As the world goes virtual, flexible communications solutions are becoming more and more important. You might have heard of softphone systems when it comes to business communications, although that terminology is getting replaced by other, more modern categories of tools like unified communications.
Generally, softphones are software-based phone systems that offer internet-based calling with other additional features. (Gone are the days when business phone calls could only be made from the desk!)
We’re going to cover everything you need to know about softphone technology and why / how to use it. We’ll be delving into:
- What is a softphone?
- Advantages of using softphones
- What features does a softphone app have?
- How to choose the right softphone provider for your business
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Basically, a softphone is a type of software-based phone. It allows you to make phone calls over an internet connection without needing designated physical hardware, and it can be installed on desktops and mobile devices. In short, softphones help you make telephone calls without an actual telephone.
For example, here’s a screenshot of RingCentral’s desktop and mobile app, which has—you guessed it—a softphone:
It features all the buttons you might expect a business phone to have, including transfer, mute and hold. However, unlike standard phones, it links to the rest of the RingCentral communications platform, allowing you to send out conference call invitations, view your calendar, and even access team messaging (through the icons on the lefthand sidebar):
How does a softphone work?
Softphones behave like traditional hard phones (think: hard plastic desk phones) and landlines, except they use software to make calls. Because they run on software, they can everything that landline desk phones—and lots that they can’t, including:
- Video calling
- Call recording
- Visual voicemail management
- Team messaging
Softphones run on computers and mobile devices and can be integrated across many different platforms. Desktop applications run on Mac, Windows, Linux, desktops, laptops, tablets, and web browsers. Softphones also run on mobile devices. RingCentral, for instance, has apps for both iOS and Android. Beyond just calling, you can transfer, hold, and even switch calls to use your carrier’s network instead of the internet:
All you have to do is speak into your phone normally (or connect a headset and a speaker to it). The softphone then mimics desk phone functions by using VoIP phone technology (aka voice over internet protocol) to facilitate internet-based voice calls.
What does a softphone look like?
A softphone is just software, so it’ll look like any other calling app or software! Because it mimics the desk phone experience, you’ll get all the usual buttons and options that you’d get in your cell phone’s calling interface. Often, the softphone’s software application appears as an image of a handset alongside an interactive display panel and standard telephone dialpad (like that screenshot of RingCentral above).
However! A softphone will typically have other neat features as well. For example, RingCentral’s mobile app will let you switch your phone call to a video call (just in case you decide you want to speak face to face)—without interrupting your conversation:
Because all of its features are written directly into the software, softphone applications tend to offer a very intuitive user experience, making call transfers, holds, and voicemails simple and easy to navigate.
How do you set up a softphone?
If you think a softphone could benefit you and your business, you’ll want to research some different service providers beforehand. Unified communications as a service (UCaaS) providers and cloud phone system providers are now offering softphones as part of their services.
RingCentral provides all-inclusive desktop solutions that include softphone, fax, text, video calls, and many more additional features. RingCentral transforms computers into powerful telecommunications devices with RingCentral Phone software.
Setting up a softphone is easy. You don’t need a dedicated IP phone. Instead, all you have to do is install the softphone on a device with network access and then set up the software with your personal details and display name. You may want other accessories like a headset, but typically, all you need is a computer or mobile device to install the softphone app on:
Softphone technology boasts a multitude of advantages over traditional phone systems. The software combines familiar telephone features as well as some new additions.
RingCentral’s softphone features include:
- Multiple lines
- Call transfers
- Incoming call notifications
- Caller information
- Shared contact directory
Alongside these cool features, softphones offer portability, privacy, and efficiency. Let’s take a look at each of these features in more detail.
Softphones are by nature portable. Remote workers and frequent travelers can now have their business cell phones with them wherever they are. You can make and take calls from anywhere as if they were at the desk.
See how MHP&S, a law firm based in Tennessee, provides an amazing client experience—even though their attorneys are often on the go and out of the office.
Portability also benefits in-house office staff. Employees no longer have to be at their desks to take a call. On busy days with lots of meetings away from the desk, calls can be taken on any device, from any part of the building.
Your phone can already make calls—so why do you need another softphone app on it? Well, it has its perks. With a softphone app, you can answer work calls from your mobile device while still keeping your personal contacts and information separate, because any calls you make from the app will show your business number—not your personal number. Just because you have a BYOD policy (bring your own device) doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice privacy.
Softphones are efficient. The user interface offers lots of shortcuts and enhancements for users such as drag-and-drop call transfers, visual voicemails, voicemail-to-email configuration, and incoming call notifications. This makes your business communications quick and simple to manage.
We know that softphone software and applications boast great features so let’s take a look at some of the best features you can get in a softphone app in more detail using RingCentral’s softphone software as an example:
1. Shared contacts
Softphone apps allow users to subscribe to company contact lists and share their own contacts with coworkers. This is extremely useful and allows employees to find client contact details much more quickly. Whether you’re a small business or large enterprise, this will save you manually looking up and dialing every extension!
Softphones indicate when teams are online, offline, busy, or in a meeting. This might seem like a small feature, but it does wonders for productivity. Users know when to contact colleagues and can do so when they’re more likely to get a quick response.
RingCentral’s softphone is built into the RingCentral app, which also has video conferencing and team messaging!
This means that not only do you get basic calling, you also get to have face-to-face conversations, create tasks, and more—all in one app:
🕹️ Get a hands-on look at how RingCentral works by booking a product tour:
💰 You can also use this calculator to see roughly how much your business could save by using RingCentral to support your team’s communication with each other—and clients.
4. Easier conference calls
Softphone applications make it easy to connect with colleagues and teams via conference call on their work phones. And for even more flexibility, softphones tend to have both desktop and mobile apps, which means that you should be able to flip a call between your computer and cell phone in the middle of a conversation (just in case you need to step away from your desk quickly):
Voicemail might be a standard telephone feature but modern voicemail services boast great additional features for increased functionality. Softphones facilitate voicemail audio files to be pushed directly to user emails or as push notifications. Users can even request transcriptions, making it easier to take in content at times when making a call would not be possible (in a long meeting for example).
When choosing a softphone provider, the most important thing is to hone in on features that matter to you and your organizational culture. Look out for the key features first (voicemail, call forwarding, transfer, redial, hold, etc.) If the provider has the basics down, then check out their additional features. Be sure to look into how many phone lines you need and how many the provider is able to support.
The next thing to cover is your operating system. Make sure the softphone service you choose is compatible with your existing operating systems and easy to integrate with CRM, lDAP, and Outlook.
Finally, VoIP (voice over IP) services can operate under multiple different protocols. Because of this, be sure to check that the softphone system you choose uses the same protocol as your VoIP provider. Make sure you know what your softphone provider covers. Things that you might need include:
1. Integrated mobile applications
RingCentral offers you a full VoIP or phone service with an integrated, intuitive softphone application. It comes with a robust suite of communication channels that let you stay in touch with teammates and clients, no matter where you are—online calling, team messaging, and video meetings, whatever you need.
See how telephone-dependent real estate firm Dancik Capital Group uses RingCentral softphone technology to connect with partners and clients from anywhere, whether in the office or on the road. (Founder Matt Danik communicates with partners across Southern California and New York constantly!)
“We are accessible to our clients 100 percent of the time.”
Dancik Capital founder Matt Dancik
2. Sufficient phone lines
Decide how many phone lines your business will need in operation at any one time and make sure that the softphone provider you choose can give you that many lines. Find out how flexible they are: Can you scale during busy periods? Do they provide custom phone numbers, and can you easily create a single business identity?
3. Operating system compatibility
Not all softphones are compatible with all operating systems. It’s important that you choose a softphone that works with your existing operating system. (That could be macOS, Windows, iOS or Android—or all of them!)
It’s also worth checking if a softphone provider offers additional app integrations like CRM, LDAP (lightweight directory access protocol), and Outlook.
4. VoIP protocol compatibility
Because protocols determine how data is processed and transferred over any given network, it’s essential that you check a provider’s protocol compatibility. Make sure that your softphone supports the same protocol as your VoIP provider of choice.
5. 24/7 troubleshooting
Be sure that your provider of choice offers sufficient technical support. You’ll want to know that someone is there to help you if something goes wrong or you want to update the terms of your service.
With softphones susceptible to attack, it’s also important to check what kind of security measures any given provider has put in place. Though vulnerability to attack is concerning, in reality, the security risk associated with softphone use is no greater than that for instant messaging, download managers, or internet browsers.
Is your business using a softphone for flexible internet calling?
Softphones offer internet-based calling that is scalable and flexible.
Softphones are a great choice for businesses in need of fluid communications that function from anywhere. Softphones promise all the features of traditional telephone devices, with great added benefits such as video conferencing, chat, and SMS.
If you want all the features of a traditional deskphone experience with the convenience of portability and added integrations, RingCentral’s VoIP service with integrated softphone applications could be exactly what you’ve been looking for.
Originally published Dec 17, 2020, updated Jun 17, 2022