2019 Forecast: Best Phone Systems for Businesses

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    I don’t know anyone who actually enjoys shopping for business phone services.  It’s an incredibly crowded marketplace, full of abbreviations, wildly varying prices, and a dizzying array of features.  The trouble?  Selecting the right phone solution for your business is also amazingly important.

    So here’s what I’ve done.  I’ve researched, compared, and contrasted the top contenders for small business phone providers, and I’m going to share them, along with the factors you should consider to make sure your company’s communications needs are met as you head into 2019.

     

    What are my phone solution options?

    If you’ve ever researched business phone solutions, you’ve probably seen a mountain of terminology and abbreviations.  PBX?  VoIP?  SIP?  Cloud-based?  Unified communications?  The list could go on and on, but my goal is to simplify your phone solution journey.

    Do you want a landline, or do you want an internet-based solution?  That’s the first basic question you must answer.

    Why landlines?

    According to the National Health Interview Survey, late 2016 was the very first time that the majority of households in the US did not have a landline.  While there are variations in landline use based on age, gender, race, socioeconomic status, and geographical location, the trend is unmistakably clear:  landline use is declining overall.

    But many small businesses still rely on landlines.  Why?  First, many existing businesses already have landlines, lines they may have paid to install, lines for which they may have purchased equipment.  Second, call quality tends to be a little better for landlines than for mobile calls.  And third, landline reliability surpasses mobile solutions.

    Landlines may be the safest choice, but when you look at the alternatives, you discover a host of options you won’t find from traditional phone service.

    Why internet-based solutions?

    Just as individuals increasingly rely on mobile phones, small businesses are more frequently turning to VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) and cloud-based phone solutions.  What’s the difference between the two?  In practical terms, really not much.  In fact, Kevin Bartley, blogger for OnSIP, a VOIP provider, explains “separating the two terms from each other is like splitting hairs.”

    So what are the advantages of cloud-based phone solutions?  First, you can typically be up and running with a low initial investment, especially if your plan lets you BYOP (bring your own phone) rather than purchasing or leasing expensive new equipment.  Your options for working on-the-go are much broader when you’re not tied to a landline, both in terms of flexibility and in terms of continuity across multiple devices.  In addition, VoIP solutions offer tremendously powerful unified communications options, as well as robust marketing and outreach opportunities.

    In short, internet-based systems are powerful and affordable, giving small companies access to features once enjoyed only by enterprise level companies.

    Three specific recommendations:  Nextiva, 8×8, and OnSIP

    But let’s get down to the details.  Most VoIP services offer practically identical features.  You’re going to get phone service, call forwarding, fax service, auto attendants, conferencing, and a host of other important features.  So how do you decide?  What sets these three providers apart is their innovation, service, and reliability.

    Nextiva

    I’m a fan of disruptive technology, and Nextiva founder Tomas Gorny is profoundly innovative.  Founded a mere ten years ago, Nextiva has rapidly become a leader in employing sophisticated AI and machine learning to help small businesses leverage the power of data to better serve customers.

    Nextiva’s plans range in price, depending on features and number of users. Customers are particularly impressed with Nextiva’s CRM functions and with their customer service.  Overall, the biggest point of difference for Nextiva is their focus on genuinely intuitive unified communications.

     

    8×8

    When I examined each of the top VoIP providers, what’s most striking is the degree to which they’re the same in terms of the features provided.  So it makes the most sense to focus on what sets them apart from one another.

    8×8 has the edge for companies that require international numbers or will rely heavily on international calls.  Its versatile plans offer the best value in this category.

    And 8×8 absolutely shines when it comes to its call center solution.  While Nextiva and OnSIP do offer call center functionality, 8×8’s options are wider.  You can configure your 8×8 system to handle not just phone, but also SMS and email inquiries from customers.  There are also some automated functions for the call center, like 8×8’s FAQ knowledgebase.

    In short, 8×8 is a reliable, robust solution that’s particularly attractive for small businesses that require a versatile call center.

    OnSIP

    Like Nextiva, OnSIP is known for its unified communications functionality and stellar reputation for customer service.  In fact, according to an OnSIP blog, CEO Mike Oeth answers at least one customer support call each day so he can stay in touch with current customer concerns.

    One way in which OnSIP stands out from its competitors is in its flexible pricing.  With pay-as-you-go, metered, and unlimited pricing for its calling plans, small businesses can keep costs down while taking advantage of OnSIP’s sophisticated phone solutions.

    While established small businesses may continue to rely on landlines for years to come, my recommendation to new companies is to prepare for the future and opt for Nextiva, 8×8, or OnSIP, depending on your unique business needs.

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    I cover technology, utilities and biotechnology for Markets Morning, and I help out occasionally with other industry sectors. I've written about investment and personal finance topics for more than 20 years from a lowly copywriter to editor-in-chief, so I've done a little bit of everything. For what it's worth, I have a BA from Duke University and an MBA from Rollins College. I'm married with one daughter, and that's worth more than everything else put together.

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