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ShoreTel Review: Best Business Phone System for Call Centers

ShoreTel Review: Best Business Phone System for Call Centers

Editor’s Note: On Sept. 23, 2017 Mitel announced that it had finished its acquisition of ShoreTel. We are in the process of reviewing how this acquisition will affect ShoreTel's call center phone system and will adjust our best pick recommendation if necessary.

After conducting extensive research and analysis, we recommend ShoreTel as our 2017 pick for the best business phone system for call centers. To understand how we selected our best picks, you can find our methodology, as well as a comprehensive list of business phone systems, on our best picks page.

ShoreTel's phone system is available as an on-premise or cloud-hosted solution that includes all of the tools and features to run a successful call center. ShoreTel's call center services cost between $1,700 and $2,200 per user for the on-premise system or $54 to $$105 per user, per month for cloud users. Here is a detailed breakdown of why it's our best pick.

ShoreTel's multiple deployment options make it an attractive phone system for businesses that need call center services. The system is available as an on-premise or cloud-hosted solution. In addition, ShoreTel is one of just a few providers we looked into that offer a hybrid option of the two. All of the options offer the same features and tools, but their installation and pricing structure vary greatly.

On-premise systems are housed and maintained within your business and typically require professional installation. Their primary components are a main server and voice switch appliances. The voice switches provide the IP PBX phone system capabilities, call handling and trunking.

One aspect of the on-premise system we found appealing is the built-in fail-safe that helps ensure the system is always up and running. Because each switch and site functions as an independent call processor and the switches also tap into landline connections, the phone system will continue to operate if your system's network goes out.

In addition to the hardware, the on-premise system requires software to prioritize voice traffic on your business's network, as well as PRI circuits or SIP trunks in order to connect a dial tone to the system.

What's nice about the on-premise system is that once it's installed, you can easily scale the number of users up or down. Basically, all you need to do to add or remove users from the system is plug in or unplug the phones. It is important to note that with the on-premise option, you and your IT staff are responsible for all of the system's maintenance and updating.

The cloud-based system is very simple to launch. This system does not require any special hardware or circuits. All you need are IP phones, the necessary bandwidth to support the number of users you will have and voice prioritizing software. The system is basically ready once you sign up.

Whereas the on-premise option puts you in charge of maintaining the system, the cloud-based option ensures ShoreTel handles everything and acts as your company's communications IT department. ShoreTel and its reseller partners manage the experience of moving to the cloud, providing the circuits and switching phone numbers over from your current carrier.

To help ensure that calls always sound clear and the system is always up and running, ShoreTel uses the LBC codec for landline call quality, has a range of Tier 1 voice and data providers, and connects with individual telephone and data carriers that span multiple locations, so calls can be rerouted if issues arise.

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ShoreTel reports that its cloud service had an average uptime of 99.997 percent over the past six months. We like that ShoreTel provides uptime data on its website. Although many of the other phone system providers we looked into boasted their high uptime percentages, ShoreTel was the only one that offered a month-by-month breakdown.

Whether you are using the on-premise or cloud-hosted solution, the entire system is controlled via a web-based portal. Within the portal, administrators can assign extensions, set preferences and monitor activity.

Rather than purchasing a separate phone system for your business and your call center needs, you can get everything in one complete package with ShoreTel. The company's call center plan is tacked onto its general office phone service. This allows you to purchase the call center tools only for the employees who work in that part of your business.

Out of the phone systems we examined, few offer more call center features than ShoreTel. The system includes a variety of different call queue options, including queue-based routing, which gives you the option to route callers to different types of queues, and skills-based routing. In addition, there are multi-queue logins, which allow agents to be part of more than one queue at a time.

The call center service also offers valuable integration options. ShoreTel's contact center services integrate with a number of popular customer relationship management (CRM) programs, including Salesforce, NetSuite, Microsoft Dynamics, Act!, Zendesk and Desk.com. The system can be configured to integrate with virtually any CRM.

Other calling features include call logs and history, call recording, three-way conference calling, voicemail, and voicemail-to-email.

The call center services also include a host of tools specifically for supervisors. One we like best is the "listen, whisper and barge" tool that gives supervisors the ability to listen to a call secretly, whisper to the agent without the caller knowing or take over the call completely.

Additionally, the system offers a number of analytics reports that give businesses advanced statistics regarding call center activity. There are reports on how a specific queue, agent or group is performing and on reasons for customer calls.

In addition to the robust call center offerings, ShoreTel has an equally impressive business phone system for the rest of your office. This is critical, because the phone system is the base for the call center services. Without a suitable phone system, the call center offerings won't be of value, no matter how robust and comprehensive they are.

The on-premise and cloud-based systems each offer more than 100 calling, mobility, messaging, and collaboration tools and features. Specifically, the system offers an auto-attendant, music on hold, call screening, call blocking, and the ability to dial by name or extension.

Businesses will find the variety of mobility features especially appealing. ShoreTel offers a mobile app for both Android and iOS devices that allows employees to make and receive business calls, conduct conference calls, have video chats, check voicemail, and message colleagues.

Other mobile tools include the ability to use a softphone to make and receive calls via any internet-connected computer, and a "find me, follow me" feature that allows calls to be forwarded based on call routing rules that users set themselves.

Some of the other features the ShoreTel phone system offers are conference calling, voicemail-to-email, Microsoft Outlook integration, call recording, online faxing, call blocking and desktop sharing. A full list of features for the cloud-based and on-premise systems is on the ShoreTel website.

Overall, we were pleased with the level of support we received from ShoreTel and the local resellers it connected us with. Whereas some phone system providers handle all of their sales, installation and support on their own, many of those that support larger systems partner with dealers and resellers in local communities to handle those responsibilities. ShoreTel is one of those companies.

To test the type of support you can expect, we called ShoreTel multiple times posing as a new business owner interested in a phone system and call center services. All of our calls were answered by pleasant representatives who gathered some basic information about our business and gave us a brief overview of the ShoreTel system. However, instead of giving us more detailed information, they then connected us with one of the resellers in our area.

The local resellers we were connected with were very helpful. They provided all of the specifics we were looking for on how the system could be deployed, the features the phone system includes, the specific call center services it offers and the cost.

We recently followed up with one of the resellers in our area to see if anything had changed with the system. She got back to us right away and provided us with all of the information we were looking for. She also told us that, rather than prices rising, which is what happened with many other phone systems we have looked into over the years, some of the costs actually went down.

We think it says a lot about ShoreTel that the resellers in our area were so professional and helpful. It is a sign to us that ShoreTel likes to partner with professional people and cares that the end user has a positive experience when trying to gather information on the systems.

Of the companies that use this type of sales setup, ShoreTel was one of the best we examined. Some of the other providers refused to answer some of our basic questions before passing us off to a reseller, told us to find a reseller on our own, or said they would have a reseller contact us but no one ever did.

Once you have the system installed and running, you can work with your local reseller on any support issues that may arise. ShoreTel also has a host of valuable information on its website, including user guides and how-to videos.

ShoreTel is not rated or accredited by the Better Business Bureau. According to the BBB website, as of August 2017, just five complaints had been filed against ShoreTel in the past three years. That was among the fewest complaints we found while investigating phone system providers. However, it is important to note that some users who did have complaints may have filed them against the reseller they partnered with and not ShoreTel itself.

ShoreTel's pricing structure depends on which system you use. The on-premise system is made up mostly of one-time costs, while the cloud solution has mostly monthly fees.

It is important to remember that, because ShoreTel is sold through resellers across the country, the pricing we were quoted may not be what the reseller in your area charges. In addition, prices can vary depending on the number of users. The prices we were given were for a company with 100 to 150 users and 20 to 30 call-center-specific licenses.

For the on-premise system, we were quoted one-time costs of about $700 per phone system user, plus another $1,000 to $1,500 for each call center license.

However, when determining your full costs, it is important to consider the installation charges, plus the monthly fees for your dial tone service and calling minutes. We were not given specific pricing for these additional services.

For the cloud service, we were quoted prices of between $30 and $55 per user, per month depending on the included features. Call center licenses were an additional $24 to $50 per month.

With the cloud option, however, there are no additional costs for dial tone service. The cost includes unlimited local and long-distance calling.

There are, however, added one-time costs for setup, installation and training. We were quoted costs of about $50 per user, plus $250 for one hour of training. In addition, there was a one-time $1,500 fee to set up the call center services.

The other costs you have to consider for both options are for purchasing or renting phones. With the on-premise system, you buy the phones outright for several hundred dollars each. With the cloud system, you can rent each phone for about $5 per month.

The biggest limitation of ShoreTel is the cost. Both the on-premise and cloud-based solutions are more expensive than many of its competitors. However, we felt the product ShoreTel provides was worth the extra investment.

Another negative is that ShoreTel is not accredited by the Better Business Bureau. Although we found nothing concerning in ShoreTel's BBB report, we would feel more confident knowing that the company took the extra steps to earn the accreditation.

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

Editor's note: Looking for a phone system for your business? If you're looking for information to help you choose the one that's right for you, use the questionnaire below to have our sister site BuyerZone provide you with information from a variety of vendors for free:

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Chad Brooks

Chad Brooks is a Chicago-based 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.