Best small business phone systems in 2021

Think you can do without a business phone system? Think again. Business phone systems are a must for any startup. Read on to find the right one for you.

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According to our research, the best small business phone system is without a doubt the 8×8 X Series, due to its small business-centric features, internationally operative capabilities, in-depth analytics, and reasonable pricing.

But that’s not to say this system will suit every business, which is why we’d recommend you use our custom-built cost comparison tool to help you move forward. Developed by our team of telephone system experts, this tool will help you make an informed decision about which product best fits the needs of your business, offering you personalised bespoke quotes from the UK's top phone system providers.

However, for further insight about the 8×8 X Series phone system and its competitors, read on…

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The best small business phone systems: an overview

Phone System ProviderBest forPricing starts from
8x8 X Series Operating internationally £8 per user, per month
BT One PhoneRemote workers Bespoke, but average monthly spend is £35 per user, excluding VAT
RingCentral OfficeAll in one communications £7.99 per user, per month
4com HiHIVersatility and ease of use Bespoke, quote available on request
Lily CloudCustomer supportBespoke, quote available on request

Pricing is correct as of 12th August 2021


The best small business phone systems: a deep dive

Whether businesses are working remotely, are back in offices, or have adopted a hybrid approach since the end of the last lockdown, a fundamental part of operating is to be fully contactable. This is why choosing the right business phone system for your small business is so important, because wasting time and money implementing the wrong system could be devastating for your small business.

This is why we've carefully analysed the market and selected the five phone systems that stand out as the best choices for small businesses – to ensure you end up with an appropriate product.

Read on to find out about each of them in more detail.


8×8 X Series

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Key Features 

✔ Unlimited global calling across 47 countries

✔ Company-wide team instant messaging

✔ Mobile and desktop apps

Award-winning communications company 8×8 brings us the X Series, a unified communications solution that's been designed specifically for small and medium businesses. The X Series is a cloud-based VoIP system, which is particularly beneficial for small businesses that operate internationally, as advanced plans (X4 onwards) come with unlimited calling across 47 countries for smarter global engagement.
Pricing starts from: £8 per user, per month (8×8 Express) 

Pros
  • Generous 30-day free trial
  • Free calls internationally to 47 countries - perfect for dealing with clients and customers overseas
  • Express package is great value for money at £8 per user, per month
  • In-depth analytics to manage customer satisfaction and employee performance
Cons
  • More advanced plans can get expensive for small businesses
  • Cloud-based VoIP system, so if your business needs are for a PBX or multiline phone system this would not suit you

BT One Phone

 

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Key Features

✔ Mobile app compatible with iOS and Andriod 

✔ ‘One Phone’ portal for call routing and user administration 

✔ No additional costs of using the system anywhere in the EU 

The enormity of BT and their business phone offering makes it a little difficult to select the best system offered by the industry giant. But we’ve selected BT One Phone, as it’s an excellent business phone system for remote businesses and their travelling employees. The BT One Phone system turns any personal mobile into a kitted-out business machine using sim cards, a mobile, and an online portal.
Pricing starts from: Bespoke, but the average monthly spend is £35 per user, excluding VAT

Pros
  • A dedicated onboarding manager helps your business get set up, along with access to a 24/7 BT One Phone helpdesk
  • No need to purchase handsets (as the system is set up through mobile)
  • Perfect for entirely remote working businesses with no office space
  • Can easily add and remove users as your company grows
Cons
  • Must pay for additional security - using mobile phones as business phones can have a drawback: if it gets into the wrong hands, it could be disastrous for your business. You can however pay for security software MobileIron Cloud
  • The average user cost is £35 per month, which is quite expensive compared to other providers
Short on time?

In 2020, we helped nearly 2,000 readers find the right telephone system for their business, and our aim is to continue this trend by offering reliable, accurate support and advice to startups everywhere.

If you'd like support in finding a phone system quickly and easily, our custom-built phone system comparison tool will match you with the best suppliers for your business needs. There are no obligations, and the form takes just minutes to complete.


RingCentral Office

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Key Features

✔ 100 to 4,000 inclusive minutes per user, per month (depending on the plan)

✔ Mobile and desktop apps  

✔ On-demand call recording

RingCentral Office is the all-in-one communications provider, offering flexible, cost-effective business phone system packages. The cloud-based VoIP system’s accessibility and versatility mean it is great for small businesses with huge scaling-up potential. All plans come with an abundance of features including call recording, voicemail-to-email, and extensive software integration RingCentral had to make the list.
Pricing starts from: £7.99 per user, per month

Pros
  • It’s cheap. The cost for the basic plan is the cheapest available on this list, and even the advanced plans are still well within a small business budget
  • Quality of service reports ensure customer satisfaction can be monitored
  • Integration heaven - RingCentral can integrate with lots of applications, including Microsoft Office, Salesforce, Zendesk, and Dropbox
Cons
  • Although it offers 24/7 customer service, recent reviews on Trustpilot have suggested that the support isn’t as efficient and immediate as it should be

4com HiHi

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Key Features

HiHi Connect and HiHi There mobile apps 

Call reporting 

On-hold marketing

The 4com HiHi is the slickest, most flexible phone system available on this list. Its ingenious design of a tablet-turned-handset means employees can take their calls on the go, have access to video conferencing, and a whole suite of apps available on the Google Play store. 4Com also offers 24 hour UK-wide support and maintenance, with dedicated nationwide engineers available.
Pricing starts from: Bespoke, quote available on request

Pros
  • The tablet interface makes it incredibly easy to use, and comes with two docking stations, for both the office and home
  • On hold marketing is a great feature that allows you to market products whilst customers are on hold
  • Can replicate your phone system on mobile with HiHi Connect, so you can manage your business anywhere on the go
Cons
  • Pricing and minute allowance/inclusive minutes aren’t mentioned, could end up being pricey especially if the system isn’t replacing an existing phone system

Lily Comms

business_phone_systems

Key Features

✔ Auto-attendant 

✔ Personalised messages and customised hold music 

✔ Access via mobile or web app, handset, and softphone 

Lily Cloud, from award-winning communications company Lily Cloud, is an office phone system that's designed to scale. With on-demand features, the system enables you to add or remove users quickly and easily (which is encouraging for small businesses, whose futures are typically unpredictable). Lily Comms offers an excellent level of customer support, providing you with a dedicated account manager and 24/7 support options. Lily Comms also claims to have saved 86% of its customer’s money once they have switched.
Pricing starts from: Bespoke, quote available on request

Pros
  • Excellent 24/7 customer support, with a dedicated account manager to help you onboard and get the most out of the system
  • Save between 30% to 60% when switching to Lily Cloud from on-premise solutions
Cons
  • You'll need to pay extra for team collaboration features (via the Lily Collaborate platform) such as video conferencing and instant messaging

Summary – the best phone systems UK

So, to summarise, the 5 top phone systems for small businesses based in the UK are:

  1. 8×8 X Series
  2. BT One Phone
  3. RingCentral Office
  4. 4Com HiHi
  5. Lily Cloud

Now you’ve read our reviews, the next step is to start comparing quotes directly from these providers. We can tell you which product is best, but at the end of the day, you need the right system to fit your business needs. This is why our team of experts has created a helpful custom-built comparison tool so you can compare providers quickly, and easily.

Simply fill out the form (in minutes), and we will provide you with quotes and further information from the best UK providers available.

Tips for choosing the best phone system for you

Every business has different needs when it comes to phone systems. For example, some features, like call recording, will be incredibly important to businesses with a customer service team, to manage service quality. Other businesses need to ensure their system has a mobile app, because a lot of their employees are out on the road during working hours, and need to be easily contactable.

Essentially, what you’ll look for in a phone system provider will change, so we’ve put together some questions to consider that will help you navigate the decision-making process.

  • Specialism – Do you want a provider that specialises in phones for businesses or would a more generalist supplier be more suitable?
  • Customer support – Where and how can you access assistance? Think about the time zone that support agents are located in, and how you can contact them e.g. phone, email, live chat
  • Services – Is it only the actual devices that your business requires, or are you looking for a provider that can offer additional services, like hosting, as well?
  • Purpose – If you need phones that can offer specific functions, then seek out a provider that offers these in their devices, such as connectivity or integration with other systems
  • Budget – the amount of funds that you can allocate for a phone system is likely to affect which providers you can choose from, as they all have different price points
  • Customer satisfaction – it’s always important to check how satisfied customers are with a provider’s service. The last thing you want is to be wrapped up in a contract with a provider that has awful customer support, replying to emails weeks later and never answering the phones
  • Contracts – be sure to consider the length of time of contracts with providers, are you happy to be tied into a contract for 24 months? Or do you want a lot more flexibility?

Which features does your business telephone system need?

Think about what your budget is and what your small business requires from a phone system. Some features to consider include:

  • Automated call forwarding – Automatically transfer calls to your business phone to a different number at any location. This can be very useful if you’re expecting an important call to your business, but are out of the office or even on holiday.
  • Dashboard – This allows you to manage your office telephone system from one central resource or programme, with access for all team members, dependant on what their needs are. Some dashboards also allow you to integrate all your communication channels, so you have control over your voicemails, emails, SMS, and fax messages, at one touch point.
  • Speed-dialling – Store the numbers your team members call the most frequently and easily call them with a one-button dial.
  • Answering machine – This may be a standard answer machine system. Or your business might require the ability to convert voicemails into a readable email that gets sent straight to your inbox. It allows you to sort and scan through missed calls and voicemails at a quicker rate than simply listening to each message individually.
  • Conference calling – This feature enables your team to speak to people off-site easily. Conference calls can be popular for team meetings with off-site staff members or calls between your sales team and relevant clients, for example.
  • Video calls – If you work remotely, or want to speak to suppliers and providers without the expense of arranging an in-person meeting, a business phone system with a video calling feature is ideal.

The most basic telephone systems will tend to focus on the most common needs (like speed-dialing and an easy-to-use dashboard), whilst more sophisticated models will be able to do everything on the list above.

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Conclusion – summarising the best small business phone systems

So there you have it, the best business phone systems for small businesses.

Each system has its unique benefits and features. Lily Cloud is the winner for customer support, but the fact you have to purchase its Collaboration software to instant message and arrange video conferences with colleagues is far from the likes of RingCentral’s unified communications offering.

BT One Phone is great for small businesses without an office space, as communication with your colleagues comes at no cost whilst you are all using the One Phone network, wherever in the UK or EU you are.

But, internationally, BT’s system falls short, unlike the incredible 8×8 X series, which offers not only unlimited calls to over 47 countries in the world but the best performance analytics of any system on this list. In terms of versatility, however, that award goes to the unique and slick 4com HiHi. It’s so innovatively designed and has the best interface of all the systems on our list.

Overall, for us at Startups, the winner is the 8×8 X Series. Not only is it a reliable, trusted communications brand, it’s also offering a brilliant system at such a reasonable price of just £8 per month for the express plan, with a generous 30-day free trial to boot. There are plenty of excellent features for small businesses, including integration with countless apps including Hubspot, and the customer service is better than our runner-up, RingCentral Office.

So, what's next?

Now you feel confident about the providers that can help your business, it’s time to compare them directly and choose the right one for you.

We are here to help with that – simply click on our custom-built comparison form, fill out a few simple questions, and you’ll be on the way to choosing from the best business phone system providers in the UK.

Small business phone system FAQs

What is the difference between VoIP and SIP?

SIP stands for Session Initiation Protocol and is the line type for connecting Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) to a phone system, allowing video as well as voice calls to be made over the internet.

  • Although VoIP and SIP both support IP (or internet-based) calls, they aren’t the same thing.
  • VoIP simply means making calls over the internet.
  • SIP, on the other hand, has a much larger scope. It’s a specific protocol that’s used to enable a range of multimedia sessions, which include VoIP calls.

What is PBX?

PBX stands for Private Branch Exchange. This means:

  • You can use outside lines for making external calls
  • Your internal telephone numbers can also be connected to a public telephone network or VoIP provider.
  • PBX phone systems are increasingly similar to VoIP phones. They often have IP points added, so you can host the phone system for your business within the cloud.
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Ross has been writing for Startups since May 2021, specialising in sustainable business and telephone systems. He also runs the successful entrepreneur's section of the website.

He's previously written for Conde Nast Traveller and the NME and is passionate about music, sustainability, and travelling. Follow him on his Twitter - @startupsross for helpful business tips.

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