Note: Our best phone service for business article has been fully updated. This feature was first published in October 2012.
In a world dominated by smartphones and tablets, businesses often forget to pay close attention to the phone systems they choose, thinking their mobiles will be able to cope. The reality is that just as you spend time carefully considering other key services for your business, choosing the right phones should also be an issue you explore thoroughly.
The number of phone systems that your business could use are manifold. In essence you have a range of choices including:
- Self-hosted VoIP
- Cloud-based VoIP
- Virtual Phone Service
Each one of these options has its strengths and weaknesses. To help you choose the right phone system for your business, ask yourself these questions:
- What is your current call volume and how is this likely to change?
- Do you have a fast and reliable connection to the internet to allow VoIP systems to operate efficiently?
- Does your new telecoms hardware and software have to function with existing equipment?
- What new features are you looking to add to your telecoms systems?
- Does your business work in more than one office?
- Will you spend significant quantities of time working remotely?
- Does your business already have an installed PBX system?
How much time you and your employees spend away from the office and its landline will often be the deciding factor when choosing a phone system. Landlines do offer high reliability and call quality, but they lack the flexibility that modern businesses demand.
Switching to IP telephony that uses the internet and an organisation's LAN with a virtual PBX (Private Branch Exchange) instead of a landline to send and receive calls can be a more flexible option.
However, your business needs to carefully consider whether just using IP-based phone services will deliver the quality and reliability that is needed. Often, businesses will opt to build a hybrid system that uses their existing Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN) that connects to the business' PBX system.
The ease with which virtual PBX systems can be upgraded and managed makes them a popular choice amongst businesses that expect to grow rapidly. Just answering voice calls may be the primary need for your phone system, but this is just one point of contact with customers. Businesses need to integrate call recording, videoconferencing, customer services and of course mobile workers who all need a reliable phone system.
Using the cloud has transformed many aspects of your business – hosted phone systems can also have a major impact. Sometimes known as hosted VoIP these systems deliver what is called Unified Communications, which Gartner defines as products (equipment, software and services) that "facilitate the interactive use of multiple enterprise communications methods."
This brings together all of the communications technologies your business needs into an integrated system. A good example is SIP Trunking, which uses IP VPN (Virtual Private Network) to connect to your business' IP PBX.
Many small and micro-businesses are also using virtual phone services, which offer UK landline numbers that can be diverted to your smartphone. Calls can be answered professionally if needed with London-based numbers available. These virtual receptionist services could be all your new business needs to stay connected to customers and colleagues.