In an increasingly mobile world, many business owners and employees can't afford to be either out of touch or tethered to a wired desk phone. At the same time, they don't want to be required to pack both personal and business smartphones. Business phone system smartphone apps offer business owners a solution that keeps mobile workers in touch anytime, anywhere, so employees don't have to carry more than one device or risk commingling business and personal communications.
By downloading and installing a simple, low-cost app on an Android or iOS device, you and your team can receive business communications on your personal smart devices from any location. Callers, meanwhile, will have a way to reach you outside of the office that doesn't involve your personal number.
"Instead of having a landline in your office, you can have a phone [number] that works on any device or any network," said Doug Brackbill, CEO at Line2. "The idea is that the phone number is no longer attached to a specific device."
Editor's note: Looking for the right business phone system? Fill out the below questionnaire to have our vendor partners contact you about your needs.
What can phone system apps do?
While anyone can use a personal device to make a business call or send a business text, phone system apps turn employees' smartphones into powerful mobile business communication tools.
"High-performing phone system mobile apps improve the touchpoints between businesses, customers, prospects and leads," said Patrice Burnside, head of marketing at AnswerForce. "Great apps in this category enable flexibility, ease of communication and beautifully organized information, particularly as it relates to customer opportunities."
Burnside added that it doesn't matter whether a business relies on the 24/7 support of a network of receptionists or is seeking after-hours or overflow call answering support; everyone at that business must be able to work on the go, without being tethered to a desktop PC.
Call routing is perhaps the most widely used feature. You can set up the business phone system app to forward calls to one or several different numbers when the caller dials one specific number (i.e., your business's main phone number). An employee working from home may answer a call to your business's published phone number on their personal phone. From the caller's perspective, it will be as though they're talking to someone on the business's premises.
"If your business serves globally, you could buy a phone number from a specific country to make it easier for that part of the audience to contact your brand," said Jakub Kliszczak, marketing specialist at Channels. "Things like call forwarding and IVR systems can help you distribute the call smarter and therefore lose less time, both yours and your customers'."
Kliszczak also said that with a phone system mobile app, you could provide great customer service support even when on the bus.
"Flexibility is often overlooked in terms of customer service software, thus such solutions can be a dealbreaker when making a choice," he added. "All in all, the phone system should be utilized by every business that is serious about its customers."
As for why users love phone system apps, Niel Levonius, product marketing lead at Zoom Video Communications, said customers are excited about having a single application that provides a unified business identity with the capability to call, text, video conference and fax.
These are some of the many other features of a phone system app:
"You can set up an auto-attendant for your business phone number," said Jeremy Boudinet, marketing manager at Nextiva. "You can create a main attendant for different departments; therefore, the user can press a number and go to a certain department. This eliminates the need for a phone receptionist and stops robocalling from happening, since they make it past the main auto-attendant. There's no need for a human switchboard."
Virtual phone number
A virtual phone number allows you to direct business calls to your personal devices without divulging your personal number. Boudinet said the power of a virtual phone system is that you can choose to take the call on your desk phone, laptop, VoIP phone or mobile device. It's not limited to one device, and the caller has no idea you're not speaking to them from a business phone.
A virtual receptionist could be an automated menu of options or a live human being that answers the phone on behalf of your business. Hiring a virtual receptionist saves you money compared to hiring an in-house receptionist, and the virtual receptionist can quickly direct callers to the right department and boost customer satisfaction by streamlining the customer experience.
A phone system desktop app works just like a mobile app, and in a lot of cases you get both. "One of the great features of the desktop app is called 'call pop,'" Boudinet said. "You can see the profile of the customer calling; therefore, you can see their segment score and understand how they're feeling before answering the call. Once picked up, you can see their profile and look at previous interactions with the customer."
How phone system mobile apps work
Business phone system apps typically use Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) technology to carry calls over cellular networks and Wi-Fi connections to the internet. Other businesses use the older public switched telephone network (PTSN) for its reliability and call quality. The apps operate as extensions of cloud-hosted private branch exchange (PBX) systems to enable the features traditionally provided by the hardwired PBX business phone systems of the past.
One of the main benefits of smartphone business phone system apps for business owners and employees is users' ability to purchase and use a single device for both business and personal communications.
"People are more and more moving to their mobile devices for not only personal communication but business communication," said Brian Ferguson, EMS sales and marketing manager at Futaba Corporation of America.
Business phone system apps enable that shift while allowing users to keep business and personal communications separate. For instance, when an employee uses a personal device to call a customer, that customer's caller ID can display your business's phone number, allowing your business to maintain a consistent image.
Business phone system apps have similar features to a traditional PBX system. For example, callers to a business's main line may get a recording directing them to press 1 for sales, 2 for accounting or 3 for shipping. But instead of being directed to a wired desk phone on the premises, the caller will be connected to an employee's smartphone, whatever the employee's location. These systems also include familiar functions such as voicemail, auto-attendants, employee name directories, call recording, messaging, faxing, and call and video conferencing.
Smartphone business phone apps also offer some features that most wired desk phones don't. For instance, some can transcribe voicemails and deliver them to an email address. these apps also may facilitate reporting, letting you track, analyze and manage your employees' communication activities.
Implementing an app solution
Some smartphone apps only require you to download the app and install it on your phone. Others, such as RingCentral's app, are part of more complex, cloud-based business phone systems that can include wired internet protocol (IP) desk phones. While they are well suited to small businesses and solopreneurs, the apps are scalable and can also be used by businesses with hundreds of lines.
App-based telephony is readily affordable. RingCentral and Digium include their mobile apps without additional charge to customers of their cloud business communication solutions.
For apps at the low end of monthly subscription fee plans, providers may also impose per-minute fees. Other fees they charge may include one for setup. Features and support levels also vary by plan, so it pays to compare offerings in detail before making a choice.
The future of phone system apps
Vincent Paquet, chief product officer at Dialpad, said phone system apps are just the beginning of a dramatic sea change in the way business communications are handled. The trends point to an increasing shift toward more technological automation.
"It's the same as the future of phone systems in general: AI, which we called VI at Dialpad," Paquet said. "If you think about voice communications, compared to other means of communications, it's fast – try typing as fast as you speak – [and] it's rich in emotions and nuances, but it's ephemeral. As a result, it's unreliable; two people will recall a conversation differently and inefficiently."
He added that the future of mobile phone apps lies in the ability for artificial intelligence to fix all of that. All your conversations would be transcribed in real time, allowing you to search and extract from those calls important action items, significant moments and more.
"AI as part of our phone systems is not perfect yet," Paquet said. "This is an ongoing improvement that will get better over time with more and more data. I can't wait for the time when everything I need from a phone conversation is readily available for me without any input on my end. I could be walking, driving or flying while on a business call, and I'll remain productive and connected no matter where I am. The biggest adjustment will be what to do with all that extra free time."
Jennifer Post contributed to the reporting and writing in this article. Some source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.