Finding software can be overwhelming. Software Advice helps small businesses in all industries find the right phone system to set up their contact center.

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Nextiva

Nextiva is a platform that brings communications together with business applications, intelligence, and automation. This helps businesses communicate and build deeper connections with their customers. The platform brings all ... Read more

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Recent recommendations: 22 recommendations

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GoToConnect

GoToConnect (formerly Jive) delivers a cloud-based unified communication solution to organizations of all sizes across the U.S. GoToConnect includes integrated products for business VoIP, video conferencing and contact center whic... Read more

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Recent recommendations: 20 recommendations

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RingCentral MVP

RingCentral MVP is a cloud-based business communications solution that offers tools for Messaging, Video and Phone. Core features of the solution include conferencing, auto-recording and unlimited long-distance and local calling. ... Read more

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Recent recommendations: 19 recommendations

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Vonix

Vonix flex is a business VoIP solution that provides hands-on support and reliable service with all business phone plans for small and medium businesses across the U.S. This cloud-based communication platform helps businesses conn... Read more

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Recent recommendations: 12 recommendations

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Ooma Office

Ooma Office is a cloud-based voice + video solution suitable for businesses of all sizes. The platform includes a full suite of business phone features designed to deliver a flawless communications experience and advance team coll... Read more

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Recent recommendations: 9 recommendations

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8x8 X Series

8x8 X Series is a cloud-based solution that helps businesses of all sizes establish communication via text messaging, voice calls and video conferencing. The team messaging module lets employees create project-specific public and ... Read more

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Recent recommendations: 5 recommendations

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PanTerra Streams

Business Plus 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 con... Read more

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Recent recommendations: 5 recommendations

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Google Meet

Google Meet is a video conferencing app. It is the business-oriented version of Google's Hangouts platform and is suitable for businesses of all sizes. The solution enables users to make video calls with up to 30 users per high-de... Read more

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GoToMeeting

GoToMeeting is a video conferencing and collaboration software that can launch meetings from various locations such as email, Microsoft Office, and instant-messaging tools. The solution is suitable for businesses of all sizes and ... Read more

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TeamViewer

TeamViewer is an online meeting and video conferencing solution that connects any PC, mobile, and server to each other globally. The solution is available in nearly all countries and supports over 30 languages. TeamViewer is suita... Read more

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Microsoft Teams

Microsoft Teams is a cloud-based group chat solution that helps teams collaborate on documents. Its key features include messaging, conferencing and file sharing. Microsoft Teams has replaced Skype for Business as Microsoft's onli... Read more

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Webex

Webex brings together Calling, Meeting and Messaging modes of collaboration into a seamless, engaging, inclusive and intelligent experience. Seamless collaboration across devices, locations and organizations • Use any computer, t... Read more

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Join.Me

Join.me is an online meeting platform that helps businesses manage meetings and team collaboration. Key features include real-time presentations, mobile whiteboards, scheduling, toll-free audio, chat and more. Designed f... Read more

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Doodle

Doodle is a cloud-based appointment scheduling platform, which helps small to large size enterprises schedule meetings and appointments. The prime features of Doodle comprise of access invitation, calendar management, invite ... Read more

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Talkdesk

Talkdesk is a cloud-based call center solution that helps businesses improve customer satisfaction while simultaneously reducing customer support costs. It uses interactive voice response (IVR), automatic call distribution (ACD) a... Read more

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Zoho Meeting

Zoho Meeting is an online video conferencing solution suitable for single users as well as small to large-sized organizations. The solution can be used to host product launches, sales presentations, webinars, user education and on... Read more

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BlueJeans

BlueJeans is a cloud-based video conferencing solution that helps mid to large size businesses with text chat, content sharing, multiple participants and meeting recording. Blue Jeans delivers services through products including B... Read more

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Bitrix24

Bitrix24 is a client management solution that provides a platform for businesses to organize and track interactions with potential or existing clients and partners. The software allows users to log and manage client interactions, ... Read more

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Dialpad

For quickly growing businesses looking to efficiently scale their support teams, Dialpad provides a cloud-based call center with access to real-time customer insights. Dialpad allows users to onboard quickly and focus on deliverin... Read more

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Grasshopper

Grasshopper is a cloud-based virtual phone service that helps small to midsize enterprises establish communication with customers through local and toll-free numbers. It provides several modules, including call forwarding, multipl... Read more

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Buyers guide

Calling a restaurant to check for the opening hours or calling an ecommerce vendor to check the order status, for customers, reaching out to a business for any query is simply about picking up the phone and dialing the numbers.

However, if you own or manage a small business, you know that the receiving end of those calls can be chaotic, to say the least. Customers can often end up on long hold or find your line busy, or worse, have their call go unanswered.

Fortunately, there are tools to provide a method to this madness. With small business phone systems, all incoming and outgoing calls can be streamlined and your business too can provide professional customer support.

To help you find such a tool for your business, we’ve prepared this guide. Here’s what we’ll cover:

What are small business phone systems?

Small business phone systems are voice over internet protocol (VoIP) solutions that allow setting up internet-based telephone service for incoming and outgoing calls. These are essentially the modern-day, automated version of a phone switchboard that provides sophisticated features and convenient usability, even on-the-go.

The system works by sending communication data through the internet rather than traditional phone lines. This means it is not limited by the actual number of phone lines (as a traditional setup is). Instead, it relies on the available bandwidth of the internet connection, which makes it more flexible and scalable than a traditional phone line setup.

Call log in Virtual Office by 8x8

Common features of small business phone systems

The features offered by small business phone systems vary depending on whether the tool is basic or advanced. Following are some features typically considered core or basic for such tools:

Softphone Plug in a headset into the computer or VoIP setup and use it for calls as opposed to needing a traditional phone with a fixed-line.
Unified communication Consolidate and integrate simultaneous calls from multiple phone lines into a single platform.
Call routing Autoroute incoming calls to available agents. Also, allow agents to manually route calls to each other or their supervisors.
Call recording Record calls for future reference.
Computer telephony integration (CTI) Integrate the phone system with the user's computer for functions such as placing, answering, terminating, or transferring calls or information management (viewing caller ID and tracking call time).

Some advanced features that can be found in small business phone systems are as follows:

Auto/predictive dialer Autoplace outbound calls and route them to available agents as soon as the call is answered.
Automatic call distribution (ACD) Create distribution mechanisms for incoming calls as opposed to assigning them randomly. The mechanism can include queuing calls to be answered in a certain order or automatic ring-back (giving callers the option to receive a call back rather than waiting on-hold).
Interactive voice response (IVR) Allow people dialing-in to interact with the system via vocal or keypad inputs, such as selecting the desired language or call routing preferences.
Conference calling Connect multiple ongoing calls into a single call.
Dashboard Track metrics such as the total incoming and outgoing calls, time spent on each call, the productivity of agents, and business hours with the highest number of calls.
Integration Connect with third-party software such as customer relationship management (CRM) to extract contact information or enterprise resource planning (ERP) to manage call workload.
Access controls/permissions Define levels of authorization for agents, supervisors, and managers to access dashboards and reporting, as well as make routing decisions.

What type of buyer are you?

With multiple tools offering similar features, it can be difficult to pick the right one. That's why, before you choose a tool, it's important to understand what kind of a buyer you are and what your business needs are like.

The buyers of small business phone software usually fall into one of the following categories:

  • Small businesses that need a contact center to handle simple queries: Such businesses usually need to provide a human connection equivalent to the front desk personnel at a convenience store.

    They need to address only basic inquiries, such as “if the restaurant is open till 11 PM” or “if the summer collection has arrived in the boutique yet.” The business essentially needs to assist customers find the right information and the agent answering the call doesn’t need background knowledge of the person’s interactions with the business.

    Such businesses can look into phone systems that provide basic features such as softphone, unified communication, and routing. They should explore cloud-based tools that work with their existing hardware. They can also limit their phone numbers to one, and receive multiple simultaneous calls on the same number via VoIP systems.

  • Small businesses that need to offer wider customer support: Such businesses usually need to provide their customers with extensive help with their products or services.

    They need to be able to answer questions such as “Where is the order in the transit?” or “What happened to the complaint registered two days ago?”. The agent answering the phone needs prompt access to the customer’s purchase history as well as any previous interaction with the business.

    Such businesses can look into phone systems that provide advanced features such as ACD, IVR, and integrations with CRM and ERP tools. They should explore both cloud-based and on-premise solutions. They can set up separate phone numbers to receive different kinds of customer queries, however, with unified communication, all the numbers can be run across the same back-end system.

Benefits and potential issues

Phone systems can help small businesses build a professional telephonic front and do away with the manual routing of calls. Some of its benefits include:

  • Improved communication with customers: Avoid missing customer calls or keeping them on hold for too long. With a phone system, multiple calls can be handled simultaneously on a single number and customers will no longer have to wait for callbacks or have their call on hold/wait.
  • Increased efficiency for outgoing calls: Do away with manually dialing phone numbers and waiting for calls to be answered. With features such as the predictive dialer, the system will automatically dial the numbers and route them to agents when the call is answered.
  • Reduction in telephony costs: Reduce the cost of outbound calls with the help of flat-rate and tiered plans provided by phone systems vendors. These are typically cheaper than the cost of calling-per-minute or other packages offered by traditional phone service providers.

Key considerations when buying small business phone systems

While features, needs, and costs are certainly important factors when choosing a tool, there are some other considerations too that you should keep in mind. These include:

  • Industry-specific requirements: Certain industries such as banking or professional services will have specific requirements unique to their operations. These could range from having the ability to verify pin codes via customers’ keypad input to having a specific hierarchy to escalate customer requests. Ensure that the tool you choose supports your unique requirements at a reasonable cost, and not as costly add-ons.
  • Access for remote employees: Whether it’s a delivery agent on the way to drop an order or a sales agent traveling for work, they might need to answer phone calls away from the premises of your business. Hence, ensure that the tool you choose is equipped to support a remote infrastructure via mobile access without any additional investment.
  • Contract fine-print: Vendor contracts or plans can sometimes come with hidden caveats such as needing to purchase certain hardware equipment or having a lock-in period. Before you finalize the vendor, thoroughly review the contract for its terms and conditions. Also, read reviews about the vendor on websites like ours to get an idea of how they have performed in the past.

Note: The applications selected in this article are examples to show a feature in context and are not intended as endorsements or recommendations. They have been obtained from sources believed to be reliable at the time of publication.