The 101 of Modern Business Phone Systems

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With the world of business communication in constant flux, one element has retained its central importance: Business telephony.

Amidst social media, live chat and email, voice and video calls have remained an essential way to communicate with team members, business partners, and customers. Nothing has made this clearer than the recent coronavirus pandemic.

Even before COVID-19 struck, statistics showed that calling is still the first choice of contacting businesses for 61% of US customers. Moreover, listing contact phone numbers for customer service on websites increases their trust in businesses.

Since the abrupt shift to work online in the wake of coronavirus lockdowns, conference calls have replaced the majority of personal business interactions. And considering the bleak pandemic outlook, as well as the fact that as many as 77% of company execs are planning to keep remote work, this situation is likely to last.

Consequently, the choice of a reliable, top-grade business phone service to cover your calling needs is more important than ever.

But amongst the different technical choices, and the rich feature sets that various offers include, it is hard to find a basis for comparison, make sense of technical details, and decide what is right for your business.

Modern business phone systems
Image source: depositphotos.com

We’ve got you covered. Here is a concise summary of the basic types of modern business phone systems that are currently available, as well as some of the most important features to watch out for to maximize your communication efficiency.

Types of Business Phone Systems

Before you go looking for offers or comparing feature sets, you have to decide one of the types of phone systems fits the needs of your business.

Today, there are three major kinds of business phone services that are still current. They differ in how many lines they can handle, which connections they use, which equipment they require, and how difficult they are to set up and maintain.

Key Telephone Systems (KTS)

KTS phone system

Key Telephone Systems (KTS) are the most basic and traditional types of business phone services still around. They mostly use the public switched telephone network (PSTN) for call connections.

In the simplest case, your business phone service consists of a single line – to you, a solo entrepreneur. As soon as your business grows and you need to add lines, you can install a Key System Unit (KSU). At their simplest, they allow you to have multiple extensions to a phone line, and to transfer calls at the push of the corresponding button.

KTS are fairly inflexible and not portable – you can’t just set them up in a home office real quick. But they are easy to install and handle and quite capable of meeting the needs of businesses operating in the realm of up to 40 extensions – and are looking to stay there.

Private Branch Exchange (PBX)

PBX phone system
Image source: Depositphotos

The next level in the hierarchy of business phone systems is PBX: private branch exchanges.

If you’ve worked in a larger office, you’re almost certainly familiar with these systems. This technology allows setting up a complex network of extensions in a business, handled by a central element – the PBX. This programmable device determines which extensions route to which desks, when calls are forwarded to whom, which are recorded, and what the dial-through codes are.

A PBX allows for much more automation than a KSU, and features like conference calls, greetings, and hold music are standard.

Legacy PBX setups still exist in some places. In smaller companies, they are fairly inconspicuous. In large enterprises, these are large server-like structures lurking in a maintenance area, surrounded by a spaghetti web of cables, and nurtured (more or less) lovingly by office phone technicians.

A modern alternative is the hosted PBX, aka HPBX, aka IP PBX. In this version, the PBX itself is handled by the telephony provider. Users get to keep the advantages of having a highly configurable setup but save themselves the headache of set-up and maintenance costs. HPBX also facilitates adaptations or upgrades.

If your business is small or mid-sized, operating on a tight IT budget and likely to maintain its current size and location, PBX systems might be the most straightforward solution for you. For stable situations, PBX systems can be incredibly reliable and easy to handle.

Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP)

VoIP phone system
Image source: Depositphotos

Finally, there is Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) telephony. As its name suggests, this technology allows you to make calls over the internet rather than traditional phone lines.

VoIP provides by far the most dynamic and flexible solution for modern business telephony.

While self-hosting is an option, most modern VoIP services are offered by cloud providers. They ensure reliable connections with HD voice and video quality.

Part of the flexibility of VoIP is that it is entirely location-independent, as long as an internet connection is available. With the same business number, you can take calls on your smartphone, tablet, computer, or on VoIP-enabled desk phones. Traditional desk phones can be connected through adapters or upgraded.

Another advantage that VoIP offers is its flexible maintenance once the system is set up. With most providers, users can access online admin accounts to add lines, change extensions, or adjust the routing of calls, among other things.

Finally, VoIP also enables a massive number of additional features that can boost communication efficiency. Depending on the provider, functionalities such as automated voicemail-to-email transcription, interactive voice response, and analytics powered by artificial intelligence are available.

However, there are some downsides to VoIP phone systems as well. For one thing, they require a stable internet connection. While that is becoming less and less of an issue, it may still pose a problem for businesses in areas where coverage is shaky. The second point of concern may be the costs of transitioning from a legacy PBX to VoIP, especially for larger businesses that have already invested considerably in the existing infrastructure.

Essential Features of Modern Business Phone Systems

Once you’ve picked a basic technology you want to go with, you can root through provider offers and see which features they offer to help you handle calls smoothly and increase your productivity.

On the most basic level, there is the question of how many lines you can have with different offers, what the options for call transfer and forwarding are, and how flexibly you can manage them.

Slightly fancier are options for call optimization, such as greeting messages and hold music.  VoIP services also offer advanced technology powered by voice recognition AI available. For example, interactive voice response functionalities let your callers state their request and forward them accordingly – rather than asking them to listen to a menu of choices before they get to press a button.

Another central question is where you want your phone system to be available. On which devices? In which location? Internationally or domestically? For voice calls only or video too?

Finally, there are features that are available mostly for VoIP systems that can supercharge your business communications. These include:

  • In-depth, real-time analytics powered by machine learning
  • Omnichannel communication through voice and video calling, instant messaging, email and live chats
  • Voicemail-to-email and voicemail-to-text transcription
  • Integrations with Customer Relationship Management (CRM) systems
  • Virtual setup and administration through a web platform

Finding the Right Service for Your Business

At the end of the day, the search for the right business phone service provider to meet your needs is going to take some time and effort. However, considering the central place in business communications that telephony occupies, it is well worth the investment.

Among the rich and varied offer currently available on the market, you are sure to find a provider that offers the kind of technology you need, with the right features, good customer support, and fast response time. So that you can build on a solid basis of communication, no matter what the future of business life may hold.

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