Customers are the lifeline of your small business. Without a phone system, you’re not easy to reach. For small and mid-sized business (SMB) owners, it’s not “just phones.” When deciding on a new phone system, you are shopping for a primary conduit for customer relationships, communication, and the ability to earn revenue.
Regardless of what industry you’re in, most SMB owners have a few of the same priorities. Typically, these include:
- Growing your business: Expanding your customer base and revenue.
- Becoming more efficient: Increasing productivity and customer satisfaction with better technology and processes.
- Removing risk: Eliminating risks associated with business operations, which can include disaster recovery planning, information security, and other “what-ifs.”.
Chances are, you know that analog telephones are on their way out because they’re often costly and becoming less and less available. You’re also probably aware that virtual phone systems can deliver potential cost savings, productivity gains, and efficiency. However, where do you start searching?
Is a bare-bones solution like Vonage the right choice for your small and growing business? Or is it worth it to pay a bit more? While there isn’t one “right” solution for every organization, evaluating your options from the perspective of must-have features and benefits is important. In this blog post, we’ll cover the seven most important criteria of virtual phone systems for SMB so you can make the wisest choice.
What is a Virtual Phone System?
A virtual phone system is delivery of private branch exchange (PBX) features without on premise hardware. Generally, this means that your business can unlock all of the benefits of voice-over-IP (VoIP) telephony without having to go through the expense of hosting on-premises VoIP yourselves. This is enabled through cloud technology and a hosted services vendor.
Remember this important point: vendor definitions of “virtual phone” systems can vary.
For some organizations, virtual phones mean mobile-only. They enable VoIP calling via an application on your employee mobile devices but do not support the use of handsets in office. Vendor offerings of other business communication services and add-on features can also vary.
Ultimately, one vendor’s definition of “virtual phone systems” might not be the same as their competitor. Your requirements for virtual telephony could also be vastly different than someone else’s. This variation is part of the reason it’s important to approach this topic from the perspective of what’s important, and what you might NOT need.
Virtual Phone System Pricing
Business phone systems have a variety of price points and structures. The hosting method – on-premises or cloud – is the determining factor in how your cost will be structured. The costs of on-premises system are mostly one-time, upfront expenses, while cloud-hosted phone systems costs revolve around monthly fees.
The prices for each type of system vary based on the provider, how many users you have and how many features you want access to. Cloud-based phone systems typically cost between $10 and $75 per user, per month. Since the system is housed in the cloud, there usually aren’t any large installation or set up costs.
On-premises systems cost anywhere from a few hundred to several thousand dollars per user. In addition, since all associated equipment is housed within your business, there are large installation and set-up charges. At a minimum, you can expect to pay a few thousand dollars for this.
There are also some smaller monthly fees with on-premises phone system. To connect to a dial tone, on-premises system users have to pay for SIP trunking or PRI circuits.
The other major expense with either system is for IP phones. Phones typically cost anywhere between $50 and $400 each. If you have a cloud system, some providers will rent you phones for as little as $5 each per month.
Virtual Phone System Methodology
To determine the best business phone systems, we started by looking at a comprehensive list of more than 70 phone system providers. To narrow that list down, we separated all the vendors that had a good online reputation, such as those services that were consistently ranked highly by other websites.
We also, at periodic intervals, queried business owners to see which services they use. If we got multiple business owners raving about the vendor they use, they were also added to the final list of contenders.
Finally, we went through and visited each company’s website. If a company stood out to us, we added them to the final list. We also eliminated most companies that only served businesses in their local region.
We ultimately settled narrowed down our pool to: 8×8, Avaya, Booth, Cisco, Dialpad, Digium, ESI, EVoice, FreedomVoice, Grasshopper, Jive, Mitel, Nextiva, Linkedphone, OnSip, Ooma Office, Phone.com, RingByName, RingCentral, and Vonage.
Next, we researched each provider by investigating its services, watching tutorials and how-to videos, and reading user comments. We also contacted each company’s customer service department and posed as business owners to gauge the type of support each provider offers its users. In all, we analyzed each system based on the following factors:
- Deployment options
- Level of service
- Customer service
- Calling features
- Collaboration tools
- Mobility options
- Better Business Bureau accreditation, ratings and complaints