How to Evaluate Small Business Phone Systems

Evaluate small business phone systems with these criteria.
by
Nicholas Price

Small business phone systems were once fairly limited in the functions and capabilities that you could get. Small business owners expect little more from their phone systems than to allow for multiple inbound and outbound calls simultaneously.

In today’s marketplace, those are pretty minimal expectations. If this is your current functionality, it’s fair to question whether your small business phone system is the right solution for you. Is the platform still working well enough to get ahead of the competition and stay there?

In thinking about your current phone system, it’s important to consider the advancements in phone system technology. How could these advancements improve your business? Even if you think your phone system is sufficient for now, scalability is important when planning for future growth. 

Make sure to put together a wish list of all the features that you’d like your phone system to have. Taking the time to identify larger pain points will help you take your business to the next level. Small business phone systems have never had so many productivity-boosting features at such an affordable price point. The time to consider updating your small business phone system might be sooner than you previously thought.

Understanding the Differences Between Small Business Phone Systems 

A small business phone system is a system of telephones that are interconnected with each other and have some number of business office features like call handling, voice mail, call transfer, and conference calling. Many small business phone systems use desk phones. However, many more are switching to cloud-based phone systems that operate from any internet connected device. 

Depending on how many people use phones in a small business, a small business phone system might entail anywhere from one to a few phones. Other businesses might have a phone service that has multiple phone lines. With a cloud-based phone system, also called a virtual phone system, there’s no need to have hard phones at all. A simple internet connection, and maybe a headset, are all you need.

Differentiating Between Phone Systems

Here’s a quick snapshot of the different types of small business phones systems in use today: 

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  • Analog – This is also known as POTS (plain old telephone system) or PSTN (Public Switched Telephone Network). This kind of phone system uses a cable with copper wires to transmit voice messages.
  • PBX – This term stands for private branch exchange which consists of multiple cables with each one having the capability for 23 channels. Each channel runs to a separate extension in an office.
  • IP PBX – This system is an upgrade from the PBX system. It’s a system that transmits voice messages via data packets so they can be transmitted across the internet.
  • VoIP – This term refers to voice over internet protocol. It’s a system that makes it possible for voice and data networks to join together.

A small office phone system can range from just a few telephones to a private branch exchange (PBX) system. 

Small business phone systems can use the Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN), the Internet (VoIP or Internet telephony), or a combination of them as in the case of IP PBX.

With VoIP systems, small businesses can have all the same capabilities as large companies. This is an important consideration as times change and your business grows.

Phone Systems for SMB versus Corporations

There was a time not that long ago when only large corporations and multi-facility enterprises could afford PBX systems. With every cable that a phone installer lays, it costs the company money. When you consider that each cable only supports 23 channels, large companies can invest a substantial amount of money in hardware for their phone system. 

For many SMBs, a PBX system is out of reach, even if they need one. Modern phone systems, like VoIP systems, give small businesses the same features and capabilities as large corporations use without incurring major costs. Essentially, when you use VoIP and cloud systems, you increase your call functions significantly. 

Where PTSN phone systems made it impossible for small businesses to set up a call center or contact center, VoIP systems make it possible to have a call center, even if it starts small. As your business grows, you won’t have to invest lots of money in expanding your call operations.

If you thought having a phone system with a robust set of features was out of reach just because of your size, that’s just not the case anymore. If your employees wish they had the ease to email, chat, or text customers or your customers are complaining about the same issues, it’s worth considering updating to a modern phone system that has all those capabilities and more. 

Embracing the Cloud

Because of tight budgets, many small businesses find that the only way they can be profitable is to spend less on all tech and tools. When you get used to operating in a certain fashion, you don’t always think about how to operate outside the box. 

The COVID pandemic shocked a lot of small businesses into the reality that it’s possible, and perhaps even practical, to allow their employees to work remotely. A cloud-based phone system lets small businesses easily adapt to a remote work environment without additional cost or disruption of your business. Many other circumstances could arise where allowing workers to work remotely could save the day.

Evaluating Small Business Phone System Features 

Have you ever wished that your phone system could do more than make and receive calls? A VoIP system will streamline call management workflows, improve the customer experience, and enhance collaboration. Overall, VoIP phone systems have major advantages over business phone systems that use traditional landline systems.

You know what features your current phone system has. What could a modern phone system do for you if it performed all the functions you wanted? 

Do your current customers have to hold on a silent line? It sounds like a little thing, but you’ll improve your customer service if they could enjoy some music while they wait.

Would some of your employees be able to focus on their own job more diligently if they didn’t have to stop what they’re doing and answer customer inquiries all day long? Would everything go smoother if you set up a call center as a helpdesk or to handle customer questions and problems? An automated answering system and call routing can help you get calls to the right person in short order. That’s helpful for your business and it’s appreciated by customers too.

If one of your strategic goals is to increase sales, an outbound sales call center would help you get there and track your progress along the way. 

Do you have a need for call agents to work remotely? Do you want to hire people in other areas that can’t come into your office every day? Distributed teams can work anywhere and have access to your CRM and be able to collaborate with the rest of the team members.

If these features will solve some of your business problems and the cost fits, a cloud-based phone system will fit the bill and your phone system will support your business functions as the business grows. 

Cost and Pricing Factors for a Small Business Phone System

With a small business phone system, it’s prudent to consider the upfront costs in making a switch to a modern phone system. In factoring your overall costs, you also need to consider your ongoing costs. Additionally, factor in costs that you can save by taking advantage of previously unavailable valuable features.

Traditional landline phone systems can cost plenty. You’ll incur the costs to have phone lines installed, repaired, and maintained. You can expect the cost for landlines to begin around $100 for a base system and an increase for every user. 

VoIP phone systems start as low as $19.99 per month, plus whatever the cost of your internet connection is, but you need to have that anyway. Keep in mind that you can modernize your phone system without sacrificing reliability or incurring extra costs for hardware and installation that can add up quickly. 

With traditional phone systems, long-distance rates and international call rates can rack up significantly. Because VoIP calls are transmitted over the internet, you only have to pay internet fees. You can also create international phone numbers fast if you need to. 

It’s beneficial to calculate all the costs and all the savings. Weigh them against your needs and what a robust set of features will allow you to do as you move forward. By far, a modern phone system gives you the best in features and capability for less cost.

Phone System Features That Are Most Useful for Small Businesses

Any phone system that you choose will allow you to make and receive calls. However, you should look for a solution that can do more than just make calls. A VoIP powered phone system is just that solution that allows you to do more.

Customer service plays a heavier role in business operations than ever before and that’s especially true for small businesses. 

Popular Cloud-Phone Features

Here’s a listing of some of the more popular features that small businesses benefit from the most:

Interactive voice response (IVR)IVR is an enhanced feature of an auto attendant. With IVR your phone system can route calls to the appropriate person or department automatically.

Analytics – Use your dashboard to view data about call activity, productivity, and customer service.

Skill-based routing – Routes calls to the right person or department based on their skills. For example, bank phone systems may route calls to lending departments, customer accounts, general customer service.

Call recording – Automates a message to let customers know the call is being recorded. You can use the recording for training, to evaluate customer service, or any other purpose. 

CTI – This term means computer telephony interface and it connects your phone’s functions to your computer. You can use it to create a virtual call center in seconds.

Desktop notifications – Enables windows to pop up when you get calls so customer information is right at your fingertips.

Power dialer – A power dialer automatically dials numbers from a list. You could save hours of time not having to manually dial each number.

CRM and helpdesk software integrations – Connects your CRM, helpdesk, or other business software applications with your phone system. 

Call transferring and warm transfers – Many basic phone systems don’t let you transfer an inbound or outbound call to your teammates. Plus warm transfers allows you to speak briefly with a colleague before transferring a call.  

Call whispering and real-time coachingCall whispering and other coaching features let you coach call agents in real-time without the customer hearing your tips and suggestions.  

Evaluating Your Business Phone System

Armed with more knowledge, here are seven ways to evaluate business phone systems. Aircall’s cloud-based phone system ranks high in all of them.

  • Reliability – Evaluate the cost of the possibility of downtime.
  • Scalability – Evaluate each system’s ability to scale up or down as your business needs change.
  • Usability – Evaluate if the system is intuitive and easy for call agents to use.
  • Functionality – Evaluate if the phone system can perform all the functions you need it to including call centers, inbound calls, and outbound calls.
  • Call volume – Determine if the system can handle the anticipated call volume.
  • Cost – Figure costs for hardware, software, and ongoing costs.

Most small businesses find that the benefits of a cloud-based phone system far surpass what their current phone system offers and with the capability for software integrations, the possibilities are limitless.

The phone system for modern business