We wrote this blog when we were just getting our startup off the ground and needed a reliable virtual phone. Eventually, we settled on OpenPhone, for the reasons outlined in our 2020 update here.
When something is made “for startups and small businesses,” it often means it's cheap and has less functionality.
With virtual phone services, however, there's a sweet spot between expensive enterprise-grade solutions and free options like Google Voice (no offense).
When we started our company a few years ago, our first “company phone” was a free Google Voice number. This worked for a little while, but very quickly we realized we needed a little more. We decided it would be worth it to invest in a virtual phone service subscription, but choosing the right service for our team wasn't easy.
Virtual Phone Services Key Features for Startups
The best thing about virtual phone systems is in the name—they’re virtual, which means they’re cloud-based solutions that don’t require any on-site hardware. Nowadays, these systems go way beyond a basic voice over internet protocol (VoIP) service that was all the rage about a decade ago.
Here’s a list of essential capabilities that we've identified for SMBs:
- The ability to swiftly and inexpensively add new users
- Integrations with multi-channel communication tools
- Built-in cybersecurity features such as call encryption
- Ease-of-use and centralized phone management hubs
- All-inclusive toolkits for streamlining customer service (think call-routing, transfers/forwarding, etc.)
Here are the top 5 virtual phone services that we think will be best for you:
You might want to check Talkroute’s pricing plans before you get a free trial and like it too much. Aimed at growing teams, the Plus plan costs $39 per month and offers a decent amount of features for help desks and customer service. For integrations, however, you’ll need a full $99 Enterprise plan.
With 5 numbers included and an unlimited number of users, local calls, toll-free minutes and text messages, Talkroute’s Enterprise plan definitely pays off. Plus, there’s a full set of customer service features, together with account management capabilities, robust reporting, and custom integrations. You could probably get by on just their Plus plan, however, if all you need is call transfers, custom greetings, call forwarding, and text messages. Check out their full price breakdown here.
MightyCall’s highest price tier, the Ultimate plan, is exactly the same price as Talkroute’s ($99.99 per month). Their Ultimate plan boasts only 10 toll-free or local numbers but compensates that with a full suite of features.
Also, extensions and text messages are unlimited in all plans.
Apart from essential customer service features – from customizable call routing and queuing to custom greetings and call filtering – MightyCall offers some pretty modern capabilities that most similar systems don’t.
Take widgets, for instance.
Click-to-call and call-back are two pretty simple and straightforward features, but they’re surprisingly hard to find in the majority of popular virtual phone systems. These two features fall under MightyCall’s “softphone” capabilities, which allow call management from your computer.
A refreshing addition is Facebook & Twitter integration, available in all plans, which just might make MightyCall a little better than Talkroute. Multi-channel communication is huge, as customers are already accustomed to having multiple options, and social media integration is something we hope to see become a staple feature in all systems.
Boasting a lot of the same features offered by Talkroute, Grasshopper’s highest tier costs $80 per month. The price applies to its Small Business plan with 5 numbers, unlimited extensions, and around 15 capabilities. What’s cool about Grasshopper is that their plans all have the same features, the price only distinguishes the amount of phone numbers and extensions that come with the service.
What makes Grasshopper an interesting candidate for any SMB company is that it is unusually (and delightfully) clean. Both desktop and mobile apps come with minimalistic and user-friendly interfaces, saving time and boosting efficiency.
Grasshopper earns extra points for its simultaneous call handling feature, which basically eliminates customer service waiting times, and the “read your voicemail” feature, which transcribes voicemails and sends them directly to your email inbox.
Check out their guide to virtual phone services.
Aircall has only two pricing plans – Essentials, available at $30 per user per month, and Professional, which costs $50 for every active monthly user. A custom plan is the third option and is priced based on the level of required customization.
Whichever you choose, Aircall is not exactly a budget-friendly solution. However, it’s a great investment with plenty of ROI potential.
In comparison to all other virtual phone systems on our list, Aircall takes the cake when it comes to comprehensiveness. Each plan provides a full suite of customer service features, both essential and additional, including data recording and powerful analytics.
Aircall acts as a communication channel and an account manager at the same time. Attention to details is obvious in features such are custom filters and tags, but that’s not the only advantage of using this smart virtual phone system.
Kudos to Aircall for including a lot of collaborative features as well (somewhat omitted in other apps), namely an ability to assign and comment calls, as well as a conference calls option that is currently in beta.
Take a good look at their pricing page. I’ll even screenshot it for you and throw it here for the lazy people.
Beautiful. One plan, no bullshit. You get all the features, with the choice of up to 5 local or toll-free numbers, and unlimited text and talk. That’s all, folks.
They boast a setup time of 30 seconds, and provide customer support for you in their iPhone and Android apps. OpenPhone is a super minimalistic company but provides all the features you really need from a virtual phone service in a simple and inexpensive pricing plan.
Our startup personally uses OpenPhone (we are not being paid by them to write this, nor do they even know we’re writing this article), and we’ve been loving it so far. The one drawback for me is that I can’t customize the ringtone on my Android phone (or maybe I’m just missing a setting somewhere). Otherwise, this no-frills service is my absolute favorite from this list.
As a startup, you’re in a more favorable position than your competitors from enterprise circles since your business needs will be satisfied by the basic plan on most virtual phone services. These usually include a single central number that everyone in the team can share, which is pretty much everything you need.
As you start growing your team and your brand, however, you will need a solution that can scale along with your company, help expand its customer base and increase your retention rates. At an affordable price, plans designed with small-to-medium businesses in mind can do that by boosting your everyday productivity using beautiful and streamlined apps.
With these 5 virtual phone services, you won’t be settling for anything less.