Best Business Phone Systems and Services
BY: RICHARD BERTCH ON WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 05, 2018
You may be wondering if your startup business really needs to worry about the quality of your phone system. After all, startups and fledgling businesses are usually working with a limited budget, so investments in tools and equipment need to be made wisely.
So, do you really need the best business phone service? Easy answer – Yes.
Let’s get some of the generally incorrect notions out of the way first. No one calls businesses anymore. Consumers prefer email or online chat. Millennials refuse to talk on the phone. The list of supposed facts against business phone use goes on and on. But statistically, none of these statements are true.
Here’s a real statistic for you: 61% of consumers want to communicate with businesses by phone. 61% - that’s more than half of all consumers, regardless of demographic. Sure, your customers want other ways to contact you as well, like email or chat, but they must be able to reach you by phone. That’s why it’s important to choose the best business phone service.
Shopping for the Best Business Phone System
Now that you know how important phones are for your startup, you can set out to find the best business phone system. There are a lot of things to consider, but there’s no need to feel overwhelmed. We’ve done some of the heavy lifting for you.
Begin by thinking about what’s important in a phone system.
·Reliability and Call Quality
There’s plenty of information out there about different phone technology. But let’s cut to the chase – You need a VoIP system. If you’re not familiar with VoIP, here’s a quick explanation.
Voice over IP, usually known simply as “VoIP” is a phone technology that uses the internet to transmit communications. This works in contrast to the standard, old-school phone technology that uses analog lines.
VoIP service is far superior to analog service for many reasons, not least of which is flexibility and long-term price. A VoIP system will be the best business phone service for your startup. We’ll explain more later in this article.
Reliability and Call Quality
One of these most important things to consider when selecting a phone service is its reliability. After all, you can’t serve your customers if your phones aren’t working or if the call quality is poor.
These days, VoIP systems offer many bells and whistles. Take a close look at your business model and decide which features will help you best serve your customers.
For better or worse, consumers review pretty much everything these days. And there are plenty of reviews available for business phone services. Research what users say about the phone systems you’re considering.
In a perfect world, we’d never need tech support. But that’s usually not the case. From setup and installation to ongoing support needs, a great phone service provider should provide top notch support.
With your list of criteria in hand, you can narrow down the list of possible service providers. As with most technology, there are some big-name players in the game. We’ve narrowed things down a bit for you by comparing some of the most popular business phone service providers.
Each of these providers offer VoIP technology. We briefly mentioned the benefits of VoIP service earlier, but let’s get into the real reasons VoIP is the best business phone system option for startups.
Your startup’s needs will change as you grow. VoIP systems have an incredible amount of flexibility to add or remove features as needed. Typically, these changes can be handled by your tech team with a simple request to the service provider. Service calls, additional equipment, or major updates are usually not needed when adding or removing features.
As a startup, you need to keep an eye on your wallet more than an established business. VoIP service may require a nominal initial investment, but ongoing fees are much lower than traditional phone service. VoIP maintenance fees are also far less than traditional phones.
VoIP systems are famously easy to scale. That’ll be important to you as a startup as you work to grow your business rapidly. As you grow, a VoIP system can be scaled to support as many users as needed. And if you need to scale back, no problem. As quickly as users can be added, they can be removed. Scaling a VoIP system can be handled by your tech team and normally doesn’t even require involvement from the service provider.
If your business model includes offsite team members, your best (and really your only) option is VoIP. The technology allows your workers to handle their business anywhere there’s an internet connection. If you don’t have offsite team members now but are considering it in the future, establishing your VoIP system now will make the transition a breeze.
Narrowing Down Your Options
By now you’ve probably decided VoIP is the way to go. And we’ve listed the important factors you should consider when choosing a provider. So, let’s take a look at some of the top contenders.
Nextiva has been providing VoIP service since 2006. In addition to their advance VoIP technology, the real jewel in Nextiva’s crown is their commitment to providing amazing service.
Nextiva is a front-runner in the VoIP technology field. With a feature-rich system that’s fully cloud-based, they offer a variety of services and packages aimed specifically at startups and small to mid-sized businesses. Nextiva promises easy installation and scalability with any of their systems.
In comparison to Nextiva, that’s ideal for businesses of all sizes, Grasshopper caters to SMBs and freelancers. Since their focus is with microbusinesses, you can install your line without any complex wiring or setup.
Grasshopper has been providing phone services since 2003 and their systems have evolved to allow for flexible third-party app integration.
As a company, 8x8 has been around since 1987, though they moved into the VoIP space around 2002. Since then, they’ve made many contributions to cloud technology.
Their service is geared to businesses of any size who are looking to establish a cloud-based communications system.
Vonage began its business in 2001 by providing VoIP phone service to residential customers. Since then, they’ve expanded their service to include business phone systems.
As the largest company on our comparison list, Vonage boasts a big international client list of residential customers and business customer alike.
Reliability and Call Quality
As we begin to compare service providers, let’s take a closer look at what “reliability and call quality” really means for a phone system.
The functionality of a phone system and the quality of calls is measured by calculating uptime. Uptime is the period of time in which a system, in this case a VoIP, is working properly with no degradation of service.
As a rule, the best business phone systems should maintain 99.9% uptime or more.
We searched for uptime statistics for Nextiva, Grasshopper, 8x8, and Vonage. We found Nextiva was the most transparent with their uptime monitoring, offering a link to real-time, 24/7 status, all with no login required. The other providers on our list either didn’t provide easy access to their uptime monitoring or required a login.
For those providers who didn’t offer access to their uptime stats, we visited downdetector.com for more information. In an easy to understand format, Down Detector revealed the recent uptime vs. downtime for our four competing providers.
After review of measurements for Nextiva, Grasshopper, 8x8, and Vonage, we found each provider offered a high level of uptime. However, Nextiva has the best historical percentage of reliability among these providers, with uptime at or greater than 99.9%. In addition, Nextiva’s easy-to-access monitoring site was the most user friendly.
As we continue to compare these four providers, we considered the phone features most important for a startup. When you think about your own business, take the time to think not only about the features you need now, but also what might need down the road. Here are some of the features we were on the lookout for.
Busy Lamp Field
Pretty basic, but very useful. A busy lamp field is simply an indication on your phone or computer screen telling you when another party’s line is in use. Why do you care about someone else being on the phone? You probably don’t, but your customer will. When you need to transfer an important call to someone, it’s helpful to know if they’re available or not. If you transfer a call to someone who is already on their line, your customer will have to wait on hold or – worse yet – get dumped in voicemail.
Call parking works a bit differently than simply transferring someone to hold. With call parking, the call is transferred to a holding area where it can then be retrieved by dialing the park extension. This means anyone with the park extension can grab the call. The call parking feature is helpful when you transfer a call and then you (or someone else) needs to retrieve it.
While conference calling is certainly not a new concept, VoIP technology makes them easier than ever. Rather than relying on a third-party application to set up and conduct conference calls, most VoIP systems have this capability built in.
N-way calling is the modern equivalent of 3-way calling. The N-way calling features allow you to add additional people to your call, but you’re not just limited to three people. This shouldn’t be confused with a conference call, which involves people all dialing into the same number to join. With n-way calling, you can add or remove people from the call as needed, without them dialing into a central number.
If your startup has a call center, you need call queuing. This feature allows you to prioritize your call center representatives by skill level, first available, or other criteria. Setting up call queues means your customers’ calls are routed to the appropriate person to ensure good service.
Auto-attendants are your virtual receptionists. They help callers reach the correct department or representative based on the caller’s input. A well-customized auto-attendant lends a sense of professionalism to your startup.
Voicemail to Email
This feature is exclusive to VoIP systems. The voicemail to email feature works just how the name suggests. Voicemail messages are converted to audio files and sent directly to the user’s email. This feature is particularly helpful for members of your team who are always on the go and spend a lot of time in the email inbox.
These features are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to VoIP phone service. We compared the lists of available features among Nextiva, Grasshopper, 8x8, and Vonage and found most of the standard features were available with each provider.
However, in digging a little deeper, we learned Nextiva offered all the standard features on our list as well as more than 50 other premium features. While other providers offered some additional features, none could match Nextiva’s selection.
When it comes to available features in a VoIP provider, Nextiva tops our list.
There’s no shortage of customer reviews available for VoIP service providers. They’re everywhere, on a myriad of different websites. But when checking reviews, it’s important to rely on sources you trust. That’s why we checked VoIP provider reviews on a select number of trustworthy sites, including the Better Business Bureau, a trusted consumer protection organization, GetVoIP.com, an expert VoIP review and ranking site, and VoIPreview.org, another reliable VoIP information site.
Here’s a summary of what we found.
Better Business Bureau
Nextiva has an A+ rating from the BBB, with an overall 4 + star rating (out of a possible 5 stars.) This is an independent rating based on the BBB’s stringent scoring requirements.
Customer feedback for Nextiva is overwhelmingly positive on the BBB site. Among the positive reviewes, customers frequently mention Nextiva’s excellent support, the speed at which they resolve issues, and their competitive pricing.
Nextiva is often ranked as number one on GetVoIP.com’s list of the best VoIP providers. Occasionally, its ranking slips to number two by narrow margins.
GetVoIP.com uses an extensive list of criteria to rank phone providers, and Nextiva tops the list in almost every category. They received top marks in customer support, easy-to-use tools, and quick issue resolution.
Nextiva boasts an impressive 4.1-stars (of a possible 5) on VoIPreview.org’s user ratings chart.
Again, as with the BBB and GetVoIP.com reviews, Nextiva’s excellent customer support and responsiveness lends to its high marks. Users also commented on Nextiva’s robust customer experience tools, like analytics and surveys.
Better Business Bureau
The BBB lists Grasshopper with a 3-star customer rating, which is a bit concerning.
In review of Grasshopper’s customer feedback, we found a mix of positive and negative reviews, with negative reviews being the most prevalent. Complaints focused on three major areas: technical support, billing issues, and customer service. This is really a red flag because, above all else, customer support is extremely important.
While Grasshopper is listed on GetVoIP.com with a 3.9-star rating, they only have one review on record.
Again, while VoIPreview.org lists Grasshopper, they are yet to accumulate any reviews or customer feedback here.
Better Business Bureau
8x8 is listed with a 3-star rating with the BBB, though there’s a relatively low number of reviews. And in fact, all those reviews are negative in nature.
Feedback included comments about poor technology, difficulty with billing and cancelations, and lack of customer support. Again, the mention poor customer support is very concerning.
Coming in a bit lower on GetVoIP.com’s list at number five, 8x8’s struggles in the area of equipment fees and customer support.
8x8’s user ranking on VoIPreview.org is 4.5-stars, with frequent comments about the reliability of their technology.
However, several negative comments stick out to us. These are largely concerning poor overall customer support and difficulty resolving issues.
Better Business Bureau
Vonage has received a fair amount of negative feedback via the Better Business Bureau. Currently they’re ranked with only 1-star.
Given Vonage’s size, there’s plenty of feedback to review. And as we’ve seen with other providers, customers expressed their disappointment with Vonage’s customer care team, lack of support, and billing practices.
Vonage hovers between the rank of number two and number one on GetVoIP.com’s list of best VoIP providers, following Nextiva.
Part of Vonage’s high rating is due to their longevity in the VoIP field. As they’re a large and well established, Vonage has the infrastructure to sustain their service, which is a comfort for many of their customers.
Vonage comes in with 5-stars on VoIPreview.org’s user ranking. However, it’s important to note this includes both residential and business customers.
Among the business customer reviews, we found several comments about Vonage’s lack of customer support. Also concerning were reviews surrounding difficult, unclear, and potentially dishonest billing practices.
It’s been mentioned several times throughout this article – Customer support is extremely important in a VoIP service provider. When you’re searching for the best business phone system for your startup, you must take this into consideration.
What sort of support should you expect? Here’s a quick baseline.
-Ease of contact – Your provider should be available to you when you need them, whether for simple questions or major problems like system outages.
-A point of contact – A great provider will assign a person or team of people to guide you through your install and going use of your VoIP system.
-Assistance in choosing your services – Your VoIP system should work for you, and your service provider should ensure you’ve selected the best service package and equipment, without overselling you.
-A deployment agenda – Your VoIP provider should present a clear project plan for installation and ongoing updates.
-Testing – Thorough user testing and backend testing should be provided as part of any VoIP deployment.
-Training – A complete training should be offered by your VoIP provider.
These are only the basic support functions you should expect from a VoIP provider. If your provider can’t offer all this support and more, you may want to reconsider.
We took at look at the customer support claims made by each of our four VoIP providers. Here’s what we found.
Nextiva addresses customer support more than any of our other providers. Their commitment to providing amazing service is clearly defined on their website. It’s clear they practice what they preach, given the overwhelming number of positive customer reviews across the internet.
Nextiva’s excellent customer support is recognized by their peers in the industry, as well. They’ve been awarded numerous customer support awards over the years. Most recently, Nextiva received the 2018 Hosted VoIP Excellence Award.
In addition to the award-winning staff support, Nextiva’s website also contains a large knowledge base to allow users to browse through help topics.
We found no particular mention of customer support or a customer care commitment on Grasshopper’s website. Furthermore, there are no mentions of any customer care awards or accolades.
8x8’s site also makes no specific reference to their level of customer support. Support phone numbers and other contact details are prevalent, however, so customers seemingly have easy access to help.
8x8 also provides a self-serve knowledge base for customers.
Like Nextiva, Vonage makes its pledge to customer care known right there on their website. What they call “orange glove service” (a play on white glove service) is Vonage’s promise to provide high-level service to each and every customer.
Although Vonage has its share of high rankings and positive reviews, we’re forced to keep their negative customer reviews in mind, as well.
By now we’ve taken a look at each of our VoIP service providers – Nextiva, Grasshopper, 8x8, and Vonage. We’ve examined the reliability of their service, available features, user reviews, and customer support. And in our research, we found a clear front-runner for all around best phone system for startups.
Nextiva really blew away the competition when it came to customer support. Their promise to provide amazing service is notable, but the hundreds (maybe thousands) of positive customer reviews backing up their claim is what really impressed us.
Suffering little to no downtime, Nextiva also led the pack in reliability. Their cloud-based technology is supported with redundancy plans, so customers are never left without service.
While many of the service providers on our list have agents and reps around the world, Nextiva boasts a 100% in-house team. Their customer care and technical support agents are all on-shore, fully trained, and excited to give outstanding service.
Nextiva offers a various service packages with a ton of useful add-ons. Even better, customers can try Nextiva out absolutely free for 30-days. We think this says a lot about their confidence and reliability.
Check out Nextiva’s service when shopping for the best phone system. You won’t be disappointed.