So, you’re looking for the best business phone system?

I am going to be honest with you. Choosing a phone service won’t be the most exciting decision you’ll make for your business.

But, it is a critically important one. Here’s why.

For starters, your first interaction with a potential customer may be through your phone system. It could be the first exposure a prospective employee has with the way you do business. It could be the system through which some employees do their entire job.

You don’t want to choose a crummy one.  

We’ll help you make sure that doesn’t happen.

First, let’s start with an overview of the different types of business phone systems. Then, we’ll get into the characteristics of each, and finally, we’ll highlight the features to look for as you evaluate your options. 

The 3 types of business phone systems

There are basically three types of phone systems. Here’s a quick rundown of each. 

1. Traditional multiline system

You know that closet-sized windowless office on Mad Men with the switchboard? The one being manned by three chain-smoking, perfectly coiffed ladies known as the “switchboard girls”? 

That’s a traditional analog landline system — good ol’ Ma Bell, as AT&T was affectionately called back in the day. It ran the phone lines and controlled almost all US local and long-distance service before the cellphone era.

It’s old-school. Inbound and outbound phone calls were connected manually through a switchboard and then routed to someone’s desk phone. 

Businesses that needed a telephone system just called the phone company. They came on-site and installed it. There weren’t any decisions to make. There weren’t a whole lot of features or capabilities to consider either.

Today’s version of this system still relies on traditional landline phone networks, but they’ve mostly been digitized. Small businesses that don’t require advanced features or more than a couple of lines may find a traditional multiline system to be a viable, affordable option.  

Whether digital or analog, a traditional multiline phone system will give you the base features you would expect from a business phone, such as call waiting, voicemail, call routing and transfers, and caller ID.

More advanced traditional systems accommodate other calling features like automated answering and call forwarding to a virtual receptionist or service. It’s a common feature of medical office phone systems so that someone is answering business calls during lunch or after-hours.  

2. Private Branch Exchange system (PBX)

A PBX system provides a company with a private telephone network within their business. Digitized lines offer more advanced (and customizable) features than the “switchboard girls” could ever dream of. 

That said, it still doesn’t scream 21st century or meet modern business needs. Users can place and receive calls with cordless headsets, which is definitely a step up from traditional handsets.

But, PBX systems are connected through a central network and server that’s housed on-site, which means you can’t use it from a home office. Plus, businesses that choose this option typically need knowledgeable, trained staff to install and maintain the system. 

For companies that don’t want to dedicate the time and resources for on-premises hosting, PBX systems can also be hosted off-site. The provider is responsible for maintaining the system and any issues or problems the client encounters. However, you may pay a premium for that convenience. 

PBX systems remain a viable option for companies that don’t have access to reliable internet service or a requirement to serve remote workers. They provide the functionality of a traditional multiline business phone system plus some more advanced features, such as call recording and location-based routing. 

3. VoIP phone systems

Business phone systems: A screenshot of OpenPhone’s desktop app interface

Virtual or cloud-based Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) is the latest in business phone system technology. No one is locked away in a closet making manual connections. And there’s no dedicated on-site staff tasked with maintaining a phone system and all it entails. 

There’s actually no extra hardware at all. Rather, “softphone” software — as it’s sometimes called — turns existing Wi-Fi-enabled devices into phones. Data associated with calls (and the user’s related actions) are stored in the cloud.  

Even better, you get tons more features than a PBX business phone system for a fraction of the cost. Installation is simple for these cloud hosted phone systems, with none of the upfront expenses associated with traditional or PBX systems. Users simply download an app for mobile devices (Android or iOS) or desktop. They can even access it directly through a web browser. The software is continuously improved and updated by the provider.

Here are just a few of the additional features VoIP systems may provide:

  • One-click call: Say goodbye to finger fatigue 👋 — punching in those 10-digit numbers will become a thing of the past.
  • Reporting and analytics: See what your employees are up to! (Just kidding. 😉) Get insight into call and text volumes, monitor your service level agreements, and more.
  • Instant messaging, SMS, or video conferencing: Remember, not everyone likes the phone. It’s nice to give employees and customers multiple ways to communicate with (or within) your business.
  • Integration with CRM and other tools: Leverage your current CRM and all the other tools you already use to conduct your business.
  • Logins from any device: No need to keep switching devices while you work. This gives you the freedom to use your computer, tablet, or phone — whichever is most convenient at that moment. 
  • Voicemail-to-text transcription: Check your voicemail with ease by having it automatically transcribed and sent to you in a text.
  • Snippets and auto-replies: Stop typing the same thing over and over again. Free up your time for more important tasks — or to join a colleague for lunch!

Why you should choose a cloud-based phone

There’s a lot of reasons you should consider a cloud-based VoIP service for business communication.

If you have customers or employees born after about 1992, you’d be wise to consider a VoIP system. It’s not that younger Millennials or Gen Z are demanding. They just have certain expectations, particularly when it comes to how they want to conduct business. 

And this crew seems to have an aversion — actually more of a revulsion — to talking on a cellphone. They’d much rather text. So choosing a business phone system that can accommodate multiple communication channels is important. 

Aside from keeping your customers happy, a VoIP system makes your employees’ jobs easier too. Remote workers can make calls from personal cellphones using a business phone number.

There are many other business advantages of implementing a VoIP system. Here are a few: 

  • Lowers costs: Hidden fees and setup costs are a thing of the past
  • Supports remote workers: Because the world has gone virtual
  • Increases productivity: Every business is trying to do more with less
  • Increases flexibility: Communicate via phone, text, or group message
  • Allows for scalability: Because your business is gonna crush it 💪

What to consider when evaluating business phone system providers  

Not all modern phone solutions are created equal. You’ll need to peek under the covers to reveal the differences between service providers while you’re shopping around. Be sure to pay attention to the following.  


Evaluate whether the vendor’s pricing is simple and transparent with no setup charges, overcharges, or hidden fees. Be sure to get clarity on which features are included in the standard package versus which are add-ons. Their pricing should be structured to scale with your business as it grows.

Multichannel communications

It’s not just Millennials and Gen Z who require flexibility when it comes to communication. Make sure the system has the ability to connect through text messages and voice — key components of a unified communications strategy.

It should also have an auto-attendant feature and the ability to perform voice-to-text transcription. You want a system that makes it as easy as possible for people to do business with you and for your employees to get their work done. 

User interface

The user interface should be intuitive and easy to use for outgoing and incoming calls. Users should be able to access the system through a mobile app, desktop app, or the web. And employees should be able to hit the ground running — a small business phone system shouldn’t require an extensive training program. 


Confirm that the system has out-of-the box integrations with workflows and software you already use in your business, such as Slack, Zapier, Salesforce, and HubSpot. If not, find out if plans are in the works or if the system is easily customizable. 

Customer satisfaction

With social media and mobile phones on hand, dissatisfied customers make themselves known. So do deliriously happy ones. Spend some time reading online user reviews before committing to a business phone service. 

Check out the vendor’s website to get a feel for their customer service philosophy. See how often they host live demos and Q&As about new features and releases.

Take one for a spin

A screenshot of the OpenPhone app on a cellphone

Again, not all business phone systems are created equal. Most don’t meet the needs and expectations of innovative 21st century businesses — gone are the days of faxing and pagers.  

OpenPhone happens to be the world’s most delightful, reliable, and smartest business phone platform for savvy companies. Our No. 1 business phone app is trusted by thousands of professionals and business owners. Want to take OpenPhone for a spin? Sign up for a free trial today in under a minute.

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Amy is a professional B2B writer who drives results for SaaS and marketing brands. Like a chameleon, she instantly assumes a brand's unique voice and delivers content that never bores readers.

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