Business Phone Systems: The Ultimate Guide

Business phone systems are designed to help your company run smoothly. They also make it easier to grow your organization. Because efficient communication is important to business, business phone systems are crucial to an organization’s infrastructure. A business phone system is superior to a normal landline or cell phone solution, as it enhances the caller experience and the internal communications of the organization.

What Features Should a Business Phone System Have?

The vast majority of businesses all need a select core of communications capabilities. Businesses depend on productive interaction, but that doesn’t mean they all have the same communications needs.

Here are some of the features your business office phone system should have. These apply to small businesses, as well as midsize to larger organizations:

  • Multiple lines: With more than one line, conversations can happen with several team members regardless of their location, whether in the field or in the office
  • Conference calling: The conference call feature allows many people to share the same call. Conference calling is a valuable communication and sharing tool
  • Automatic answering: With modern phone systems, calls are answered through automation. Businesses can also customize the message callers receive
  • Music or messages while on hold: This feature reassures callers while they wait that their call hasn’t been forgotten. It can also convey important information to those on hold
  • Voicemail: The caller’s message is recorded for the recipient in case the recipient is unavailable to answer

While these features are useful, they only scratch the surface. A unified communications (UC) system provides a full suite of tools for businesses. Customers also benefit because many of the features cater to their needs.

Unified Communications for Business Phone Systems

The people within your business use several methods to communicate. These include phone calls, text messages, emails, SMS and others. A unified system brings everything together, “unifying” them under one communications umbrella. Your employees may call a customer or another business and not even realize they are using a unified communications system. Many of the solutions offered today involve unified communications systems.

Voice over internet protocol (VoIP) technology helps make a unified communications system possible. As the acronym suggests, a VoIP phone system for small business uses the internet to carry vocal signals. This opens up the possibility of adding enhanced features to support a variety of activities. As a result, office systems for small business can do more.

Examples of enhanced features include the following:

  • Automatic answering
  • Extension selection
  • Voicemail
  • Voicemail transcription
  • Call forwarding
  • Out-of-office messaging
  • Do not disturb
  • Conference calling
  • Video conferencing
  • Instant messaging
  • Text messaging

For busy entrepreneurs, it is easy to underestimate the importance of a small business phone system. There are so many other things that need attention. However, having automated business telephone systems reduces the burdensome workload of answering phone calls.

Here are some more details about why these features are beneficial.

Automatic Answering

When someone calls, they hear a prerecorded message, which should reflect the style and feel of the establishment. This helps launch a productive communication process. Having a prerecorded message means the same consistent answer every time a call comes in.

Typically, automated messages will thank the caller for calling and inform them of the name of the company. They can also include the company’s tagline if allowed. Then, a menu of directory options helps the caller get to the right person.

Extension Selection

A clear directory feature is a must, with a selection of departments and employees the caller can choose to speak with. This is especially true when there are several employees and many departments.

The ability to assign employees and departments to specific extensions makes the lines of communication much clearer. Some companies allow individual extensions for each employee. Then administrators can assign groups based on departments. All members of the group receive a department and individual extension.

This feature, when set up the right way, will allow the caller to choose exactly who they would like to speak to. Also, the phone system should have back-end controls to exclude those in the company who wants to remain anonymous.


When someone calls and no one is available to answer, voicemail allows the caller to record a message. Each employee should have their own voicemail set up, while individual departments should have group voicemails.

An informative voicemail message helps the caller know exactly what to do and what information to provide to help you get in touch with them. Most business voicemail systems will perform three basic functions:

  • Thank the caller for calling
  • Mention that the recipient is unavailable
  • Provide contact information

Voicemail Transcription

Voicemail transcription writes out messages and sends them to recipients. It uses email and/or text to do so. First, the software transcribes the recorded voicemail message. Next, it emails the message to the recipient. The recipient may also receive a text message with the transcribed message if they want to.

Call Forwarding

Call forwarding forwards calls to an alternate number. This is useful for users who would like to receive calls on a different number. For example, if a manager is at a trade show, they can forward calls from their business phone system to their cell phone. The phone system will attach a rule that says when a call comes into this number, forward it to another number. The system connects callers to the alternative phone number without them even knowing.

Out of Office

An out-of-office message informs callers when the recipient is away and provides instructions. Out-of-office features are convenient when an employee is away for a while. They can use it to leave instructions for callers. These kinds of messages may:

  • Include instructions to call back at a later date
  • Inform the caller when voicemail will be checked
  • Instruct callers to call another extension

Additionally, they can state the dates the recipient is unavailable. With the out-of-office feature, business continues as usual. The caller gets a clear understanding of why their call is not being answered and what to expect next.

Do Not Disturb (DND)

With DND, callers are directed to a customized message stating the recipient is unavailable. When you’re in a meeting, on a phone call or working on a special project, the "do not disturb" feature inhibits calls from ringing audibly. Users can create a customized DND message to inform callers that the recipient is busy and unavailable at that time.

Conference Calling

With conference calling, many participants call the same line to listen and/or speak. Conference calling is a crucial feature particularly during a meeting when participants can’t all be in the same office. It allows several people to join the same call in which they can be allowed to listen or listen and speak. This feature is especially important when a company has a remote workforce.

Video Conferencing

Call and speak face to face with one or many employees via video. Video conferencing mirrors in-person interaction and allows for a more dynamic conversation. With some systems, there are options for which kind of screen to use, its size and different cameras.

Instant Messaging

Communicate instantly to get answers to quick questions with instant messaging. It’s faster than email when communication needs to happen quickly. It is also ideal for conveying short ideas. All who are logged in the UC system can chat freely.

Text Messaging

With text messaging, you can respond when talking isn’t an option. Office phone systems for small businesses allow you to text employees and customers no matter where you are. Because you can use your office line to send text messages, your personal phone number stays private.

Having unified communications for client-facing and internal uses is the future of communication. In addition to an improved customer experience, employees benefit as well. The streamlined workflow and automated follow-up actions help them send and receive clear communications.

Business Phone System FAQ

1. Is a unified communications system necessary?

Yes, particularly if your business communicates with customers, partners or clients. People expect instant gratification in today's fast-paced business world, especially when it comes to communication. A unified communications system gives key players a satisfying communications experience. They feel heard, respected and valued.

For example, when a team member is away from the office, they don’t have to be excluded. The rest of the team can tie them in via a conference call or a video feed. Also, people who work remotely don’t have to be “outsiders.” A unified communications system allows them to feel like valued teammates as they interface with everyone else.

A unified communications system provides employees with helpful tools to help them manage their availability. The same system also helps maximize team efficiency by supporting an employee's preferred style of communication. For example, one team member may prefer to handle all missed calls when they return to the office. Someone else may want to receive all calls instantly. Also, some are more comfortable with texting, while others would rather talk live. With a unified system, employees aren’t limited to one or two ways of communicating.

2. Which businesses benefit most from a business phone system?

All businesses can enjoy an enhanced phone system. Communication is the lifeblood of your business, and professional communication reflects favorably on your business. It inspires confidence in both potential customers and existing clients. The more professional your communication, the more polished your business will appear.

For example, a customer may call with a simple question about the business’ services, address or hours of operation while you're on the move. You could attempt to take the call while diving into a noisy subway car, but that may result in an inaudible conversation. This could cost you valuable business. An internet phone system can provide the same caller with answers to their questions. The system can also direct them to someone else who’s free to take the call. Additionally, the customer could leave a message, and the system can transcribe it and deliver it to your phone via a text.

3. What is the best business phone system?

The best business phone system should do the following:

  • Suit the needs of businesses, regardless of their size
  • Accommodate the needs of remote employees
  • Meet the needs of call centers
  • Provide a virtual phone system
  • Provide options that can be suited to a variety of businesses

8x8’s portfolio of business phone system solutions meets and exceeds these requirements. Regardless of the size, type or structure of the organization, 8x8 has a communications solution that can be tailored to your needs.

4. When should an organization invest in a business phone system?

It’s never too early or too late to get started. You may have an existing phone system but see the need to fill crucial gaps in communication. If you’re in the middle of setting up your communications infrastructure, a business phone system can help as well. It gives you the opportunity to make it a point that your system satisfies your communication needs. This is better than forcing people to communicate within a system with limited capabilities. Regardless of when you sign up, a phone system with enhanced features will help take your organization to the next level.

You may want to invest in a system a couple of months before a new initiative, such as launching a new product. This is particularly true if the timing is a critical factor. As you see how the system works, you can make tweaks as needed. When the product is released, your communications infrastructure is ready to support it. This helps cut complications. Being proactive when time is of the essence gives you freedom and relieves the pressure of an approaching deadline.

5. Is a business phone system worth the investment if I have a very small company?

Yes. Efficient, productive communication helps businesses of any size. Some systems can be upgraded or downgraded to suit your needs. If you choose one that works well with your current needs and your business grows, you can add more features.

8x8 Express: Make the Right Impression

Get the easiest and most affordable phone system for your small office or home-based business. 8x8 Express provides you with unlimited calling, HD audio and video conferencing, business SMS and more. Start your free 30-day trial today!

Kent Yunk


I’ve been getting my hands dirty with marketing and website design to help businesses streamline site performance and grow traffic for nearly 15 years. I frequent the waters of small and enterprise-level businesses to help them rescue or increase their high-level revenue streams. I also developed opportunity modeling techniques for companies with multiple sites across the same industry. Ultimately my goal for my clients and employers is not just to bring in more revenue through better rankings, but to change the way they look at marketing and [...] Read More >

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