Small Business IP Phone Services: A Guide To Choosing The Right System For Your Business

Up until the ’90s, phone systems were very boring. They simply weren’t anything you ever had a conversation about. So much has changed since then, and you’ll notice how much enthusiasm is expressed now by people who have the know-how on telecommunications. Phones have never failed to maintain their title as the most monumental devices, even in the 21st century. But choosing a telephone service for your business can be confusing. Here’s I’ll explain what IP phone services are, how they differ from one another and which might work best for your business.

With internet service providers handing out subscription packages like candy, what was traditionally run on four wires (simple telephone systems) is now running on eight (telephone IP systems). Those four extra wires in your Ethernet cable make a world of difference in a new era of telephone communications. Let’s talk a little bit about them.

 

There Are Two Types of IP-Based Phone Services

In principle, you have a choice between two different types of services: straightforward voice over IP (VoIP) and a private branch exchange (PBX). The latter is often based on VoIP, and consequentially may be called IP PBX. Both of them may operate on the internet, but non-IP PBX systems use standard phone lines.

The most straightforward type of line you may choose is a simple VoIP service. These services offer a single line that lets you call other phones or receive calls. It’s otherwise known as a soft phone. It works just like a regular phone at home, and often times these VoIP services are simply regular phone lines moved into the internet by using special protocols.

The other type of service you’ll encounter is a private branch exchange, or PBX. These services provide multiple lines within your businesses branching from one phone number (hence the term “branch”). This type of telephone exchange is similar to the exchanges used by large phone companies to route calls between different subscribers, except that you’re running a miniature line within your premises. Each line has its own extension. You may be familiar with these already if you’ve ever tried to reach someone directly within a large company.

The Costs and Benefits

This is probably the moment you’ve been waiting for. As you’ve been reading this, you surely have been asking yourself, “All these things look fine, but how much service do I get for each dollar I spend?” I’m sure you already know that this is a very complicated question to answer. There’s no magic formula for this kind of question, but you can certainly make the decision on your own with a little information.

First of all, let’s talk about simple VoIP services:

  • They’re usually relatively cheap.
  • Some of them have very innovative features such as call forwarding to particular numbers that can actually help you emulate a PBX at a very low cost (remember this, since I’ll mention a service later that can do this).
  • Although VoIP may be more affordable than its big brothers (UC and PBX), you find yourself missing out on tons of innovative advantages that could give you the competitive edge you need to gain customer trust.

That said, let’s look at a few examples of simple VoIP services:

  • Vonage - If you’re looking for a little VoIP magic without all the fuzziness of a complex phone system, Vonage offers a solution that may warm your heart. They advertise a $9.99/month plan but this is only for the first three months (if you agree to sign up for a one-year obligation). Your subscription will cost $26.99 per line per month after that. If you choose “Vonage World,” you’ll also be able to call landlines in 60 different countries and mobiles in 10 for this price. As far as VoIP services go, this one really fits the bill for businesses with international customers. It’s cheap, it’s sleek, and it’s simple to integrate into your already-existing internet connection.
  • TelzioIt used to be known as IVR Buddy, but has since changed its name to sound cooler. And that’s not without merit, because this one’s a very cool service! Telzio lives by its logo: Make your small business sound big. It does this by using a flowchart system where you can set up a tech-support-type environment where customers dial numbers on their phones to access different parts of a menu. You can see the flowchart in action for yourself with their demo (the link is on the top of their page). As you construct the menu, you can configure interactions that guide your customer through the process of finding their way to help. You can also configure certain options in the menu to forward the call to a phone number. This way, you can have a mobile support team available during working hours. This system is yours for $9.99 per number.

Now that you’ve had a taste of the VoIP market, let’s introduce PBX:

  • Businesses with PBX systems have a single phone number for customers, which leads to much less confusion.
  • Cloud-based “virtual” PBX systems are much more lightweight and don’t require the hassle that previous systems needed to integrate. This eliminates the stigma that made PBX the boogeyman of telecommunications.
  • A good PBX will give you a certain degree of flexibility. They also operate on current hardware, making them a breeze to work with.
  • Sometimes, they can be a bit expensive for the smallest of businesses, and some of their features are unnecessary to these establishments, making services like Telzio more attractive.
Now, let’s have a look at a few of these services:
  • RingCentral Cloud PBXRingCentral offers many products, but among them is a highly-sophisticated PBX system at small business prices. They offer you a menu system with an automatic receptionist, extension management, SMS, and access via tablets and smartphones. Using RingCentral, you’ll give an outward impression of utmost professionalism that builds the kind of rapport you want from your customers. The  toll-free (800) number included in this PBX shows you really mean business and are willing to go at great lengths to establish a line of communication with your customer. That said, their smallest plan starts at $24.99 per month per user and offers you 1000 toll-free minutes with unlimited fax, SMS, and conferencing.
  • Virtual PBX - What if you had a PBX system that ran like a VoIP service, and offered you the same advantages that any PBX provide would? Virtual PBX does just this. It gives you the equivalent of a virtual contact center that operates on the cloud. You also get voicemail, fax, virtual extensions, custom greetings, an automatic receptionist, day/night modes, a music jukebox, a toll-free number, call blocking, and call screening. Like Telzio, Virtual PBX can route calls to any kind of phone, which allows for a mobile workforce to operate efficiently. For more than one line, its plans start at $23.99 per month per line. The price goes down to $20.99/month/line if you add 20 or more lines.

Decisions, Decisions

No one said it was going to be a piece of cake to choose between services. But at least you now know the kinds of services you can use and how each one runs miles to serve your business. There’s no universally “correct” choice here. There’s only what is right for your business and, most importantly, for your customers.

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About Miguel Leiva-Gomez

Miguel Leiva-Gomez is the owner of The Tech Guy, a blog that presents futuristic and current news about technology with a light touch of humor, catering to the average consumer and prospective investor. Miguel has been working with computers and gadgets for more than a decade, working together with people to help them solve their problems and breaking down complex concepts into simple bite-sized pieces that the average Joe can chew.