Did you know that the telephone is still the most popular method for customers to reach out for support, even when email, social media, and live chat options are enabled? There are benefits for business too, when it comes to phone communication. Calls these days can be saved and analysed, with the data forwarded to any front or back end business application that can use it. This is done by integrating a flexible voice-over-IP (VoIP) system with your customer-facing systems, like your CRM.
SMBs need to choose between on-premises Private Branch Exchange (PBX) hardware and hosted solutions, weighing their potential benefits (advanced functionality and total customisability) against associated costs. They also need to weigh up their current needs and budget against what they expect those needs to become in the future. For many SMBs, the cost of a traditional PBX system may not only be beyond the reach of their current operating budget, but may also not make much long-term sense.
As you can see, when it comes to choosing a phone system for your SMB, things can get real complicated, real fast. Your first step is working out which option is best for you, VOIP or PBX.
Our friends at Arrow Voice have very kindly outlined the differences for us. Read on to choose which is best for you…
- Deployment time frame
How quickly do you want or need the phone systems to be active? Some systems are easy plug-and-play setups, whereas others leave you waiting for carriers to complete a series of steps before you can actually start using the system.
VOIP: Quick deployment
PBX: Requires lead time
What features are you looking for in your new phone system? Do you want call management, locally based hardware and real-time management? If you answered yes to the above questions, you’re looking for a PBX system. However, if you don’t want local main equipment and are looking for cloud-based management and a portable, redundant solution, you need to consider a VOIP system.
VOIP: More complex features
PBX: Simpler features
Are you willing to pay high setup costs and have a cheaper call rate with lower call quality?
VOIP: Cheap with basic features
PBX: Traditionally more expensive
You can start with a 2 handset VOIP system and scale accordingly as the business grows. This ensures you are only paying for what you need and can still add handsets to cope with the growth of your business. You can also reduce the capacity at any time. This directly sits in proportion to your monthly spending on the telecommunications aspect. A PBX system requires advance planning to make sure you have the right equipment so you can upgrade in the future.
VOIP: Easily scalable
PBX: Needs to be carefully planned
- Multiple Sites
VOIP has the most benefits for businesses that operate in multiple sites and allows your company to break the shackles of geographic locations. Calls can be transferred from Sydney to Melbourne to Perth in a matter of seconds with internal extensions and no fee for the transfer of the call. How great is that? Multi-site offices save some cost as all the calls between their sites are free.
VOIP: Great for multi-site businesses
PBX: Not the best solution for multi-site business
Having a VOIP system means you don’t need to stress about moving out of the exchange and losing your main number as you unplug your handsets from the old office and plug in to your new office. A traditional PBX system could pose challenges, and the move has to be planned very accurately to not lose service for hours or even days.
VOIP: Easily plug into a new office
PBX: Requires careful planning
- Smartphone integration
Most (if not all) providers offer smartphone integration with custom and third-party apps, like CRM systems that can extend the phone system beyond just basic voice communication. Such integrations can also allow users to transfer calls to and from their mobile phone, place and receive calls from their personal phone (that appear to be coming from the business), and interact with colleagues and customers via voice and text. These features should be available on both VOIP and PBX systems.
Right! Now you know more about what kind of system you need…
PCMag went and did us all a huge favour by ranking the best VOIP and Cloud PBX systems of 2017. Thanks PCMag.
Firstly, let’s look at what features they think a standard SMB would need in a phone system.
- Interactive Voice Response (IVR) systems, “Press 1 for accounting, press 2 for sales…”
- Call queuing, generally used in call centers, where systems like this distribute incoming calls to specific recipients based on what the caller wants, extensions dialed, or other criteria.
- Hold music or audio, which should have not only a good list of options offered by the service, but also the ability for you to upload custom music or audio.
- Extension assignments, meaning an administrator on your side of the relationship should be able to assign internal extensions as desired.
- Number porting so you can use your current business phone number with the new service.
- Call recording so you can use phone experiences for training, sales, and marketing intelligence purposes.
- Voicemail to email transcription so your employees can read or play their voicemail from wherever they receive email.
Here are their choices for the best systems for small to medium sized businesses.
RingCentral Office (for Business) is a solid, business-class, Voice-over-IP solution for a company of just about any size. If you need a phone solution with robust features and service-level agreements, then RingCentral Office (for Business) hits the high notes.
Vonage Business is a VoIP service offering a good set of features and included integration with Amazon Chime collaboration tools and Google G Suite. It enables a mobile workforce to share documents, meet in virtual voice or video conferences, and get messages wherever they are in a straightforward, easy-to-manage way.
8 x 8 Virtual Office Pro
8×8 Virtual Office Pro is a great choice for SMBs looking for flexible VoIP telephony services with advanced features, mobile capabilities, and a decent selection of integrations with popular third-party apps.
A solid VoIP product with a good set of features and competitive pricing, Dialpad is a great example of the melding of web and VoIP technologies. Excellent call portability and the ability to integrate tightly with other office apps make this a platform to consider.
Fonality is a feature-rich, business-class voice over IP (VoIP) solution with extensive call routing, IVR, and call center features, with a very capable unified communications (UC) application. Its one-on-one assisted setup and included desk phones are major bonuses as well.
With its solid pedigree in VoIP PBX systems, ShoreTel Connect Cloud offers numerous deployment, integration, and feature options that should fit the needs of most businesses.
Citrix Grasshopper is a great business-class voice over IP (VoIP) solution for very small businesses that need a basic phone system fast.
If you’re already involved with Office 365, then Microsoft Skype for Business Online might make sense for you. But those looking for a vendor-neutral business-class voice over IP (VoIP) solution will likely need to look elsewhere.
Intermedia Cloud PBX is an excellent Voice-over-IP (VoIP) service with a deep feature set. Though it’s not the cheapest, its features and their implementation and delivery are worth the extra cost when you factor in access to excellent support, cross-service integration, and a host of additional business cloud services.
When it comes to the best choice overall for SMEs, we like the Citrix Grasshopper. It’s very much geared towards the smaller end of the SMB market and provides the basics of a modern phone system—without the need for any on-premises equipment or even fixed phone lines. And, though limited in features, it’s extremely cost-effective.