Businesswoman talking over the phone in a modern office.
It's worth the time and effort to research the best options for your business's phone system. — Getty Images/Morsa Images

Choosing a business phone system is challenging because dozens of options exist for every price point. Each service is slightly different, so it’s critical to understand your precise business needs. After all, you don’t want to go through the hassle and expense of deploying new software and onboarding only to switch platforms months later.

If you’re still considering landline versus Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) or on-premises versus hosted private branch exchange (PBX), check out our starter’s guide to various business phone system technologies, terms, and equipment. Otherwise, follow the steps below to find the best business phone system for your company.

Determine your business phone system use cases

Think about the types of people who will use your business phone system today and over the next few years. You may have on-site staff who answer departmental phone lines or a call center with agents who share stations (hot desking).

Your sales team may work primarily from mobile phones, whereas remote workers may use several devices but require advanced collaboration tools, like file-sharing. In addition, assistants may need to answer calls on behalf of executives.

[Read more: 5 Decision-Making Techniques That Will Help You Run a Better Business]

Consider the factors affecting the price and your provider options

Many business phone systems are unified communications (UC) platforms. These tools support several forms of communication from a single interface and may include chat messaging, video conferencing, and electronic faxing. However, not all providers let you mix and match subscriptions or pick a vanity phone number.

At the outset of your search, you’ll want to nail down the basic facts of what you need from a business phone system, such as:

  • Call volume: Most business phone services allow unlimited extensions and incoming calls. High outbound call volumes require unlimited calling plans. Metered subscriptions cost less, but fewer providers offer them.
  • Number of users: How many team members will use the service simultaneously? Most cloud-hosted phone systems let one employee handle multiple calls or use several devices for one per-user fee. Some offer shared lines for a flat fee.
  • Business phone numbers: Do you need a local number, or do you prefer to pick your own digits (a vanity number)? Do you want a toll-free number? Some VoIP providers charge extra, whereas others include a toll-free number and minutes in your service plan.
  • International calling: Do you make frequent international calls or plan to expand your market globally? If so, consider a phone vendor that offers unlimited international calling.
  • Phone equipment: Will employees use cell phones and computers or desk phones? Do you need to purchase or lease internet protocol phones, headsets, or analog telephone adapters ? If so, how many do you require?

It’s important to consider your total cost of ownership.

Decide which features are essential to your team

VoIP providers typically charge a per-user fee and use a tiered subscription model, with higher-priced plans offering more features. Most offer dozens of phone features on base plans, like call forwarding, softphone apps, and auto attendants. However, be aware that functionality differs among VoIP phone systems.

Here are a few VoIP features that vary by provider and plan:

  • Text messaging: Due to new anti-spam regulations, some VoIP providers limit the number of text messages users can send monthly. Some VoIP phone services may offer bundled plans for text message marketing. Not all phone solutions support group or international text messaging.
  • Video conferencing: Consider the average length of video calls, number of participants, and types of desired features. Make a note of advanced tools needed, such as presentation modes or breakout rooms.
  • Artificial intelligence (AI) tools: Some business phone systems use AI to generate video and voice transcriptions, meeting highlights, and tasks. AI technologies can deliver actionable insights from conversations.
  • Integrations: At a minimum, you want to connect your Apple, Google, or Microsoft calendars. However, customer relationship management (CRM) and help desk integrations can improve productivity and client experiences.

Think about VoIP costs: one-time and ongoing

Most business phone vendors charge a per-user rate and offer discounts for annual prepayment or contracts for 12 months or longer. Some provide volume discounts or let you mix and match subscriptions. But it’s important to consider your total cost of ownership. The cheapest business phone system may cost more in the long run if it’s hard to use, doesn’t offer customer support, or has a poor self-service center.

Look at the following factors when comparing VoIP prices:

  • Time required for implementation and deployment.
  • Ease of use for administrators and employees.
  • Availability of high-quality guides (videos, GIFs, and screenshots).
  • Customer service hours and channels.
  • Anticipated productivity or efficiency improvements.
  • Value of increasing customer satisfaction.

CO— aims to bring you inspiration from leading respected experts. However, before making any business decision, you should consult a professional who can advise you based on your individual situation.

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