers.
For each use case, we looked at the functionality and tools those types of businesses would need from a business phone system. We then compared and contrasted the various phone system providers based on those criteria.
After conducting our research, we recommend 8x8 as the best business phone system for small business, Ooma Office as the best business phone system for very small businesses, RingCentral as the best business phone service, Grasshopper as the best virtual business phone system and Mitel as the best business phone system for call centers.
You can read specifics on each selection above and in our in-depth reviews, as well as more details on how we selected our best picks.
What to Expect in 2019
The uses and capabilities of business phone systems will continue to expand in 2019. One trend sure to continue is the growth of unified communications systems. Businesses no longer use their phone systems to simply make and receive phone calls. These systems are also being used for instant messaging, video calls and faxing.
Research from RingCentral shows that many employees struggle to balance all of their communication outlets. More than 70 percent of workers say their communications volume is an obstacle to getting work done, with 68 percent saying they toggle between different communication tools at least 10 times a day. Of those employees, more than 30 percent say going back and forth between their different outlets causes them to lose their train of thought.
"Today's workforce is under siege by a flood of communications apps," said Riadh Dridi, chief marketing officer of RingCentral, in a statement. "More than ever, our attention is scattered across a wide array of different apps and communications channels. These apps are meant to bolster our productivity, but managing myriad apps is proving difficult – with serious repercussions for businesses."
Employees appreciate access to all of their communication tools from one platform, according to the data. The study discovered that 67 percent of workers believe it helps them achieve better workflow, while 65 percent say it makes them more productive.
With that in mind, we expect an increase in the number of businesses adopting unified communications systems to increase productivity among their employees and consolidate their communication tools.
As more organizations adopt these systems in 2019, you can also count on more phone system providers to look for ways to beef up their unified communications offerings. For example, in recent months, 8x8 launched a new team messaging tool for enterprise organizations, and RingCentral unveiled a new UC-specific mobile app.
Any business phone system providers still focusing solely on phone service will certainly be looking to see how they can expand their offerings to include more communication options. Providers that don't move toward a unified communications platform will likely see many of their customers switch to a provider with that level of functionality.
To help you find the right business phone systems, we researched and analyzed dozens of options. Here is a roundup of our 2019 best picks for business phone systems and an explanation of how we chose them.
Locating the Best Services
To determine the best business phone systems, we started by listing all of the vendors that have good reputations online (i.e., services that other websites favorably and consistently reviewed). Next, we interviewed small business owners to learn which systems they use and like. If it was a new system not on our list, we then added those companies to our preliminary list.
Choosing the Best Services
We ultimately settled on the following 25 phone systems to consider as best picks: 8x8, AT&T, Avaya, Booth, Cisco, Comcast, Dialpad, Digium, ESI, eVoice, FluentStream, FreedomVoice, Grasshopper, Jive, Mitel, NetFortris, Nextiva, OnSIP, Ooma Office, Phone.com, RingByName, RingCentral, Skype, Toshiba and Vonage. (See our full list of business phone systems and their websites below.)
Researching Each Service
Next, we researched each provider by investigating its services, watching tutorials and how-to videos, and reading user comments. We also contacted each company's customer service department, posing as business owners to gauge the support each provider offers. Finally, we considered the pricing that was viewable on these services' websites or what was quoted to us during customer service calls. We analyzed each system based on the following factors: deployment options, level of service, reliability, customer service, calling features, collaboration tools, mobility options, cost, and Better Business Bureau accreditation, ratings and complaints.
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Editor's note: Looking for information on business phone systems? Use the questionnaire below, and our vendor partners will contact you to provide you with the information you need.