7 Tips When Choosing a Business VoIP Service for Your SMB

Where we're going, we don't need landlines. If your business is looking for ways to streamline efficiencies and open up more dynamic channels of digital communication, it may be time to evolve from the days of hardwired phones to a business voice-over-IP (VoIP) service to give your small to midsize business (SMB) integrated voice, chat, video, and mobile softphone capabilities in a unified cloud communications platform.

So you've decided to upgrade to a VoIP service but you're wondering where to start. There are a bunch of amazing business VoIP systems out there, but each one has a different set of features and a different pricing structure, so choosing can be difficult. Fonality is our Editors' Choice for business users, but that doesn't mean you should automatically run to their website to buy it. In fact, systems such as RingCentral offer voicemail transcription which Fonality only offers at the highest price tier (you can add transcription services at the other price tiers for an extra fee).

So you've got to do your homework to make sure the VoIP service you choose is the right one for your particular business. With that in mind, we've compiled this list of six things you need to consider before choosing a business VoIP system for your SMB.

1. Plans and Pricing

We might as well start with the most important characteristic: cost. What good is choosing a business VoIP service with all of the bells and whistles if you can't afford it? Fonality starts at $24.99 per user per month for 1-4 users to access its barebones system. This gives you access to unlimited calling, basic queueing services for incoming calls, and an auto attendant. If you want to add more advanced services, you have to bump up to the $29.99 service for 5-10 users (which includes video conferencing) or another one of its higher tiers for enterprise scale and functionality. Again, Fonality is the cream of the crop when it comes to business VoIP, so this is the highest price you should pay if you're not looking for any specific customizations or add-ons. RingCentral offers similar (though not exact) basic and intermediate pricing starting at $19.99, but it also offers a $44.99 per user per month plan that includes HD videoconferencing for up to 50 users at a time.

VoIP tools such as Citrix Grasshopper and Microsoft Skype for Business are primarily geared toward videoconferencing, so you'll pay much less per month, though Skype for Business will soon give way to Microsoft Teams as Microsoft's default video communication client for businesses.

You can still make calls from a hardware desktop phone, but you'll pay extra for this feature. With Grasshopper, you won't be able to transcribe voicemail messages, and your system won't automatically record every call for posterity. These are great services for companies that do everything from their laptops or tablets, but they're not as good as RingCentral and Fonality for companies that handle a high volume of incoming and outgoing calls.

2. Custom Mobile Apps

Your staffers are probably on the go at least some of the time, so you're going to want a VoIP service that can travel with them. Unfortunately, not all VoIP providers offer mobile apps that deliver the same value and services as the desktop apps. All of the systems we reviewed offer solid mobile apps, but be careful as this isn't an industry standard. Most VoIP services will offer call forwarding, which is a handy way to get calls delivered to your workers when they're on the road. Those systems without a dedicated app won't be able to create a log for these calls nor create voicemail transcripts if the call isn't answered.

3. Call Routing and Management

Fonality offers extended services similar to what you'd find at a call center for a big box retailer. These options let you do things such as route calls from one rep to another after a few rings, provide a touch or voice menu, or hold calls within a queue until they are answered. Obviously, your videoconferencing-focused VoIP systems won't deliver this kind of value. If that's what you're looking for, you should definitely choose a traditional desktop, phone-based VoIP solution.

4. Third-Party Productivity Integrations

If you want your sales and service reps to be productive while on calls, you're going to want a VoIP service that integrates with third-party apps. RingCentral, for example, offers a healthy dose of extensions, including Desk.com , Dropbox , and Google Drive .

RingCentral's extensions also include Microsoft Office and Zendesk . Fonality also offers integrations, including Box , Salesforce.com , and most Android apps. Make sure you run down the list of integrations before making your decision. If one of the VoIP providers jibes better with your software ecosystem than the others, that's probably your best bet, especially if you handle a high volume of sales and service calls.

5. Support

As with any product, the level of service you'll receive is crucial to how well your service functions. Fonality offers 24/7 phone support, live chat support, and email ticket support for customers who experience issues. RingCentral offers 24/7 phone support for customers with plans for two or more users. If you're a single user, you'll only be able to get someone on the horn during 13-hour blocks Monday through Friday. RingCentral also offers 24/7 live chat support. If you run a global business with round-the-clock needs, you're going to want to find a service provider that can guarantee your queries will be answered immediately (or at least in a timely fashion). If they can't offer that, you might want to look elsewhere, especially if your phone system is the main method of communicating with clients.

6. Security

Security is a must for every cloud-based service that's plugged into your business, and the attack vectors evolve every day. For an internet-connect application like a VoIP app that's serving as the hub of your business communications, inside-out security measures are even more imperative. Do your due diligence on vendors to know where the responsibility lies for data stored in a cloud-based service, and if possible negotiate security terms into your contract. Look for services that offer end-to-end encryption and authentication, private VLANs, and behind-the-firewall protection. Check out this list of do's and dont's to securing your VoIP communications for more details.

7. Unified Communications

Your VoIP service provider can also be a one-stop shop for all of your communications needs. This means integrating your chat functionality, conference calls, emails, phone calls, video calls, and voicemail within one app. All of the services we reviewed offer this level of service, but not every VoIP provider will do this for you. This means you'll be running disparate systems across your SMB, with no way to keep track of who received which message, on which device, and through which medium.

This isn't necessarily a must-have feature, but it's something you'll want to consider, especially if you have employees who are using multiple forms of communication to contact one another. Think of it this way: You can use Microsoft Outlook , Microsoft Skype, Microsoft Dynamics CRM (customer relationship management), and Microsoft ERP (enterprise resource planning)—all on a Windows Phone—to conduct all of your communications, without ever leaving the interface. You can also do so without paying multiple bills and worrying about tying the apps together on the back end.

This article originally appeared on PCMag.com.