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35 Essential Office Phone System Features: The 2020 Buyer’s Guide

Every business will eventually need to get a phone system to support the needs of their employees and customers.

Why? Productivity losses due to poor communication cost U.S. employers $550 billion every year, according to a report published by Gallup.

Ineffective business communication isn’t just an inconvenience; it could harm your entire company.

However, it’s tough to find the best cloud phone system for your office. Not all phone systems are created equal. Some might include hidden fees, questionable reliability, and can be quite intimidating to manage.

How do you find the best telephone system for your office?

In this guide, we cover everything a small business needs to know when it’s time to upgrade or replace their office phone system.

Types of Office Phone Systems

There are several phone systems you can pick for your office, including:

  • Legacy Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN). This term describes the traditional phone system, used since the late 1800s. The PSTN uses underground copper wires to connect phone calls. They’re also known as landlines.
  • Private Branch Exchange (PBX): Some telecom providers have PBX systems. These allow businesses to switch between various landlines. It’s typically cheaper than a PSTN because you don’t need individual lines for each employee.
  • Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP): A VoIP phone system doesn’t use wires to connect calls. Instead, calls are made by transmitting data through an internet connection. This creates a virtual phone line.

VoIP Office Phone System Advantages

Firstly, VoIP technology has lower calling costs. You’re not using cellular data or copper wires to connect to another caller—which can often be unreliable and costly. You’re using an internet connection (such as Wi-Fi) to make the call.

This has a positive impact on audio quality. Strong internet access and bandwidth make the call quality as good as (if not better) than traditional calls.

Plus, you don’t need as much hardware for VoIP technology. You simply need a device, such as an iPhone, Android, or desktop device, with internet access. You can then use VoIP apps like Nextiva to make calls.

The limited hardware also makes VoIP more customizable for businesses. You don’t need an expensive solution to make calls over the internet. You need an internet-connected device and a compatible app to get started.

Plus, the technology you start using today won’t be suitable in a few years. But VoIP is scalable. You don’t need any major changes as your business (or office team) grows.

Upgrade your phone system for less.
Do it all with a VoIP office phone system!

Office Phone System Features

1) Announcements (Greetings)

Chances are that people who call your contact center won’t be put directly through to someone on your team. They’ll be placed in a call queue.

A feature you’ll need to look out for is announcements. These are a few sentences that greet your customers and tell them they’re in the queue. They don’t need to listen to the annoying ringing sound as they wait.

The best part? The average length of a phone greeting is 15 seconds. That means your customers are entertained for an extra 15 seconds. We all know how precious those seconds are when you’re on hold.

2) Auto Attendant

You don’t have a human receptionist to answer incoming calls. How can you make sure you’re diverting customers to the right department? The answer: With an auto attendant.

You might see this is called an IVR—Interactive Voice Response.

This phone system feature greets incoming callers. It asks what they need help with, and uses their answer to point them in the right direction. For example, an auto attendant informs customers which departments to reach by pressing the corresponding key on their phone. Once callers press the number, it diverts the call to the right department.

Automated attendants are a key feature of business phone systems. You can improve satisfaction by sending callers to the people they need to talk to—without hiring a receptionist.

3) Busy Lamp Status

You don’t want to pass a customer through to your coworker if they’re unable to take their call. The busy lamp status is a phone system feature that allows you to notify coworkers if you’re on the phone.

A green light means they aren’t busy, and you can pass their call through. A red light acts as a “do not disturb” sign.

Your staff can pick their busy lamp status, or have it light automatically if they’re on another call. Receptionists won’t need to place a caller on hold while they check availability. They can simply check whether their light is green, then divert them.

4) Call Forwarding

Are you in the process of moving offices? Working remotely? Using your personal phone for business at the weekend?

With VoIP call forwarding, you can automatically divert people calling your old number to your new device. Your caller won’t even know their call is being diverted. (It’s that fast.)

You can also make calls on your new device using the VoIP number your contacts recognize. There’s no fumbling around changing contact details. If you use call forwarding, your old number will display on the caller ID.

5) Call Parking

Don’t fancy putting your customers on hold? With this feature, you can park their call.

You’ll put their call into a number-based virtual parking bay. Then, your co-workers (or yourself) can head back to the parking spot to continue the call. Callers who’ve been parked will hear hold music while they wait.

Call parking is great if you’re moving to a quiet space to take their call. But it’s also ideal if you have a large office or call center and can’t possibly remember everyone’s desk phone extension.

Or, if you’re working from home—since parked calls can be picked up remotely, too.

6) Call Logs

Calls made using VoIP pass through a phone service software, which records key details about the call. That includes the:

  • Date and time
  • Duration
  • Caller ID
  • Status (accepted or sent to voicemail)

You can use data stored in call logs to track your sales activity. For example, you might see that just 30% of calls were answered within 30 seconds. The remaining 70% were sent to voicemail. How can you aim for an answer rate towards the 100% mark?

The same concept applies to handle customer queries. You can check who handled their initial inquiry. Then, if they call for an update, you can check the call log and ask the case handler.

7) Call Queues

Do you have an overstretched customer service team? You might have more calls than you can handle. A call queue is your best friend here.

That’s because incoming callers don’t hear constant ringing noises while waiting. Instead, they’ll be placed in a call queue. An automated message will tell them how many people are ahead, and an estimated waiting time.

Anyone can set up their virtual phone system with these features and customization. It only takes a few minutes — you can change it whenever you need.

Call queues let the caller know when to expect a response. This act of keeping them in the loop could prevent them from hanging up altogether.

8) Call Recording

A handful of VoIP phone systems can record calls. The audio is saved in cloud storage and allows you to refer back to the conversation at a later date.

Cloud call recording is ideal for training purposes. You can find instances of unhappy customers, and play the recording to show recruits how to handle the situation. No fictitious stories are necessary!

It’s worth noting that some phone systems delete these recordings after a specific period. Check this duration is suitable for your business before relying on this feature.

Related: 10 Ways to Identify (and Lose) Bad Customers

9) Conference Calls

Business calls aren’t always a two-way street. You might need to include other staff in your call. In this case, a phone system that allows conference calls is crucial.

The conference call feature allows other team members to join your conversation—even if they’re not in the same office. They can be on the other side of the globe. So long as they’ve got the dial-in number, they can join.

Think of VoIP conference calling as an audio-only meeting room. You can chat with several people at the same time, using just one line. This same feature supports video conferencing, too.

10) Desk Phones

Do you need a phone on your desk? The majority of VoIP providers offer this hardware as part of the setup package. The desk phone allows you to make, answer, and divert calls from your desk.

But unlike traditional desk phones, VoIP-enabled devices don’t need to be hardwired into a cellular connection. Calls are made using the internet. So, you can install a desk phone in your office without needing old-fashioned copper wires.

11) Direct Inward Dialing (DID)

Direct Inward Dialing is a phone system feature that helps businesses handle their staff network.

You can give each employee a personal contact number without purchasing a physical phone line for each. This saves time for installation and has cost benefits, too.

Let’s put that into practice and say you’ve got 50 members of staff. With DID, you don’t need to purchase 50 individual phone lines. You can use the feature to buy a handful of lines and divert calls to a co-worker by entering their personal ID number.

Incoming callers won’t have any delay when using DID. Their call is passed seamlessly to the right person.

12) Find Me/Follow Me

You probably don’t sit at your desk all day. You’ve got meetings to attend and co-workers’ desks to visit. How can you still be available when moving around? The Find Me/Follow Me feature is the answer.

This phone system feature is similar to call forwarding. However, you can automatically divert incoming calls from your desk phone to another using find me/follow me.

For example, let’s say your extension number is 502. You can use a co-worker’s desk phone to:

  1. Dial the 502 extension number
  2. Enter the code for Find Me/Follow Me along with your password
  3. Answer calls from your co-worker’s desk phone

13) HD Voice

Some businesses fear that VoIP calls won’t be as high quality as traditional calls. With this phone system feature, that’s not true. HD voice delivers twice the sound as cellular calls.

Phone systems that offer the HD Voice feature to improve the conversations you can have with customers. There’s no need to say, “Could you repeat that?” Instead, your HD phone line will make it sound like you’re in the same room as your caller.

This crystal-clear audio also makes transcription a breeze. You can record the call, upload the file to a transcription service, and have a written copy of your conversation.

14) Hold Music

“Hello, are you still there?” The silence or mute button on a call can be a concern for callers. The same applies if you’re placing callers on hold. You don’t want them to think you dropped their call and hang up prematurely.

With hold music, they’ll have something to listen to as they wait. You can upload an audio clip to your VoIP software to create custom hold music. This audio will be played to your callers once you put their call on hold.

15) Internal/External Call Transfer

Do you need to transfer your call to another line? With this feature, you can divert the caller to an internal or external line.

The costs for call transfers depend on who you’re directing the call to. An external call transfer to another device, such as a cell phone, using VoIP is usually free. But if you’re sending the caller to a non-VoIP device, standard rates may apply.

Check these rates before choosing your VoIP phone system.

16) International Calling

You might need to do business overseas. With this feature, you can make international calls from your VoIP device—no matter where the receiver is located.

But what about your business phone bill? If you’re making an international call from the U.S., you won’t need to pay extra for long-distance calls. The same applies to calls made from abroad back home. Instead, you use data from your device’s monthly allowance.

This makes VoIP technology a great option if you do business across several countries.

17) Instant Messaging

Some phone systems have supporting mobile and desktop apps. These applications can support instant messaging (IM).

They’re similar to SMS messages in the way you can type a message and send it instantly. However, you don’t need a cellular connection to send instant messages. Business instant messages increase productivity so your employees can answer questions instantly, instead of waiting hours, or even days for an email response.

You should look at whether your system supports IM if you work in customer support, sales, or management. By offering this service, you can communicate using the same communications platform, instead of a mess of several apps.

18) IP PBX

An IP Private Branch Exchange is a feature that connects calls from VoIP to local lines. This helps your team accept incoming calls made from landlines.

The IP PBX system uses the few phone lines you’ve got in your phone structure. It’s the feature that tells callers they’re “being connected now.”

The device taking the call can transfer the connection to others using extensions. This means your customers can call one number and speak to anyone in your office. The IP PBX then transfers its call to a chosen VoIP-enabled device in your office.

19) Line Extensions

Line extensions allow you to point callers in the best direction. They’ll call your primary contact number, and press an extension on their keypad (like “2” for customer service).

An example of this is the typical remote worker. The employee doesn’t need to hand out their personal number to accept calls. Instead, they can use line extensions.

The customer calls the mainline, then press extension “4.” The call will then be passed through to the remote worker.

20) Managed Caller ID

In 2013, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) researched the causes of declining response rates to its telephone surveys. The USDA determined that caller ID had a significant influence on the likelihood people would people answer the phone.

Your customers might not accept incoming calls if they don’t recognize the caller. This isn’t good, especially for sales teams. Why? Because even if they miss your call, they can reference the caller ID to ring you back.

Some phone systems allow you to edit your Caller ID to show your company name. Or, if it’s a personal number for someone at your company, you can add their name to the ID. Check whether your system offers this if Caller ID is important when contacting your customers.

21) Multi-Device Support

Do you work in a large office? Travel a lot? Accept work calls outside of the office? You might benefit from multi-device support.

This feature does what the name says: It allows you to make VoIP calls using multiple devices—with the same number. For example, let’s say you have a softphone using a VoIP app. You can use the same number to make calls on other devices, such as:

With this feature, business communication never goes down. You’ve still got several devices you can use to make calls if one breaks.

22) Multiple Lines

The phone system you’re using might have a multiple lines feature. This means that callers can dial one number, and several devices ring.

This is ideal for large customer support teams. You can give your customers one contact number. Then, when they call, every desk phone rings. The first agent to pick up their phone is connected to the call to deal with the inquiry.

This multi-device support prevents problems such as long wait times. There’s a broader pool of people ready to answer the phone—rather than relying on one.

23) Paging/Group Announcements

Do you need to alert your entire workforce? Don’t rely on outdated speaker systems. If your VoIP provider has a group announcement feature, you can speak to your employees through their desk phone—from yours.

You can use this paging feature if your office is spread over several floors. You can make one-way announcements to specific departments.

Or, if it’s urgent, you can broadcast your message to all of the VoIP devices you have. For example, “We have a fire drill at 9 am.”

24) Phone Directory

Phone books are out of date. Emails are tricky to manage, and it’s easy for information to get lost. Is there a simpler alternative?

Yes, if your phone system has a phone directory system.

You can use your phone directory to keep a log of your customer details. Think of it as a CRM. You’re able to search your virtual phone book to find a customer by name. Then you can call them without searching through your email to find their contact details.

25) Real-Time Analytics

Real-time analytics gives you the chance to view call data in real-time. You’ll be able to see the number of calls as they happen.

There are several use cases for this analytics feature. Take your sales team, for example. You can view your VoIP real-time analytics to see:

  • How long sales call typically last
  • Which salesperson answered the most calls
  • Which leads are “hot” (those which have called the most)

Plus, you can use real-time analytics to manage your call flow. If you see that one employee has a long queue, you can divert some of their calls to a coworker. This means your incoming caller won’t need to spend more time in your call queue.

26) Ring Groups

Earlier, we mentioned how you could use multiple lines to push incoming calls to multiple handsets. Ring groups are similar. Only with this calling feature, you can combine phone extensions, so a handful of devices ring when a call is incoming.

An example of this in practice is a customer service department. You might have teams that handle billing, software support, and account setup. You can create the following flow:

  1. A customer rings your customer support line
  2. Your auto attendant asks what they’d like help with. They say “billing.”
  3. Extension lines in your finance ring group are called

27) Softphone Support

A softphone is an application you can install on your desktop, laptop, or smartphone. The app has a dial pad used to make outgoing calls. Plus, it has its own business phone number to allow incoming calls to come straight to your device.

It’s important to check whether your system has softphone support. Why? Because you can use it to make calls from your desktop, without needing a cellular connection. It makes business communication seamless—even if your staff are in remote locations.

28) SMS/Text Messaging

Services like iMessage send text messages over the internet. You don’t need this third-party mobile app if your VoIP phone system supports SMS messaging.

You can send and receive messages through any VoIP device—including your smartphone. This means you can use one internet-connected platform for your communication.

It’s a feature you’ll need if you have remote staff. They might not always have a strong cellular signal to make phone calls. But if your office phone system supports SMS messaging, you can always drop them a text.

29) Toll-Free Phone Numbers

A toll-free number contains a familiar three-digit area code (800, 866, 888, and so on). Customers can dial this number from their own device at no extra charge, including people on traditional landlines.

For this reason, it’s important to check whether your office phone system offers toll-free numbers. You don’t want customers calling your business to incur extra charges. This way, they can contact you without needing to pay expensive long-distance calling rates.

30) Unified Communications

If you’re using several devices in your office, you’re likely using a Unified Communications package. You might see this as UCaaS: Unified Communications as a Service.

That package might include:

  • Audio/voice calls
  • Conference calls
  • Email
  • Fax
  • SMS messaging
  • Voicemail

Most devices included in a Unified Communications package are VoIP-powered. However, you might need to pay extra for this full-service package. You’ll need more hardware and connections than a traditional phone set-up. Check the rates beforehand.

31) Virtual Office Phone

You might have a remote team that is distributed over the country. But you still need a contact number for customers to reach you. In that case, you’ll need to pick a system that offers virtual office phone lines.

With a virtual office phone, you can accept calls from customers in one location. Other features—like call forwarding and extensions—then divert the caller to your remote team.

However, the confusion is taken away because your customer thinks they’re calling “the office.”

32) Voice Service Permissions

Some businesses are worried about using cloud VoIP. The majority of your data is secured in the cloud. The average cost of a data breach is $3.86 million. You’re right to worry about the security of your phone system.

That’s why it’s crucial to check your internet phone service provider lets you change permissions. This means certain employees can access certain features.

For example, you can prevent low-level staff from accessing call recordings. Or, you can set up the account so that only the CEO can change line extension numbers.

33) Virtual Setup & Provisioning

VoIP systems aren’t hard to set up. If you need a little guidance, some phone system providers offer hands-on support to configure your system remotely.

You can receive a tailored, one-on-one tutorial with an agent. They’ll teach you how to use your new technology and provide training on the devices you’ve purchased if any.

Setting up a virtual phone system saves time. You can begin using phone numbers instantly with virtual phone numbers. You won’t need to wait two weeks for an in-person agent to visit your office. You can book a meeting online, and cut the travel time for an agent to help you get started.

Related: How to Set Up a Virtual Phone System

34) Voice Bridges

For a secure conference call that allows anyone to call in with a passcode? You want a voice bridge. A voice bridge is like a fixed conference calling line for privileged staff to use whenever they need it.

The practical use of a voice bridge is to provide a team one meeting ID and a passcode so callers are authenticated. No matter if callers use their cell phone, landline, or a VoIP line, they’ll experience great audio quality.

Another example is for investor relations. Analysts, media, and other firms can dial into your voice bridge while you run a one-way voice bridge. This administrative control is desirable to avoid unwanted conference call disasters.

35) Voicemail

“Sorry, I’m unable to take your call right now.”

If you hear those words when making a call, you’ve arrived at someone’s voicemail. It’s a greeting that customers calling hear when you’re unable to answer. Some 80% of callers could be sent there.

People can then leave a voicemail message. They’ll typically tell you who’s calling (and why), and a number to contact them back on. That’s why most VoIP phone systems have this feature. Check whether yours does so you can get back in touch with your missed calls.

36) Voicemail-to-Email

You don’t need to block time in your calendar to answer voicemail messages. Phone systems have a voicemail to email feature. This records voicemail messages and attaches them as an audio file sent directly to your email inbox.

Voicemail-to-email sends other important details along with the audio file.

That includes the date and time of the call and the caller ID. You can then treat your inbox as a to-do list, and return calls on your desktop using VoIP. Likewise, you can forward the voicemail to your team so they can call them back.

37) VoIP Phones

There are two types of internet-connected devices that help you make phone calls:

VoIP desk phones: They typically connect to your office’s Wi-Fi connection. You don’t need hardwired lines to install them. Simply pop the phone on your desk, connect to the internet, and start making calls.

VoIP software: Instead of purchasing equipment, you can turn a device into a VoIP device using software. The Nextiva VoIP app, for example, lets you make calls and send texts from the device it’s installed on.

38) Web-Based Administration

From time to time, you’ll need to perform maintenance on your business phone system. Check whether your phone system has web-based administration. This way, you can:

  • Update voice permissions
  • Add or change line extensions
  • Access your billing information

…right from your internet browser, without having to call your provider. You’ll get more control over your phone system, and the ability to change things as you need.

39) Wireless Headsets

Wireless headsets are the modern-day equivalent of desk phones. They’re headsets with speakers and a microphone that allow you to make VoIP calls—without being stuck in one location.

Check whether your provider offers wireless VoIP headsets if you have a customer support department. That way, agents can chat with customers without needing to be at their desks. And, customers get responses to their questions. It’s a win-win all around.

Office Phone System Pricing

The cost of a new phone system is likely your biggest concern.

Business communication is important, but it can be expensive. And with so many options, it’s tough to know what price range you should expect from a business phone service.

Office Phone System Hardware

Hardware, such as desk phones, is optional when picking your business phone system. VoIP phones are recommended in an office environment because they have productivity advantages.

For example, you might have a busy open-plan office. Your customer service team are chatting all day long, and they’re not using headsets. It’s distracting—which is why open offices can reduce productivity by 70%.

Equipment such as:

… can solve this problem because the in-office staff has their own phone system. They can keep calls private, and stop their conversations disrupting co-workers.

Office Phone Service Costs

It’s tough to predict the costs of a remote office phone system. As a general guideline, small business VoIP system prices range from $30 to $45 per user per month.

The price depends on the:

  • Number of lines you’re using
  • Type of business
  • Volume of incoming calls
  • Commitment your business has to the office phone system
  • Features you need from the list above

The good news? Regardless of how many lines you have, VoIP calls are still much cheaper.

Traditional phone services take lots of equipment to set up and maintain. Telecoms providers need to account for that in their pricing. But VoIP calls connect to an established internet-connection.

There’s no extra equipment needed—and therefore, no extra charges to show up on your business phone bill.

Office Phone System Savings

1) Hardware costs

VoIP phone systems are subject to extra costs. However, they actually end up saving money in the long-term. Why? Because VoIP office phone systems don’t include costly hardware that depreciates in value.

Equipment like desk phones and landline recording devices depreciate over time. The hardware we used ten years ago isn’t suitable now. And, those models are worth significantly less now than they were at the time.

2) Technical staff

Traditional office phone systems also required six-figure technical staff. There were wires all over the place, and equipment that needed a technical degree to handle. However, VoIP technology can be as simple as a PC, an app, and an internet connection.

That makes VoIP much simpler to upgrade and scale as your business grows, too. You can purchase add-on VoIP handsets. Traditional phone lines, on the other hand, need hard-wiring into a connection. That can be costly—especially if you grow tenfold.

3) Downtime

Upgrading to VoIP boosts productivity in the workplace. There’s no downtime due to faulty updates, or interruptions as technical staff fixes their lines. The majority of VoIP providers have 24/7 support, too.

The aim? To keep your staff as productive as possible. Look for an office phone system that offers 99.999% uptime with supporting documentation.

Office Phone System Taxes

You will be subject to paying taxes when using a phone system. These federal, state, and local taxes are based on the physical address of the phone.

For that reason, they can vary widely. It’s reasonable to expect about 10% in additional taxes on your bill.

But that’s a small price to pay. You get value from a modern phone system that is always up to date and offers Enhanced 911 (E911) capabilities. Why? Because you can get a faster response time from emergency services. Look for transparent and straightforward pricing (including taxes and fees) for your company’s phone system.

Related: What Is Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) & How Does It Work?

Implementation & Next Steps

Are you ready to find a new phone system for your office? The next step is to find providers that offer the equipment you’re looking for. Contact them to get a custom quote depending on the size of your office.

You can ask the following questions once you’ve narrowed down your vendor list:

  • How do customers get help?
  • How many data centers do they have?
  • Is there an activation fee for starting service?
  • What does onboarding look like?
  • What kind of discounts are available?

The answers can shed some light on which company can best suit your needs.

But if you’re still unsure of which features you need, check out the full list of VoIP features Nextiva offers.

Cut your company’s phone bill by up to 65%
Get your free quote today.

About the author

Gaetano DiNardi is the Director of Demand Generation at Nextiva and has a track record of success working with brands like Major League Baseball, Pipedrive, Sales Hacker and Outreach.io. Outside of marketing, Gaetano is an accomplished music producer and songwriter - he’s worked with major artists like Fat Joe, Shaggy and loves making music to stay turbocharged. To get in touch, follow him on LinkedIn.
 

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