What Are the Features of a Multi-Line Phone System?

Multi-line phone systems are increasingly popular with small businesses, and for good reason. They offer reliability, flexibility, and a myriad of features that enable businesses to adapt — all without the need to constantly learn new technologies. But it still can seem overwhelming to make a decision on what system is best for you. If you’re in need of a little guidance, look no further — we’re here to help. When looking into multi-line phone systems, it’s important to know what options are available, what features you should consider, and what’s going to be the best fit for your business. To start, let's go over some basics about these systems and how they’re used in a business setting.

Illustration of a hand holding a cell phone. On the screen are shown two face on separate windows, representing a multi-line conversation.

What Are Multi-Line Phone Systems?

Simply put, multi-line phone systems allow multiple calls to happen on the same line. This is different from traditional phone systems, which only allow calls to happen between two parties at a time. Additionally, those calls can either be external (customer-facing) or internal (between employees). This capability, along with a host of other features (which we’ll cover below) are what make it a great option for a small-business phone system. They simplify your communications and business operations, while ensuring your customers rarely hear that “busy” signal — and they can easily scale to any operation size. But what are the types of multi-line phone systems for small businesses out there, and what sorts of phone features should a small business be considering?

What Are the Main Features of a Business Phone?

In general, there are three systems that provide multiple phone lines for a small business:

  • Key System Units (KSU)

  • Private Branch Exchange (PBX)

  • Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP)

All of these systems regularly incorporate basic features — such as call attendants, call routing, and voicemail — but more advanced features require more advanced technology. KSU and traditional PBX are both landline-based, and thus more limited in what they can do. Conversely, VoIP uses an internet connection to make calls, which gives it more flexibility and capabilities. It also serves as the basis for powering Unified Communications as a Service (UCaaS), a cutting-edge business communications system.

There are many features available for phone systems, but their usefulness is dependent on the business and its particular needs. Below are just some examples of the many things your phone system could enable:

  • Call analytics — Important for any business fielding a high volume of calls, this helps track key data points like talk time and other custom KPI measurements.

  • Call parking — Unlike a traditional hold, call parking puts a caller on hold in a cloud, where they are then assigned to a new extension. This allows any other team member to pick up the call.

  • Multimedia communications — In addition to calls, faxing, messaging, and even video conferencing are possible through some multi-line systems.

  • “Softphone” calling — This VoIP-based feature enables businesses to make internet-based calls over computers or smartphones via software known as a softphone.

  • Virtual receptionist—This automated software takes incoming calls and provides basic customer service needs, such as directing calls, appointment scheduling, and answering frequently asked questions.

Any combination of the above features will provide a different multi-line phone system experience. This, of course, begs the question …

What Is the Best Phone System for a Small Business?

The “best” multi-line phone system for a business is going to largely depend on that business’s specific circumstances. That said, we do believe there are a few factors every business should consider:

  • Costs: This applies not just to the cost of installation, but everything needed to maintain it. If there are multiple hardware components involved (like with KSU), there may be on-site challenges that require troubleshooting. Also, if the system is complicated to learn, more time will be spent training employees, and the system may be harder to adapt as your business grows or changes.

  • Capabilities: Will you need more than just the ability to make or route calls? Consider if your operations could benefit from conferencing, analytics, and multimedia communications features; if this is the case, landline-based systems like KSU or PBX will not be right for your business.

  • Location: Do your employees ever need to work remotely, or on the road? If so, a VoIP system offers the convenience of being able to take your business phone system with you, so you can work anywhere, anytime, while landlines are geographically limited: they only work in the physical location they’re set up in.

  • Growth Plans: In what ways do you see your business changing soon, if at all? For example, if you see your business adding locations or increasing production, a landline system will take a lot more work to adapt to this increasing size. While all of the systems can technically scale, digitally based systems like VoIP have far more scalability — and with far more ease.

If you’d like to learn more about what kind of multi-line phone system is right for you, we at Vonage are here to help. We offer Unified Communications as a Service: a reliable communications solution powered by VoIP that has a multitude of capabilities. UCaaS offers a system that can be tailored to meet the specific needs of a small business, including multi-line phone systems, messaging, international capabilities, virtual receptionist, and more. Ready to see what options will best suit you? Answer a few questions about your business, and we’ll help find the right phone system for you.

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