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Business Phone Systems

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Nextiva Office logo
 
Winner of the "Product of the Year" award by Internet Telephony magazine for the last 4 years running, Nextiva's Business VoIP solutions offer small businesses enterprise-level telephony features at an extremely affordable price point.... Read More
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Winner of the "Product of the Year" award by Internet Telephony magazine for the last 4 years running, Nextiva's Business VoIP solutions offer small businesses enterprise-level telephony features at an extremely affordable price point.... Read More
 
Vonage Business Solutions logo
 
Vonage Business Solutions is a cloud-based unified communication solution suitable for small and midsize companies. The solution offers a business phone system that enables businesses to connect their VoIP phone system to any internet... Read More
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Vonage Business Solutions is a cloud-based unified communication solution suitable for small and midsize companies. The solution offers a business phone system that enables businesses to connect their VoIP phone system to any internet... Read More
 
Jive Voice logo
 
Jive Communications delivers a cloud-based unified communication solution to organizations of all sizes across the U.S. Jive Voice includes integrated products for business VoIP, video conferencing and contact center which are all... Read More
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Jive Communications delivers a cloud-based unified communication solution to organizations of all sizes across the U.S. Jive Voice includes integrated products for business VoIP, video conferencing and contact center which are all... Read More
 
Virtual Office by 8x8 logo
 
Virtual Office is a collection of comprehensive web-based business VoIP solutions from offered by 8x8. Enterprise grade phone service, virtual meetings, mobile applications, virtual contact centers and more are available to help companies... Read More
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Virtual Office is a collection of comprehensive web-based business VoIP solutions from offered by 8x8. Enterprise grade phone service, virtual meetings, mobile applications, virtual contact centers and more are available to help companies... Read More
 
FluentStream VoIP logo
 
FluentStream is a business phone solution designed for companies of all sizes. It offers call monitoring, telemarketing, IVR and reporting features within an integrated suite. The solution is available both in cloud-based and on-premise... Read More
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FluentStream is a business phone solution designed for companies of all sizes. It offers call monitoring, telemarketing, IVR and reporting features within an integrated suite. The solution is available both in cloud-based and on-premise... Read More

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RingCentral Office logo
 
RingCentral Office is a cloud-based business phone solution that offers business communication tools and helps to optimize communications for voice, fax and text. Core features of the solution include conferencing, auto-recording and... Read More
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RingCentral Office is a cloud-based business phone solution that offers business communication tools and helps to optimize communications for voice, fax and text. Core features of the solution include conferencing, auto-recording and... Read More
 
MegaPath logo
 
MegaPath is Business Voip software that works with medium to large-size businesses in any industry. The system offers companies Internet connectivity, unified communications, security services, managed networking services, and more. With... Read More
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MegaPath is Business Voip software that works with medium to large-size businesses in any industry. The system offers companies Internet connectivity, unified communications, security services, managed networking services, and more. With... Read More
 
ReadyTalk Hosted Voice logo
 
ReadyTalk is a cloud-based communication service provider and offers hosted voice, video and web conferencing and streaming webinars. ReadyTalk’s hosted voice solution, powered by Evolve IP, delivers cloud-based business phone services... Read More
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ReadyTalk is a cloud-based communication service provider and offers hosted voice, video and web conferencing and streaming webinars. ReadyTalk’s hosted voice solution, powered by Evolve IP, delivers cloud-based business phone services... Read More
 
Business Voice logo
 
Business Voice is a cloud-based VoiP solution created by PanTerra, which allows users to take or make calls from their office phone number, communicate with their team, and have file access, all from any device with an internet connection,... Read More
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Business Voice is a cloud-based VoiP solution created by PanTerra, which allows users to take or make calls from their office phone number, communicate with their team, and have file access, all from any device with an internet connection,... Read More
 
ShoreTel Sky logo
 
ShoreTel is a cloud-based VoIP phone system that offers collaboration and conferencing tools to enable efficient information flow within the organization. ShoreTel is a managed hosted VoIP solution that configures and manages everything... Read More
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ShoreTel is a cloud-based VoIP phone system that offers collaboration and conferencing tools to enable efficient information flow within the organization. ShoreTel is a managed hosted VoIP solution that configures and manages everything... Read More

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NICE inContact Hosted Call Center logo
 
NICE inContact is a SaaS-based call center software that helps businesses to maximizes the quality of leads and minimizes the cost of client interaction. The solution comprises of many features required to process inbound support requests... Read More
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NICE inContact is a SaaS-based call center software that helps businesses to maximizes the quality of leads and minimizes the cost of client interaction. The solution comprises of many features required to process inbound support requests... Read More
 
ContactWorld by NewVoiceMedia logo
 
ContactWorld, created by NewVoiceMedia, is a unified communication platform for any size corporation. It offers standalone call center functionality, including automatic call distribution, predictive dialer, call recording, auto attendant,... Read More
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ContactWorld, created by NewVoiceMedia, is a unified communication platform for any size corporation. It offers standalone call center functionality, including automatic call distribution, predictive dialer, call recording, auto attendant,... Read More
 
Five9 Cloud Contact Center logo
 
Five9 Call Center software enables agents to manage inbound, outbound, blended or multi-channel contact centers.  The smart dialer features help agents handle their live prospects. An intelligent routing tool routes calls to agents... Read More
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Five9 Call Center software enables agents to manage inbound, outbound, blended or multi-channel contact centers.  The smart dialer features help agents handle their live prospects. An intelligent routing tool routes calls to agents... Read More
 
Cisco Unified Communications Manager logo
 
Cisco Unified Communications Manager is an advanced platform for integrating business communication technologies such as telephony, video conferencing, presence information, call recording, Web conferencing and messaging. It enables... Read More
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Cisco Unified Communications Manager is an advanced platform for integrating business communication technologies such as telephony, video conferencing, presence information, call recording, Web conferencing and messaging. It enables... Read More
 
UNIVERGE 3C logo
 
UNIVERGE 3C, NEC’s software-based IP-PBX, is a sophisticated platform for unified communications and collaboration. Its comprehensive functionality helped it earn the 2014 Internet Telephony Product of the Year award from technology... Read More
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UNIVERGE 3C, NEC’s software-based IP-PBX, is a sophisticated platform for unified communications and collaboration. Its comprehensive functionality helped it earn the 2014 Internet Telephony Product of the Year award from technology... Read More

Call us for a free FastStart Consultation: +35 376 680 1856


 
OmniPCX Office RCE logo
 
OmniPCX Office Rich Communication Edition (RCE) is the cornerstone of Alcatel-Lucent’s OpenTouch Suite. It's suited for small to midsize businesses with up to 200 employees. An all-in-one networking solution, OmniPCX Office RCE... Read More
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OmniPCX Office Rich Communication Edition (RCE) is the cornerstone of Alcatel-Lucent’s OpenTouch Suite. It's suited for small to midsize businesses with up to 200 employees. An all-in-one networking solution, OmniPCX Office RCE... Read More
 
Huawei eSpace logo
 
Huawei eSpace is a unified communications solution designed for enterprises. Some models of the hardware IP PBXs at the core of the Huawei system can support up to 10,000 users per unit. Huawei Integrated Access Devices (IADs) enable... Read More
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Huawei eSpace is a unified communications solution designed for enterprises. Some models of the hardware IP PBXs at the core of the Huawei system can support up to 10,000 users per unit. Huawei Integrated Access Devices (IADs) enable... Read More
 
XO Hosted PBX logo
 
XO Communications is a provider of network services that offers a cloud-based phone system, XO Hosted PBX, designed for businesses with 50 to 1,000 employees. In addition to hosting VoIP applications, XO also offers SIP trunking services... Read More
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XO Communications is a provider of network services that offers a cloud-based phone system, XO Hosted PBX, designed for businesses with 50 to 1,000 employees. In addition to hosting VoIP applications, XO also offers SIP trunking services... Read More
 
Voice Complete logo
 
Level 3 offers both SIP trunking and Integrated Services for Digital Network (ISDN) services in a package known as Voice Complete. Businesses can use Level 3 SIP trunking to connect calls between VoIP systems and the traditional phone... Read More
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Level 3 offers both SIP trunking and Integrated Services for Digital Network (ISDN) services in a package known as Voice Complete. Businesses can use Level 3 SIP trunking to connect calls between VoIP systems and the traditional phone... Read More
 
OBiPLUS logo
 
Obihai’s OBiPLUS is an on-premise IP telephony solution designed for very small businesses (i.e., those with 12 or fewer employees). Users can buy either a basic license, which supports up to four extensions, or a premium license,... Read More
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Obihai’s OBiPLUS is an on-premise IP telephony solution designed for very small businesses (i.e., those with 12 or fewer employees). Users can buy either a basic license, which supports up to four extensions, or a premium license,... Read More

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Buyer's Guide

by Justin Guinn,
Market Research Associate
Last Updated: November 16, 2017


The complexity of the business telephony market is nothing short of staggering. With hundreds of differences—some minor, some major—in technology, features and usability, buying a new VoIP phone system can get very confusing very quickly.

We’ve written this buyer’s guide to make business telephony a little easier to understand, and to make the buying process a little more palatable. Here’s what we’ll cover: 

Reviewers' Choice
Traditional Business Phone Systems
VoIP Phone Systems
Software Applications
Pricing Considerations
Recent Events You Should Know About

Reviewers' Choice

voip reviewers choice

 

Reviewers' Choice Products

Jive Voice Panterra Streams
RingCentral Skype
Vonage Business Solutions Evolve Office IP Phone Systems

Our Reviewers’ Choice list shows the five highest user-rated software solutions for VoIP when adjusted for total number of reviews and recency of reviews.

If a software solution has more reviews, and more recent reviews, we value those ratings more highly than a product with fewer, older reviews. This is because is it much harder to get 100 five-star reviews than it is to get 10.

We also know that software vendors continually tweak and update their product, so we believe that more recent reviews tend to be more accurate.

To determine which products made the final cut, we looked at how users rated each solution's:

  • Overall performance,
  • Ease of use, and
  • Customer support

A solution can make the Reviewers' Choice top five in all three categories, or just one or two. All software solutions in the Reviewers' Choice have at least 10 reviews from real software users. The final products are listed in alphabetical order from left to right.

For more details on how we selected our Reviewers' Choice, read the full methodology.

Traditional Business Phone Systems

Traditional business phone systems use the traditional landline telephone system, often called the Plain Old Telephone Service or POTS. VoIP phone systems, discussed below, use the Internet instead of the POTS. Overall, the technology is in a state of transition from traditional to VoIP, and many businesses have phone systems using elements of both.

Private Branch Exchanges (PBX)
In a PBX system, every office phone is connected to a single, centralized router within the office, which then assigns a unique line (called a trunk) to the public telephone network. A PBX allows internal calls to be routed without connecting to the public phone network at all—translating to significant cost savings, particularly in large offices.

The term "PBX" originates from the days when a live operator manually connected lines (exchanging branches) at a company’s internal switchboard. Though today’s technology is wildly different (there aren’t always branches, nothing’s being exchanged and the business phone system is often managed remotely, which means it’s not even private anymore), the term is so widespread in the industry that it is still used to describe any in-house office phone system. Related acronyms you might hear include:

  • IP PBX: Internet Protocol Private Branch Exchange
  • PABX: Private Automatic Branch Exchange
  • EPABX: Electronic Private Automatic Branch Exchange

Key Systems
In a key system, the user selects the line manually, with lights indicating which lines are in use. Though this is a useful feature for small office systems, it quickly becomes impractical as the number of users grows. (Imagine a key system with 50 lines.)

As technology has improved, a hybrid model has emerged that routes keyed phones through an electronic system, similar to a PBX. This has allowed for the rapid merging of keyed and PBX features, plus the development of new features such as:

  • Monitoring the system from a remote location
  • Caller ID
  • Voicemail
  • User- or office-specific limitations (e.g., no international calls)

Though this description drastically oversimplifies all that goes into the technology, what’s important to note is that most keyed systems today operate through some form of hybrid model.

Choosing Between a PBX and a Hybrid Key System
Though these technologies have converged over time, their usability and features make them very different at the user level. Since a modern PBX control unit is essentially a specialized computer, it provides automated call distribution and many more features associated with computer telephony integration (CTI, described in more detail below). The behavior of a hybrid key system, however, may be far more preferable (and more cost-effective) for smaller businesses that don’t need those features or more than a dozen or so lines.

BehaviorKey/Hybrid SystemPBX
Line selection User selects the line, or the system defaults to the first available line. User dials an “escape number” (usually 9, in the U.S.) to access an outside line. (Note that modern systems can often bypass this step through software that recognizes how calls should be routed based on the first number or numbers.)
Inbound calls Can be answered by multiple people. Often, the phone will ring simultaneously at multiple endpoints, and whomever answers first gets it. Calls are routed to a specific user, often automatically to the first available user of a specified type.
Ideal for >50 employees and/or call centers

VoIP Phone Systems

Voice over Internet Protocol, or VoIP, sends communication data through the Internet rather than through a traditional phone line. The biggest benefit of VoIP telephone systems for businesses is that they provide more features and usability at a fraction of the cost: Rates on long distance and international calls, in particular, are much lower. They're also more expandable than traditional phone lines, since they're limited by digital bandwidth rather than by the number of physical lines.

VoIP has further blurred the distinction between key systems and PBXs, since there are now business telephone systems that can perform the functions of both. Here we’ll look at three examples of business VoIP phone systems, starting simple and moving to the more advanced.

A Simple Business VoIP System
The most basic business VoIP system is telephone software run on an office computer. This phone software, also known as a softphone, can receive and make phone calls to any phone number over the Internet. Remember, VoIP calls can be placed to any type of phone; they aren’t restricted to calling other VoIP phones. (If you’re new to VoIP, check out our beginner’s guide.)

The business using the system pays its VoIP provider for a single telephone number. Any calls made to that number will be received by that softphone. Calls made from that account’s softphones will display the company’s own Caller ID information. Customers won’t know if they’re called from a softphone at the office, or a softphone running on a laptop on the road, as long as both are on the same account, a benefit to some.

Many VoIP providers offer softphones and come bundled with basic features like customizable voicemail.

A Typical Business VoIP System
An example of a more typical VoIP system would be found in a small business of 10 employees, each with their own VoIP desk phone. Called “hardphones,” these look like traditional office handsets but connect directly to the office’s computer network. VoIP hardphones can be purchased separately or included as part of a service provider’s plan.

Since the office has multiple phones, calls need to be directed and managed between them. This is the job of a central switchboard or Private Branch Exchange (PBX). While there are many feature-rich hardware PBXs available, there are also free software PBXs that run on small computers. A third, and increasingly popular, option is to have a cloud-based PBX. This is a service offered by many VoIP providers and requires no on-site hardware.

Most PBXs also provide the company’s Interactive Voice Response (IVR) system, the automated voice directory that greets and directs outside calls.

An Advanced Business VoIP System
An advanced business VoIP system would be one for a business with hundreds of employees and several remote offices. Here, all employees have hardphones, which connect to the company’s on-premise or cloud-based PBX using their local office’s computer network. Through the PBX, any employee in any office can connect directly to, or transfer calls to, any other employee.

These employees may also have softphones on their cell phones and laptops, which they use while on the road. The softphones also connect to the company’s cloud-based PBX, but connect via whichever data service is available (e.g., 3G/4G or WiFi). These softphones function exactly like the hardphones in the offices.

Most large corporations with multiple offices maintain PBXs in each office which act as one system by coordinating over the Internet, often via SIP trunks and/or using mobile SIP clients.

Benefits of VoIP
A business VoIP system can replace a traditional analog phone system, reducing costs and adding communication functions that help the business operate more efficiently.

Sophisticated functionality. A business VoIP system improves internal and external communications with a variety of real-time tools, such as text messaging, video conferencing and remote collaboration.

Increased efficiency. Apart from adding functions that make communications run more smoothly, a VoIP system brings other efficiencies such as the ability to expand and upgrade a system with relative ease.

Easier redundancy. Digital systems are much easier to back up than analog systems. There’s no easy way to have a backup of the telephone lines outside your office, but you can have your Internet service delivered by several independent means. 

Cost reduction. The flat-rate and tiered plans offered by VoIP providers are generally more competitive than the service plans offered by traditional phone providers. You can also save money on hardware by using cloud-based switchboards and inexpensively adding phone extensions.

Software Applications for Business Telephony

Many of the more basic features below (e.g., call recording or Internet faxes) are common to almost all office phone systems. More advanced functionality like CTI, ACD and auto-dialers will usually be add-ons as part of a more advanced PBX system.

Computer telephony integration (CTI) CTI primarily describes the integration between telephone functions and a user’s desktop computer (including with your CRM or ERP software, if applicable). Common functions of a CTI include the ability to use a computer for phone control (placing, answering, terminating or transferring calls); to show call information (from caller ID, data entered during the routing process and tracked information like call time); to control your active state (ready, busy, away etc.) and, at the server level, to route calls appropriately.
Softphone Rather than having a dedicated phone line, a headset is plugged into the user’s computer, which is then used as the phone source.
Mobility One main advantage of modern phone systems for businesses is the ability to connect any user into the system, even if they’re not physically in the same building. This allows companies to incorporate mobile devices, home offices and multiple locations.
Auto dialer/predictive dialer The system places an outbound call automatically; when someone answers, he is connected to an internal user.
Automatic call distribution (ACD) ACD queues distribute inbound calls according to the desired routing selections. ACD might include: routing calls to the appropriate person; ranking callers so they can be answered in a certain order; or automatic ring-back (giving callers an option to receive a call back rather than wait on hold).
Interactive voice response (IVR) The ability to use vocal or keypad inputs to interact with the phone system. Allows the company to set up how calls are routed, what buttons can be pressed at what time and where calls go.
Call recording Record phone calls and upload the recordings to a secure server and/or deliver them through email. Note that CTI allows for enhanced data to be included as part of call recordings—e.g., a report of caller information, customer complaint, how the call was routed or how long the caller was on hold.
Conference calling The ability to link multiple phone lines together on a single call.
Video conferencing Audio and video conference technology can usually be incorporated directly into all users' workstations, allowing them to lead or join conferences from their own desks.
Internet fax Faxes can be sent and delivered electronically through email or through the company’s document control system. Note that when you’re buying a system, it’s helpful to your provider if you let them know how you use faxes, since there are many different ways to perform this function.

Pricing Considerations

Pricing for a business telephony system will be based on a number of factors.

First will be the size of your company: typical measures include number of locations, number of phones and number of outbound phone lines. One of the tricks of implementation is balancing cost against coverage; each additional phone line costs more money, and you want to get all the phone lines you’ll need at your highest traffic times—but no more. (If you’re not sure what you’ll need, any company you contact will be able to make a recommendation based on how your phones are used.) Multiple locations adds an extra layer of complexity, since it’s obviously much more complicated to connect two offices (or 10, or a 100) and mobile devices into a system than it is to operate one office independently.

The second factor affecting commercial phone systems' price will be the features, functionality and usage. A system with extensive CTI capabilities or ACD queues or with functionality for large-scale conference calls will cost more than one without. Large numbers of long distance or international calls, 800 numbers, call recording and other features will impact pricing, too. Companies with a large number of mobile devices may need to separately purchase software to manage them.

Finally, your industry and the operational and legal requirements it is bound by will have an impact on the system you buy and the functionality you need. For example, hotels have their own set of safety and privacy requirements; healthcare has HIPAA concerns that limit the type of deployments they can use; businesses in the financial services and government sectors have major security needs; and any company that takes credit cards over the phone will need to take into PCI compliance into account, which requires an encrypted line and halting any call recording that might be taking place during the credit card transaction. (Companies may also wish to invest in a robust, dedicated IT security platform.)

Note that many companies that deal in the business telephony market do it as part of a larger package—for example, you might hire the same company to be your broadband Internet provider, your network administrator and your business phone service provider all in one. Obviously, this will further impact pricing.

Key Considerations

Internet telephony. As Internet technology continues to grow and expand, Voice over IP is becoming an increasingly popular business phone solution. Business VoIP adoption reached 15 percent in 2013 (as reported by the FCC in 2014), with businesses of all sizes jumping on board. As this is clearly the direction the business telephony market is headed, VoIP is an option you should seriously consider.

Outsourcing IT. In the 1990s, a business trend of focusing on core competencies started to take root. Under this principle, even large businesses realized they could produce better results by allowing specialists to come in and manage all the processes that weren’t part of their specific area of expertise. IT and business telephony have both been a major part of that trend. So rather than investing in your own business telephone infrastructure and hardware, you may want to consider letting your service provider bring all that in for you.

Hosted cloud systems. As broadband Internet connections continue to get faster, cheaper and more reliable, cloud-based PBX phone systems continue to grow in popularity. These provide all the functionality of a full PBX or key phone system but are hosted on the service provider's servers. Simpler management and lower upfront cost are two selling points for hosted cloud systems.

Industry-specific systems. There are some industry-specific legal considerations that apply to business phones and business VoIP systems. A clear understanding of how phones are used within the specific industry will also help answer some of the following considerations.

VoIP phones. Business VoIP systems can use hardphones, which look and function just like traditional office telephone handsets. They can also use software phones, or softphones, where a headset is attached to a computer and calls are placed and received via the VoIP provider’s software interface.

Bandwidth. The Internet connection from the Internet Service Provider (ISP) must have sufficient bandwidth. Quality of Service (QoS) measures need to be in place to prioritize bandwidth usage so that voice calls get preference over non-real-time network uses.

Backup. When a company relies on an Internet connection for all communications, as can be the case with VoIP systems, it’s important to have a backup plan for when that connection has problems.

Recent Events You Should Know About

Microsoft expands Skype for Business services. In April 2016, Microsoft released the Cloud Connector Edition of the Skype for Business Server in 17 additional countries. This edition of the Skype for Business phone system enables businesses to connect an on-premises PBX or gateway to Microsoft’s cloud phone system in order to use their existing telecommunications providers instead of Microsoft’s SIP trunking services for connections to the traditional phone network.

Google launches Duo video-calling app to compete with consumer offerings. Google has launched a consumer video calling app called Duo in a bid to better compete with Skype and FaceTime in the massive consumer video calling market. Duo focuses on simplicity and only offers person-to-person calling. The lack of support for conference calling, text messaging, and desktops/laptops means that Duo is not useful for business communications when compared to similar offerings, including those from Google. Google’s communications client for businesses is Hangouts, not Duo.

8x8 unveils next-generation capabilities for global contact centers to optimize customer and agent experiences. Enterprise Communications as a Service (ECaaS) provider 8x8, Inc. launched next-generation capabilities for its Virtual Contact Center (VCC) solution. These new capabilities include native quality management capabilities and customer journey analytics, which serve to give contact center managers full visibility into the customer life cycle for an interaction.

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Business VoIP Systems Pricing Guide

 

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