How to Choose a Small Business Phone System
The top performers in our review are Cisco Business Edition 600, the Gold Award winner; ESI, the Silver Award winner; and Nextiva Office Enterprise, the Bronze Award winner. Here’s more on choosing a small business phone system to meet your needs, along with detail on how we arrived at our ranking of 10 systems.
A comprehensive phone system is essential to the success of every small business. These systems improve overall communication and efficiency by providing resources, reducing call processing time, ensuring employees are readily available during working hours, and when integrated with a customer relationship management system (CRM), help businesses provide better customer service. Installing the right business telephone system can help you lower communication costs over the long run by providing shared resources and eliminating the ongoing cost of multiple individual lines. Most systems are also easy to expand after installation. Adding additional lines and upgrading resource packages is considerably less expensive than having to install a whole new phone system each time your business grows.
Business phone systems usually consist of multiple telephones, lines and numbers, all of which are interconnected to cater to functions such as call transferring and conferencing. These systems can consist of a small handful of phones or include hundreds running on a private branch extension (PBX). You can get systems that work over the public switched telephone network (PSTN) or systems that work over the internet, also known as internet telephony or voice over internet protocol (VoIP). Other models do work over the internet but are entirely cloud based or are offered as hosted systems. Hosted options make a good choice for small businesses on a budget, as you don't have to purchase expensive equipment but do have some limitations. You can choose between systems with traditional corded or cordless handsets, or you can opt for cellphone-based systems. Alternatively, choose a system that uses virtual handsets that you operate with a virtual keypad and a headset or speakers and mic.
There are a variety of options to choose from with features that include customized voicemail and hold music, unified messaging, instant messaging, video calling, computer integration and conference calling. You need a full understanding of the types of systems and the features they offer to make the correct purchase as an informed consumer, and reviewing current articles and small business phone system information is a good place to start.
To further streamline your business and improve communication, consider whether your employees would be more productive with tablets or smartphones, particularly when you choose a business phone system with mobile compatibility. When you provide a smartphone or a tablet, employees can download the app provided by the business phone system onto the mobile device and stay connected to the office, remaining productive when working remotely. You can also promote a high level of efficiency by equipping in-office employees with phone headsets to help them multitask and provide ergonomic, hands-free phone use. Communication is central to any business, whether that communication is between you and your customers or colleagues and employees. Installing the right small business phone system helps to ensure you don't miss important calls or messages. Transferring calls quickly to the right person within your organization improves customer experience, as does hold music and customized messaging.
An office phone system that meets the needs of your business optimizes productivity in the workplace. With all employees sharing the same communications resources, they can transfer calls quickly rather than having to physically go and find the call recipient or move across the office to pick up a call. You can also keep a close eye on productivity by monitoring whether employees are using their business phones for personal reasons.
Communications often make up a substantial portion of the budget for small businesses, so any way you can reduce those costs is of benefit. A complete office telephone system helps you trim communications costs, as it's generally less expensive than multiple individual lines and numbers, especially over the long term. It also cuts down on processing invoices, as you only have one invoice to process each month for your phone system rather than multiple invoices from each individual line. An integrated system allows you to quickly review call charges and identify communications misuse. A comprehensive business telephone system allows for easy expansion as your business grows. Starting with a fairly small system with room to upgrade or expand is a smart choice for small businesses, as it keeps costs low. As you require more services or take on additional staff, you can work with your chosen provider and increase the number of phones or lines in your system.
Do You Need to Integrate the System With a CRM?
A comprehensive business telephone system is a smart investment for any company. However intuitive it is and regardless of how many features it has, you don't know much when the phone rings other than someone is calling unless you also have a caller ID function. A CRM improves on this. If your phone system integrates with your CRM, it shows you stored details about a customer when he or she calls. Information commonly includes the customer's time zone and location, name, company and who he or she last spoke with at your firm. You can also add notes to detail the content of the call, any resolved or unresolved issues, and any further steps that need to be taken. This information then becomes accessible via your CRM system the next time the customer calls. When using one of these systems, you don't need to keep the caller waiting while you access electronic or print files to find the information he or she requires. Having this information available speeds up the call process, boosts productivity and improves the overall customer experience, which is always good for business.
How It All Works
Every business telephone system has a different set of features, and you should take the overall configuration into consideration. To make your decision easier, in addition to providing detailed small business phone system reviews and an easy-to-understand ratings matrix, we've highlighted the key options and considerations.
Small Business Phone Systems: Is Analog or Digital Best?
There are benefits and drawbacks for both analog and digital systems. Analog business phone systems generally cost less initially, and they are simple and straightforward. These systems are built on standard copper wire and use plain old telephone service (POTS) phones. As such, they are reliable and provide a high degree of voice clarity and line stability. Because of their simplicity, they offer very few additional features, although you can find analog systems that offer hold, mute, redial, speed dial and call transfer functions. Analog systems offer little in the way of expansion, and each line requires costly adapters and modifications to include more functions, such as VoIP. Although cheaper at the outset and a good choice for small businesses on a tight budget, an analog phone system is difficult and expensive to expand, and the lack of modular technology makes them costly to repair if things go wrong.
A digital phone system for small businesses has a higher initial cost, but it offers more flexibility and features. This type of system is also expandable and can be upgrade as your business grows. By using modular technology, these systems are generally easier to repair than analog systems. For small businesses that plan to expand, a digital phone system is the better choice, as adding additional lines and hardware is comparatively straightforward. Some models feature computer and CRM solutions, as well as unified messaging and desktop clients.
Small Business Phone Systems: What is an IP Phone System?
An internet protocol (IP) phone system uses packet-switched connections via the internet to transmit data rather than the traditional PSTN and its circuit-switched connections. IP phone systems usually feature computer integration and are comparatively inexpensive. While configurations vary, features such as unified messaging, a single line with multiple numbers, simultaneous calls, call forwarding, automated attendants and on-hand directories are all common.
Small Business Phone Systems: What Is a Cloud-Based Phone System?
Cloud-based phones are virtual business phone systems hosted in your supplier's cloud network. These systems offer the standard features of analog, digital and IP systems, but all of your communications are made via the internet. As long as you have access to the internet you can use this type of system, even when you're out of the office. These phone systems come with online portals, which you can access from anywhere with an internet connection. A portal lets you manage calling features and provides a high degree of versatility. Many cloud-based phone systems for small businesses keep costs low by allowing you to upgrade and add features only as required, and there's the convenience of only adding them for the people in your organization who actually need them.
Small Business Phone Systems: What Is a Wireless Phone System?
A wireless business phone system offers many of the features of analog and digital systems. The lack of wires makes the phones portable, and they can be attached to a belt or slipped inside a pocket as with a cell phone. While this does increase versatility and portability, the phones come with some limitations. For example, they only work within a certain radius of the receivers. If you decide to go with a wireless system, make sure it has a range that is large enough to accommodate your business space. These phones often come with a built-in intercom system that can communicate with other wireless handsets without making a traditional phone call.
Small Business Phone Systems: Alternative Handsets
Aside from standard corded and cordless models, there are a range of other handset options that are commonplace, particularly with cloud-based, wireless and IP phone systems. Each of these has its own set of advantages and drawbacks.
A digital enhanced cordless telecommunications (DECT) handset is a digital wireless handset, and it serves as a good choice when you require devices for multiple employees in large offices. DECT units usually have a fairly generous range, and they allow for internal and external communication while employees are away from their desks.
A softphone is a virtual handset. Much like the keypad on a cellphone, it's essentially a piece of software that takes the place of a physical handset. In an office setting, computer-integrated phone systems or cloud-based and IP services provide softphone software for desktops and laptops. Systems with mobile compatibility often provide a softphone as part of the system app so that you can make calls on the business system remotely via your cell phone.
An IP phone generally looks like a traditional telephone, although there are some exceptions. The technology is entirely different, and it is only suitable for IP or VoIP systems. Signals sent via standard telephonic transmissions are converted to a digital format and then sent over the internet. After that, they are converted back in to standard telephone signals when they reach the recipient.
How You Pay
The bulk of any phone system is a one-off purchase, and other costs vary depending on the service package, number of lines and any extra features you choose. You may also have additional expenditures if and when you expand your system, as each additional line, number and handset you add also adds to your cost. Ongoing costs include your monthly package payment, and you also incur charges for usage outside of your quota if you have a usage-based package. You may also incur insurance payments and maintenance costs outside of the warranty.
What We Evaluated, What We Found
In our small business phone system reviews, we evaluated the products based on collaboration, important features, and help and support. Each of these elements play a crucial role in the quality, suitability and efficiency of a small business phone system.
The best small business phone system allows you and your employees to collaborate by providing the resources to maintain outstanding internal and external communication. Services brimming with features tend to serve this purpose. Straightforward conference calling is a basic but powerful collaboration tool that every good business phone system should have. The system should be able to make and receive conference calls for the most versatility. Without a conference calling capability, multi-person and multi-department meetings are exceptionally difficult to manage, especially for businesses that have employees who are not office based or clients in different states or countries. Conference calling negates the need to have as many face-to-face meetings or to hold multiple calls with each interested party
While some businesses have just one location and all work is conducted on site, many companies require communication systems with the flexibility to serve multiple locations, business trips or off-site business. In these instances, a business phone system with mobile capabilities is an essential. Some systems offer the option of call forwarding to cellphones. Others go a step further and give you access to a mobile app that lets you receive calls on your mobile phone from your office line without standard call forwarding. These apps often allow you to check voicemail and email as well. Mobile compatibility enables collaboration with colleagues outside of the office and helps to boost productivity, letting you make the most of your travel time.
Unified messaging is a valuable feature that relates to productivity as much as to collaboration for businesses of any size, and it is often found in the best business phone systems. This feature deposits all communications in one place. For example, you can set systems to send voicemail, video messages, emails, texts and electronic memos to recipients' email addresses, so they can access their communications from any place at any time. Even if you can't take a call right away, you are still able to access any message the caller leaves. It is also a useful way to store communications. You can store archived messages in a single folder and retrieve them at a later date. Having everything in your inbox, which you undoubtedly check several times each day, means you don't have to check multiple systems for missed and old communications.
Instant messaging usually appears as part of a computer-integrated office phone system. It allows colleagues to message one another, even while they're on the phone. This lets employees ask questions without interrupting calls with clients. It's also a quick method of letting a colleague know her or she is needed when his or her telephone line is busy. With the right system, you can also monitor the messages that employees send to ensure they aren't abusing the service.
When determining the collaboration capabilities of the phone systems, we looked for conference calling, mobile compatibility, unified messaging and instant messaging. The 10 systems in our lineup all scored pretty well in this category, with the exception of Avaya IP Office, which charges extra for unified messaging, as well as AT&T Synapse and Vonage Business Solutions, which don't offer a unified messaging service at all. With systems that offer no unified messaging, you cannot receive voice, video or instant messages to your mailbox, which is a drain on productivity and puts you at risk of missing an important communication. The other seven products we tested offer each of the criteria we looked for.
A phone system with the right combination of features is vital to ensure enhanced customer service and employee productivity. The small business phone system that you choose should offer the right combination of features to meet your company's needs. Your customers require exceptional service, and you and your workforce need to be as productive and collaborative as possible. Most small business phone systems have an upper limit on the number of users they can handle, so it's crucial that you choose one that caters to your current and projected future workforce size. If you fail to select a model with a sufficient capacity, you may need to install a brand new system as your workforce grows.
Automatic call transfer is slightly different than standard call transfer, which lets you send a call from one extension to another manually. Instead, you can use this tool when you want all calls coming to a particular line to be routed to another extension, such as when an employee is out of the office or in instances where forwarding calls to an employee's cellphone is inappropriate.
With services that feature customized hold music, you can upload your own choice of songs for clients to listen to while waiting to speak to someone. You can overlay messages or sound bites on a particular track before you upload it, so you can thank clients for waiting or advise them to try a different method of contact. Business phone systems that allow you to customize hold messages let you create your own branding and marketing information to pass on to your clients while they are on hold. Many companies combine music and messages for the best results. On-hold messages can be created on site or purchased from outside services and delivered via computer, cassette, audio file or CD.
When you have the option to customize mailbox recordings, each employee provides his or her own voicemail greetings. This adds a personal touch for clients and helps them feel confident they are leaving messages for the correct people. An automated attendant lets clients self-direct their call via a series of spoken or keypad-entered options. While some consumers dislike going through the automated process, it bypasses the hold that often ensues as they wait for their calls to be forwarded to the correct person. It also improves productivity, as the majority of clients reach the correct person immediately so employees don't need to waste time answering and redirecting calls that are for someone else.
In the digital age, computer telephone integration is an important aspect of a small business phone system. It gives you and your employees the ability to make, manage and receive telephone calls through your computer, and it provides applications such as customizable caller ID screens, computer dialing and auto dialing, conference calls, setting up phone centers and call routing.
The maximum number of users is one of the key considerations, and both our Top Ten Reviews Gold and Silver Award winning systems can handle up to 1,000 users. Since the Top Ten Reviews Bronze Award winning model can only handle 100 users, it is only suitable for businesses with under 100 employees and no immediate plans to grow, even though it delivers some other outstanding features. The same applies to AT&T Synapse and the Vonage Business Solution. FortiVoice allows a maximum number of 400 users. The real standout in this particular category is Avaya IP Office with a maximum capacity of 2,000 users.
For the remainder of our feature evaluation, we reviewed automatic call transfer, customizable hold music and messages, customizable mailbox recording, automated attendant service and computer integration. Our top 10 systems all did well here, with each of them offering every feature we looked for with the exception of AT&T Synapse, which does not offer computer integration.
Help and Support
A critical part of a business telephone system, the help and support package, determines the level of service and how quickly you can access technical support should your system develop a problem or you need guidance. All types of software or hardware can experience issues at any time. Since you may have limited technical knowledge, choosing a system with a solid warranty and robust support system is essential. Be sure to check the length of the warranty and any associated stipulations. Ideally, support should be available by phone and email, and some companies also offer live online support via chat. Depending on how and when your business operates, you may require a 24/7 service. For troubleshooting when problems arise out of hours or when you want to fix an issue yourself, some companies provide blogs, tutorials and video tutorials as a form of self-help. We gave each of our top 10 systems an overall help and support rating based on the warranty they offer and the types and availability of support.
Surprisingly, Cisco Business Edition 6000 only has a one-year warranty, but it still performs well with a robust support system that includes 24/7 service, live chat, self-help videos and a company blog, as well as the standard telephone and email contact options. The ESI only offers 24-hour live chat on weekdays, but it does offer an outstanding five-year warranty, which is significantly longer than the remainder of our lineup. The Toshiba Strata CIX business phone system and AT&T Synapse both offer a two-year warranty. The remainder of our lineup all offer a one-year warranty, apart from Vonage Business Solutions which doesn't offer a warranty at all and states that its services are provided as is. All tested business phone systems, except Avaya IP Office, provide self-help or instructional videos, but only six systems, including the Top Ten Reviews Gold and Silver Award winners, offer live chat.
Aside from the extensive list of considerations we've already covered, there are a number of other features and options you should take into account to ensure the business phone system you choose meets all the needs of your business.
Small Business Phone Systems: Should You Choose Video Calling?
Video calling has many benefits for businesses over voice conferencing alone. Meeting face-to-face is an integral part of business, but it's not always possible when clients and colleagues are in different states or even on different continents. Whether domestic or international, travel is costly when multiple employees need to attend a meeting. Video conferencing goes a long way to bridge the gap between telephone calls and face-to-face meetings. It reduces travel costs but still provides a personal approach to business meetings. With high-quality video capabilities, it's almost like everyone is in the same room. You can share data, demonstrate a product or make a presentation without the difficulties of trying to verbally describe something the rest of the participants can't see. While video calling isn't absolutely essential for all businesses since they may use a dedicated online service such as Skype, it makes sense if it's something your business uses on a regular basis, and it's likely more cost effective to have it as part of your business phone system.
Small Business Phone Systems: Do You Need a Monitor?
If video calling is an integral part of your communications strategy, you need to consider whether you require a business phone system with a monitor or the ability to add on a monitor as it becomes necessary. Some systems don't offer video calling, while others with complete computer system integration let you to use your desktop computer as a monitor. If you use video calling, you may also need to install webcams on your computers if you don't already have them.
Choosing an Appropriate Call and Data Package
Some business phone systems come with special monthly line rental deals or call charge and data usage bundles, but these offers may only last for the first few months of your contract. A phone system purchased from a retailer rather than a telecommunications company may not have any service package. You need to do your research and assess the best service package that meets all of your needs at the best possible price. Some business service packages include a certain number of free talk-time minutes while others may allow a set number of phones and lines for a bundled price. If you're going with an internet-based system, you also need to consider the increased data usage and whether your current business internet package has any usage limits, so you can adjust your current package accordingly. You may also incur charges for extras such as caller ID and voicemail. Don't make the mistake of assuming that your new phone system includes these items, and make sure that your service provider isn't charging you extra for items you already have as part of your current phone system.
Having an automated directory as part of your small business phone system makes life easier when redirecting a call. Instead of flipping through a manual directory, you can simply look up the person the call is intended for and enter the extension number. This makes the process of trying to reach someone fast and efficient, which results in increased employee productivity and customer satisfaction.
A speed dial function enables you to make fast calls to numbers you use frequently. Instead of dialing a complete number each time, you can preset your phone to store often-called numbers and then assign them to specific buttons in the system's memory. Once your numbers are set, you can make a call to anyone stored in the speed dial memory with the push of a single button to save time looking up the numbers and then dialing them.
Backup Power Supply
Having a backup power supply is invaluable in the event of a power outage. Without a backup power supply, you risk losing all methods of communication. With some systems, you may even lose all of your preprogrammed settings and anything stored in the memory, such as speed dial numbers. Some systems have a built-in emergency backup that powers the phones from 30 minutes to 24 hours, giving you a bit of a buffer for short power outages. Other systems offer disposable battery backups that run until the batteries die. If your chosen system uses disposable batteries, you must test them regularly to make sure they still have adequate power to keep the phones running if you are without power.
Similar to call forwarding, remote location is a useful function that automatically redirects calls to a cell phone when someone dials your office number or extension. When a call redirects, it doesn't change tone or give any indication to the caller that the call is being forwarded. This feature lets you get in touch with employees when they are out of the office without having to look up their mobile numbers. Simply dial their extensions, and the system puts you through to their cells.
Small Business Phone Systems: Our Verdict and Recommendations
Our top pick and recipient of the Top Ten Reviews Gold Award in the best small business phone systems review is the Cisco Business Edition 600. Received a high rating thanks to its extensive range of features and its 1,000 maximum user potential. This phone system features an array of basic and advanced functions and boasts a robust support system, should you need it. It only offers a one-year warranty, but it does provide computer integration, instant messaging and unified messaging, giving you an outstanding and versatile system.
The ESI finished in second place, receiving the Top Ten Reviews Silver Award. Like the Cisco model, it offers a comprehensive range of features, including a 1,000 user capacity and a caller ID system that stores call information for up to 25 days. This model came in a close second, and it boasts a five-year warranty. We gave it a high overall score, and it achieved an excellent mark in our testing for its extensive range of features. It is missing a few help and support resources. The company doesn't offer live chat, 24-hour support is only available during the business week and there are not very many educational articles available on the support site. Still, it's a comprehensive business telephone system that helps to improve the customer experience and boost productivity.
Taking the Top Ten Reviews Bronze award is Nextiva Office Enterprise with a respectable overall score. This cloud-based phone system for small businesses offers call recording capabilities and silent monitoring, and it has a mobile app for off-site communication via video, voice and instant messaging. It offers a full array of advanced features to streamline your business, which can help increases productivity and improve customer relations. This offering from Nextiva has a solid help and support system with 24-hour phone support, live chat and email options, as well as self-help in the form of video tutorials and a company blog. However, it is cloud-based only with no option for an on-site service, and the warranty only provides coverage for one year.
Small Business Phone Systems: Wrapping It Up
Your business cannot reach its full potential without a solid communications system and strategy, so investing in a high-quality small business phone system is a smart choice. These services provide many benefits, including helping you provide the best customer service possible. A comprehensive phone system saves time, improves workflow and boosts productivity. If you choose a model that offers computer-integration, you can integrate your communications with the other software and services you use, optimizing the efficiency and versatility of your phone system.
There are a large number of criteria you must take into consideration to ensure that you choose the right service or system, and the number of users the system can handle is among the most important. The products in our lineup offer a maximum capacity of anywhere from 100 to 2,000 users. Remember to plan for future expansion to make sure you have enough available capacity to cope as your business grows. For many companies, it's worth investing in a digital or cloud-based system rather than an analog option. Weigh exactly what you need from a business phone system and decide which features are essential, which ones would be useful but aren't critical and which ones you really don't need now or in the future. Before making a final decision, read our full reviews and our phone system articles.
Cisco Business Edition 6000 – Ranked #1 out of 10
The Top Ten Reviews Gold Award winner in our small business phone system review is the Cisco Business Edition 6000. With its full set of features that can help increase versatility and improve collaboration, this offering from Cisco is an outstanding phone system, and it is suitable for businesses with up to 1,000 employees.
This phone system has multiple advanced features, including customization for hold messaging, hold music and individual voicemail messages. It offers instant messaging, so your employees can communicate quickly and effectively. An auto-attendant lets callers direct themselves to the correct person or department through a series of automated prompts. This Cisco business phone allocates a dedicated voicemail box to each user in your office of up to 1,000 employees. You can choose from softphones, DECT phones and IP phones, depending on the needs of your business.
The system's paging capabilities let you page up to 50 IP phones simultaneously for efficient interoffice communication. Call transfer and call screening functions also streamline the communication process. To help make meetings simple and effective, you can take advantage of voice conferencing and video conferencing functions, which minimize the need for frequent in-person meetings between multiple people based in different locations.
The Cisco Business Edition 6000 only has a one-year hardware warranty. It does, however, feature complete help and support solutions with 24/7 support via telephone, email and live chat. You can also troubleshoot and help yourself with its selection of informative video tutorials and blog posts.
For a comprehensive business phone system, this model from Cisco is a smart option. It offers an exhaustive list of versatile features that include unified messaging, video conferencing and computer integration. Despite short the hardware warranty, which only provides one year of coverage, this system still received our Top Ten Reviews Gold Award and is one of the best systems available. For more in-depth information about this service, read our Cisco Business Edition 6000 review.
ESI – Ranked #2 out of 10
Taking the Top Ten Reviews Silver Award, the ESI phone system provides a range of powerful tools to enhance customer interaction. This phone system caters to up to 1,000 users and integrates with computer and software systems for versatility.
The ESI phone system provides a range of customer relation and marketing tools, including customization options for on-hold messaging, hold music and voicemail. To make sure customers reach the correct department, an auto-attendant lets them direct themselves via a number of prompts. The ESI system automatically redirects callers to another line if the line they are attempting to reach is busy. It also pushes a redirected call to an open line, so callers aren't pushed to multiple busy lines. You can also automatically reroute calls to and from specific lines based on holiday schedules or time of day.
Live call recording is another standout feature offered by this small business phone system, and it enables others to listen to the call live or after the fact. This allows your company to monitor calls for quality and provide training. Another security feature is the caller ID key, which stores caller information for 25 days.
Integrating with your computer system and software or other services such as a CRM, this business phone allows you to access caller information, including previous call notes, customer name and location, and who they last spoke to in your business, speeding up call processing and making sure you have the necessary information at hand. The ESI system makes interaction with colleagues straightforward by providing an instant messaging function, even when one or both are engaged in telephone calls.
This phone system is backed by a warranty with five years of coverage. This, combined with its wide range of features and versatile functionality, we found this product to be one of the best small business phone systems on the market. For more in-depth information about this service, read our ESI review.
Nextiva Office Enterprise – Ranked #3 out of 10
Our Top Ten Reviews Bronze Award winner, the Nextiva Office Enterprise cloud-based phone system, comes with outstanding collaboration capabilities and advanced features. It has a full set of collaboration tools, including voice and video conferencing. It also has a team presence function that allows you to monitor where your team members are, helping you decide on the best way to contact them. For example, if a colleague is off-site, the system indicates this so you know to call his or her cell phone. The system comes with an app for your desktop or mobile device. This app allows you to access business email, instant messaging, voicemail, telephone calls and video messaging when you are away from the office.
Nextiva offers three different package levels for this phone system. Each offers a local number and a toll-free number at no extra cost, and they each allow for unlimited calls. The top-tier package offers a variety of additional features, such as customizable voicemail, hold music and hold messages. With this plan, you can also automatically record every call for later review. Silent monitoring allows you to listen into live calls without disrupting the conversation. That way, you can evaluate and monitor employees whenever you wish.
The system only comes with a one-year warranty. However, this business phone system offers robust help and support options including email, telephone and live chat 24 hours a day, 7 days per week. In addition, the company's many online resources provide plenty of self-guided help and include detailed FAQs, webinars, a company blog and video tutorials.
The top-tier service package for the Nextiva small business phone system is a solid offering. It has a short warranty period, a limited 100-user capacity and an entirely cloud-based system, but it also has great features like silent call monitoring, a team presence function and excellent help and support resources. For more in-depth information about this service, read our Nextiva Office Enterprise review.
Toshiba Strata CIX – Ranked #4 out of 10
The Toshiba Strata CIX has advanced features and the capacity for significant expansion. Collaboration tools for employee and client interaction make this a standout product in our lineup.
With room for up to 1,000 users when you buy the highest tier package, this business phone system has scaled plans starting at just 40 users, so you can upgrade your level of service as your business expands. This provides plenty of room for growth but keeps you paying for empty lines that you're not ready to use. Each user has his or her own dedicated line number and extension along with a mailbox that they can record a personalized greeting on. You can also record your own hold message, which can be an effective marketing tool. One of its advanced features is text to speech, which translates text messages or emails into a speech recording. The included auto-attendant provides the option for voice response, so callers can direct themselves using their voice rather than a telephone keypad.
Unlike many systems on our lineup, the Toshiba Strata CIX offers a two-year warranty, giving this system a respectable level of coverage. While you can access phone and email support, the availability of this service depends entirely upon your local reseller, as many do not offer 24-hour support; depending on the needs of your business, this can be is a distinct drawback. There's also no option for live chat help, but there are some video tutorials and blog articles to provide you with self-help guides if you do encounter problems.
The easily scalable service plans that range from 40 to 1,000 users make this Toshiba phone system a smart option for growing businesses. It is deserving of a place in our top 10 thanks to the range of collaborative features, even though support availability depends on your local reseller. For more in-depth information about this service, read our Toshiba Strata CIX review.
ShoreTel Sky – Ranked #5 out of 10
The ShoreTel Sky integrates smoothly with computer systems and other software and services. It has a range of tools to streamline workflow, enhance communication and boost productivity.
A maximum capacity of 1,000 users makes this ShoreTel phone system a good choice for growing businesses. It's versatile with both an on-site service and a cloud-based service, adding to its functionality and allowing users to access it wherever they are. The on-premises phone system meets all of your company's basic needs with features such as voicemail, call forwarding, call transfer and extension numbers.
Cloud Conductor, the cloud-based portion of the service, offers advanced functionality that users can access on-site when using their desktops or off-site with a downloadable app. One of these advanced tools is unified messaging, which delivers email, voicemail, video messages, memos and instant messages straight to your email inbox. This keeps all of your communications in one place. Managers can silently monitor all incoming and outgoing calls live or save them to be reviewed at a later date. Every call is recorded, which is good for training, evaluation and quality control purposes. Instant messaging allows employees to contact one another to request information while on a call without having to put the client on hold.
The standard one-year warranty applies to hardware with the ShoreTel Sky system offering. While the company does provide its customers with phone and email support, there is no live chat option. Also, help is not available 24 hours per day. Should you experience issues outside of their office hours, you check out ShoreTel's blog and video tutorials to trouble shoot problems on your own.
This business telephone system has limited support options. However, the versatility of an on-site and cloud-based system, along with its advanced features and computer integration, lands this system in solidly in our top 10. For more in-depth information about this service, read our ShoreTel Sky review.
8x8 Virtual Office – Ranked #6 out of 10
The 8x8 Virtual Office phone system doesn't come with 24/7 support, but it does offer a great deal of flexibility and is brimming with useful features to boost productivity and enhance communication. This is particularly true if you run a business where colleagues spend time working remotely.
This business phone system has many useful mobile capabilities. By downloading an app onto their mobile devices, colleagues can access email, instant messages, video message and voicemail, as well as make and receive calls, attend video conferences and send emails. When employees use the mobile system, recipients only see calls as coming directly from the office. This way, there's no need to disclose that you're working remotely and clients don't have access to your cellphone number.
Unified messaging capabilities help to ensure you don't miss important messages or updates. This is because instant messages, voicemail and video messages are delivered right to your email. You can choose from IP phones, corded or cordless handsets, softphones and video phones with this system, which provides the versatility needed to tailor the system to suit your business needs. In the top-tier package, you can make use of call recording, online conferencing and internet faxing functions, as well as a full array of basic features like voicemail, caller ID and an auto-attendant.
A one-year warranty covers the hardware of this business phone system. While you can access phone, email and live chat support, it's not available 24/7. For support outside of regular business hours, you can take advantage of the online self-help material, including videos, webinars and white papers.
Capable of handling up to 1,000 users, the 8x8 Virtual Office system provides plenty of tools. It is particularly well suited to small businesses that require employees to work remotely on a regular basis, thanks to a robust mobile app. For more in-depth information about this service, read our 8x8 Virtual Office review.
Avaya IP Office – Ranked #7 out of 10
The Avaya IP Office is a powerful collaborative system that has the highest user capacity of any of our top 10 ranked products, supporting up to 2,000 users. The main drawbacks are its lack of self-help support tools and a variable 24-hour live support service.
Providing a robust selection of mobile and on-site functionality, the Avaya business phone system stands out because of its one-X communicator application. This acts as a single interface for all communication tools and includes instant messaging, video conferencing, voicemail and contact lists. The application integrates with computer systems and software packages like CRM systems, which reduces call handling time and gives your employees access to all pertinent caller information right on their dashboards.
In addition to integrating with your computer systems and software services, this business phone system boasts impressive mobile capabilities. You can download the application and log in to the interface from your mobile devices. When working remotely, your employees still have the same level of functionality as when they are at their desks, which boosts remote working productivity. Other features include call forwarding, caller ID, transferring and an auto-attendant. You can use a variety of phones with this system, including VoIP phones.
The one-year warranty is a slight drawback, as it is one of the shorter coverage periods offered by the products on our lineup, although it is still quite average. You can contact the Avaya via phone, live chat and also email. There are some online resources for self-help, including technical specifications and a company blog, but it lacks detailed video tutorials, FAQs and whitepapers.
A good choice for businesses that require their employees to work both on site and remotely, the Avaya IP Office business phone system has a robust user-friendly interface application. However, it lacks self-help support tools and has a short warranty. For more in-depth information about this service, read our Avaya IP Office review.
FortiVoice – Ranked #8 out of 10
The FortiVoice business phone system offers a wide variety of advanced options, including user privileges and network choice. Its overall capacity is limited to just 400 users. Although it's a service that offers multiple network choices and digital solutions, it does not offer a softphone option.
The standout feature of the FortiVoice system that it allows you to choose between traditional network or VoIP telephones, depending on the needs of your business. With FortiVoice, you cannot use softphones; this system requires you to invest in physical telephones.
You can integrate this phone system with your computer network for added flexibility and use it in conjunction with your CRM software for fast call processing and customer relations, as you have all of the customer's data and call history at your fingertips. It is mobile compatible when use in conjunction with the mobile app for tablets and smartphones. Because of this, anybody working remotely can access his or her voicemail, email and instant messages, and he or she can make and receive calls.
Unfortunately, instant messaging is not standard; this tool is only available at an additional cost. The system does provide unified messaging, delivering voicemail and video messages to your inbox. You can also set user privileges, limiting the types of calls your employees make. For example, you could prohibit long-distance calls.
This FortiVoice small business phone system has a one-year hardware warranty, and the company does not provide self-help resources. However, live support is offered through email, phone and online chat, and it is available 24 hours a day.
This system is suited for small businesses that don't plan to expand beyond 400 users, which limits it somewhat. The company also charges extra for features like instant messaging. Still, it does have ample mobile functionality, and you can choose between traditional and VoIP telephones, although softphones are not supported. For more in-depth information about this service, read our FortiVoice review.
AT&T Synapse – Ranked #9 out of 10
The AT&T Synapse small business phone system is a fairly basic system compared to many of the other models we reviewed. It does, however, have comprehensive self-help support resources.
Basic and simple, this AT&T system is a solid choice for small and very small businesses on a budget. It caters to a maximum of 100 users, so there's not much room for expansion. Although it is missing some notable features, this system does offer unified messaging and voice conference capabilities. There's no instant messaging function, so employees cannot communicate across the office rapidly when they need a question answered while a customer is on the line. This model offers most basic functions, including an auto-attendant, call transfer, customizable voicemail and hold messaging options, and automatic call forwarding.
You cannot integrate this business phone system with your computer system or other software, so its versatility is limited. It also does not work with CRM software. There are only a few IP phones and DECT phones that are compatible with this system, so hardware choices are limited. Additionally, this system does not have softphone compatibility, so you are required to purchase physical telephones. It also lacks the capacity to participate in video calls.
This model has a two-year warranty, which is better than a number of other models on the lineup. The help and support system is reasonably good, with email, telephone and live chat options, although they are not available 24/7. You can access a range of self-help material, including tech guides, videos and information sheets.
A reasonable choice for small businesses on a tight budget, the AT&T Synapse phone system is a bare bones product with few frills. It covers the basics to help improve communication over non-business phones or multiple individual lines. The system is limited by its inability to integrate it with a computer and small user capacity. For more in-depth information about this service, read our AT&T Synapse review.
Vonage Business Solutions – Ranked #10 out of 10
Vonage Business Solutions is a basic small business phone system for companies on a budget. This hosted business telephone system works with just an internet connection and a VoIP or softphone telephone. It cannot be used with a traditional telephone. Because of this, the system does not work if your internet connection goes down. It does integrate with your computer system and other software, so you can make use of your CRM system during customer calls.
The business phone system from Vonage has unified messaging, delivering fax, email and voicemail to your email inbox. You can also forward calls to mobile devices when working remotely or when you are away from your desk. This hosted system provides conferencing functionality for enhanced collaboration. It provides a number of standard features, such as call holding, forwarding and transfers, as well as customizable voicemail greeting and on-hold messages. You can also make use of extensions and the three-way calling feature. It also has a 9-1-1 feature that allows you to reach emergency personal quickly, should the need arise.
Despite computer integration, there's no instant messaging capability. It has a maximum capacity of 100 users, so while it's suitable for small businesses, it allows little room for expansion.
The company does not offer warranties of any kind and all products and services are sold as-is. Both email and phone live-support options are available, but the company doesn't offer support over live chat. Live support is also not offered 24/7. Vonage does have a blog and some video tutorials for troubleshooting problems on your own.
All in all, this system is pretty basic. As a hosted phone service, it offers a selection of basic features that most employees can grasp quickly. However, customer support is lacking, and the system is limited to only 100 users. For more in-depth information about this service, read our Vonage Business Solutions review.