Business Telephone Systems

By Aimee Bradshaw | Writer and researcher | Updated: 15 May 2020

In this article, we explain the different kinds of telephone systems for businesses, and explore how each could benefit yours. Plus, we share our top tips for choosing the right system. Ready? Let's dial in…

What is a business telephone system?

We all know what a traditional telephone system is – a single telephone line, with one or two handsets for us to make calls with, or pick up and speak into when they ring – essentially, the landline phone system you have installed at home.

But, as with most corporate technology, there's a lot more to business telephone systems than that. As your company grows, you and your employees will need to be able to do a lot more than simply pick up the phone when it rings.

Basically, business telephone systems are characterised not only by how they work (more on that later!) but also by what they can do.

For example, your business might need a telephone system that can offer:

  • Conference calling: The ability to easily speak to numerous team members at once
  • An automated attendant: A recording that asks callers to press certain buttons depending on the reason for their call, in order to be forwarded to the right person or team. If your phones are particularly busy, this can also give the caller updates on their position in a queue of callers.
  • Voicemail to email: Never miss a voicemail again, with a phone system that forwards voicemail messages to your employees' inboxes as audio files.
  • Call monitoring: This feature records phone calls for you to use in staff training, and to assess the performance of your employees.
  • Call forwarding: This enables you to have calls to your company's number automatically forwarded to the right employee's mobile number, so they can still take calls when they're working remotely

Now, not all of these features will be offered by every telephone system. There are actually several different types of business telephone systems, which work in different ways and offer different features.

Read on, and we'll take you through the three most common types of business telephone systems, and explain what each can offer your business.

First of all, though – we know that researching business telephone systems can be a massive earache. It's a confusing industry, packed full of technical jargon and conflicting messages about what's best for you and your staff. Sometimes, cutting through the noise and getting quotes directly from suitable suppliers is the easiest way to make your decision.

That's why we do what we do – to help you find the right supplier for you quickly and easily. Simply answer a few quick questions about your needs, and we'll match you up with leading telephone system suppliers that can cater to your needs best. They'll then be in touch with no-obligation quotes that are tailored to your business, so you can compare suitable options. It's quick, easy, and free – why not give it a go?

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What are the different types of business telephone systems?

The three most common kinds of telephone systems used by businesses are:

  • Multi-line telephone systems
  • PBX (private branch exchange) telephone systems
  • VoIP (voice over internet protocol) telephone systems

Here's a speedy explanation of how they work, what they can do, which businesses they're best suited for, and how much they cost…

Multi-line telephone systems

A multi-line phone system is similar to a traditional phone system, but it enables you to have multiple phone lines on the go – easing up the competition on each individual line and ensuring more calls are answered in good time.

Every employee (or department, if your company is big enough) can be allocated their own phone number, which rings through to their specific handset.

Alternatively, you can have the system set up so every number filters through to the same handset. A single dedicated employee – whether that's a receptionist, or simply the person on your team with the best “phone voice” – can pick up all calls, and forward callers to the right extension numbers.

Multi-line telephone systems: a snapshot

Main featuresLocationSuitable for…Price point
  • Multiple lines
  • Multiple handsets
  • Basic call handling
On your premises (self-hosted)Very small to small businessesLow to mid

PBX telephone systems

A PBX telephone system is a step up from a basic multi-line phone system, and is a little more complex. The main difference you'll notice, though, is that PBX enables automated call handling, so you and your team won't need to manually transfer any calls.

How does this work? Well, callers phone in, and are greeted by an automated attendant who talks them through the department/team options. The caller then presses the number that coincides with their query, and the PBX connects the call to the right line.

Another big bonus is that you can connect a PBX unit to the internet, which allows for basic software integration, so you can streamline your processes. You’ll also be able to look at data such as call volume, call length, and how often a certain customer calls.

PBX telephone systems: a snapshot

Main featuresLocationSuitable forPrice point
  • Multiple lines
  • Multiple handsets
  • PBX hardware
  • Basic software integration
  • Automated call handling
Either on your premises (self-hosted) or in the cloud (hosted)Small businessesMid to high
Did You Know?

SIP trunking also allows you to convert your analogue PBX system into a digital PBX system, which means you can make calls over the internet, in addition to over the traditional telephone line.

VoIP telephone systems

VoIP telephone systems – also known as IP PBX telephone systems – deliver PBX functionality, but over the internet instead of via a phone line (yep, the future is here!).

This affords greater flexibility — in fact, you need only use a softphone app to turn your employees' mobiles into a cloud-based VoIP system. It also offers more reliability, as the only thing that'll affect the quality of your calls is the strength of your internet connection, and you should be investing in that anyway.

Another big benefit of VoIP is that, despite the breadth of integrations and call features it can offer you, it is often the cheapest phone system option. Unlike with phone lines, calls to different countries, or calls that last a long time, aren't always expensive when they're made over the internet.

VoIP telephone systems: a snapshot

Main featuresLocationSuitable forPrice point
  • Multiple lines
  • Multiple handsets
  • Advanced software integration
  • Advanced call handling
Either on your premises (self-hosted) or in the cloud (hosted)Small, medium, and large businesses (basically, everyone!)Low to high

Why do I need a business telephone system?

When it comes to conducting a successful venture, business telephone systems are just better than traditional phone systems – no matter the size of your company.

Here's what they can help you to do…

1. Build healthy customer relationships

Each of the business telephone systems featured in the previous section will help you to build healthy customer relationships. But how?

Have customers call straight through to the department they needSet up an automated attendant to automatically direct callers to the right department

Integrate your CRM software in order to streamline your customer relationship management

Have calls automatically forwarded to different numbers  so your staff never miss a call

Set up an automated attendant to automatically direct callers to the right department

Integrate a variety of software to streamline your business' whole operations

Have calls automatically forwarded to different numbers so your staff never miss a call

Set up multiple voicemail functions, so you’re always on top of missed calls

Choose your own hold music to keep customers patient

2. Increase mobility

Businesses are no longer static. Employees are working from home, out on the road, in the office, or a combination – and luckily, business telephone systems are designed to facilitate this:

Make calls internally and externally at the same timeMake calls internally and externally at the same time

Redirect or automatically forward calls to your team's mobile phones

Make calls internally and externally at the same time

Redirect or automatically forward calls to your team's mobile phones

Use the same number across multiple devices and locations

Easily move offices with a cloud-based VoIP system

3. Improve internal communications

Effective internal communication with your employees is just as important as effective external communication with clients, especially if your employees are working remotely in separate buildings…

Easily dial and transfer calls internallyEasily dial and transfer calls internally

Conference call with other offices

Easily dial and transfer calls internally

Conference call or video call with other offices

Integrate instant messaging software for speedy internal comms

Integrate video conferencing capability for remote meetings

4. Increase productivity

Phone systems automate certain processes, and provide data that can make operations more efficient:

Give each department its own phone number, meaning less time is spent directing callsSet up an automated attendant to direct calls for you

Use basic call data to make more intelligent business decisions

Easily forward calls to a call center

Set up an automated attendant to direct calls for you

Use detailed data insight to see high performing and underperforming employees, and inform and improve your sales strategy with call data

Easily forward calls to a call center

Set up intelligent API for automated call answering

Get personalised quotes from telephone system suppliers that suit your needs! Get free quotes today

How can I pick the right office telephone system for my business?

First off, we believe that the quickest, easiest way to choose the right system for you is by requesting quotes from several suitable suppliers at once. We can help you do that – answer a few quick questions about your business, and behind the scenes we'll match you up with the best suppliers for you. They'll then be in touch with tailored, no-obligation quotes and info for you to compare.

Of course, to ensure that you investing in the right telephone system, you'll need to ask yourself a few questions, too:

“Where is my business going?”

You don't need us to tell you that, as a business owner, you need to think about your future.

For instance, while you may be looking to keep costs down with a multi-line phone system – which is fine – you should also think about whether that particular system is scalable and featureful enough to support your long-term ambitions.

For example, a multi-line phone system has limited call management and expansion capabilities, which may not make it cost-effective in the long run.

A PBX phone system, meanwhile, is more expensive to install, but offers more call management features, decent expansion capabilities, and the potential to connect to the internet.

And a VoIP phone system offers heaps of call management systems, and can be as small or as scalable as you need.

“Would I prefer a hosted or self-hosted telephone system?”

The difference between hosted and self-hosted telephone systems is all in where the majority of the system hardware and software resides.

Put simply, using a self-hosted (or on-premise) telephone system means keeping the system software and hardware on your business premises. You'll take responsibility for the infrastructure and maintenance of your system.

On the other hand, a hosted telephone system is one which is housed and maintained by a third party. Often, the system software will be stored in the cloud as opposed to on your own servers, and the only hardware you'll keep in-house will be your handsets.

Multi-line phone systems are, more often than not, self-hosted – but because they're quite simple, keeping yours maintained, and expanding it when needed, shouldn't prove too much of a strain.

PBX systems and VoIP systems can be either hosted or self-hosted. These more complex systems require more nuanced handling, so if you choose to self-host one, you'll need an in-house or contracted tech expert to properly maintain it – whether that’s updating the phone system software, or adding new lines and handsets.

With a hosted VoIP or PBX system on the other hand, you'll simply pay out a small monthly fee to cover your maintenance – which will prove more cost-effective than hiring or contracting a tech expert. As well as that, it's just easier – it should be a weight off your mind to know that your communications infrastructure is being safely cared for by a dedicated third party!

“What features would I like in my telephone system?”

Think about why you’re looking to upgrade to – or introduce – a new business telephone system, and what you'd like that system to be able to do. Ensure that the phone system you plump for can offer you all of these things.

If all you need is more lines, a multi-line system could be your best option.

If you’re looking for more lines, plus you want to save a bit of time with automated call handling, and gain a better understanding into the success (or failure) of your calls with some basic data analytics, PBX could be the right choice for you.

If you’re looking for more advanced analytics tools, software integrations, and a variety of call features to ensure your callers and your team have a smooth, intuitive experience when using the system, then VoIP could be for you.

“Which supplier should I use?”

To add yet another element into the mix, investing in the right telephone system isn't just a case of deciding which kind of system you want – you'll also need to choose the right company to supply that system to you.

It’s always best to do your research before you commit to a supplier. Ask for quotes from a range of suppliers, and compare the packages and prices they offer you – remember that we can help you to do this quickly and easily.

You should also check supplier credentials on review sites such as TrustPilot and G2Crowd, just to make sure they have a healthy number of satisfied customers.

And, most important of all, always read the contract you're offered thoroughly. Make sure you understand the additional fees you'll face, and the cancellation policy that's in place, should you need it. Also check the length of your contract; you don’t want to be tied into something long-term, especially if you’re growing fast and don't want to be tied down. VoIP providers in particular often offer short-term or monthly rolling contracts for your convenience.

How much does a telephone system cost?

How long is a piece of string? The cost of a telephone system will depend on a number of things, including:

  • Installation costs
  • Hardware costs (e.g PBX, cables, router)
  • The number of handsets you need
  • The number of lines you need
  • Maintenance costs

For some solid figures and a better idea of how much a business telephone system might set you back, check out our ultimate guide to telephone systems costs.

Of course, the best (and quickest) way to find out how much a phone system will cost you is to receive tailored quotes directly from suppliers. We can help you there. Simply answer a few questions about your business – it only takes a minute – and we'll match you up with the right suppliers for your needs. They'll then be in touch with bespoke, no-obligation quotes and info. It's easy, fast, and free!

Get personalised quotes from telephone system suppliers that suit your needs! Get free quotes today
Aimee Bradshaw Writer and researcher

Aimee is Expert Market’s resident telephone systems and point of sale go-to. If she’s not writing about business products, you’ll find her daydreaming about dog walking on Dorset beaches.

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