The good news: If you’re in the market for new unified communication platforms for your small business, there’s never been a better time for it. You have a wide variety of options at your fingertips.
The not-so-good news: That “wide variety” can be a little overwhelming and hard to navigate. Every UCaaS provider says they’re the best at what they do… but who’s actually offering the highest quality product at the right price? Where do you even begin to wade through the different tools and decide which one is best for your team?
Here’s some more good news, though: We did the wading for you. (And boy, are our legs tired! *badum tss*)
As an expert and popular choice in the world of cloud communications, we know a thing or two about UCaaS (and our competitors). Today, we’re ready to share the scoop. We’ve rounded up 11 of the top unified communications platforms in the business and ranked them with small businesses in mind. Here are the criteria we used for this comprehensive ranking of UCaaS products:
- Ease of use. Time is a valuable resource for small businesses, so we looked into customer reviews about each product’s ease of use and customer support.
- Quality of service. In a small business, outages can mean loss of real customers. How reliable is the cloud phone connection?
- Affordability. Every dollar counts when you run a business. How much will this service impact your bottom line?
- Integrations. How well does the platform sync with your current applications, like your CRM or email client? The less toggling you have to do, the better.
- Customer support. How easy is it to reach them, and how helpful are they in a crisis?
- Overall value. Affordability is important, and what you get for that price determines a product’s true value. A la carte apps might look cheapest on the surface, but add-ons can really add up.
Today, we’ll cover:
- What is a “unified communications platform”?
- 5 benefits of unified communications platforms for small businesses
- How to choose the right unified communications platform for your business
- 11 of the best unified communications platforms, ranked by value
RingCentral is a PCMag’s Editors’ Choice Award winner because of its reliable service and easy-to-use app (among other reasons)!
A great unified communications platform acts as a one-stop shop, bringing your business’s communication channels together into one application. These platforms usually consist of a few standard features:
UCaaS basic features to look for
Every unified communication (AKA, UCaaS) platform is a little different, but most solid platforms will allow you to do the following on any device:
- Chat and collaborate with team members
- Start and join video meetings
- Make and receive phone calls
We’d call these features the bare minimum of any solid UCaaS platform. If the product you’re investigating doesn’t have them, head for the hills.
And by “the hills,” we mean “the rest of this post.”
🔍 Are you thinking about purchasing a new communication tool and unsure how to get started? Here’s a checklist to help you pick the right one for your business.
UCaaS premium features to look for
Here are some additional features that make a unified communication platform worth its monthly bill:
- Business SMS: text customers from any device
- Digital fax: no machines required
- Easy-to-use mobile app: an intuitive interface accessible from anywhere
- Download-free video conferencing: great for meetings with clients or stakeholders who might not want to download an app
- File sharing, annotation, and organization
- Third-party integrations: sync with your favorite work apps
- Advanced call routing: ACD and IVR
- Secure voice and video
- High-def voice and video
The silver lining: on some platforms, these features won’t cost much more than the basic package. Plus, they’re likely to pay for themselves over time thanks to a boost in efficiency, team collaboration, and customer satisfaction.
Running a small business is a one-of-a-kind experience, and streamlining your communications can have some big benefits:
1. Save time
Think that toggling between apps isn’t costing you? Think again. According to recent research, employees jump between different applications over 1,000 times a day.1 This kind of inefficiency might seem small at first, but it adds up to time lost, tasks missed, and mistakes made.
When you funnel all of your communication channels into one efficient app, it eliminates the constant switching of gears. That could mean more focused employees and more time spent on the real work of growing your business.
2. Handle more customers with a small team
Speaking of efficiency: a unified communication platform allows you to expand your customer base without doubling your team members—or losing the personal touch your customers love. This kind of sustainable scalability is a critical win for small businesses. Automation is a small business owner’s friend, and the right UCaaS solution for your business should cut down on the manual tasks that slow down your employees.
One example: as you grow, you’ve probably noticed your team answers the same questions over and over again. But with interactive voice response as part of your UCaaS platform, you could create a self-service menu for callers that allows them to help themselves.
Whether they’re checking their balance, confirming an upcoming appointment, or looking for your business hours, more customers will get the help they need without taking up your team’s time.
3. Improve team communication
In a small business, it’s important to have all your departments on the same page… but in a lot of cases, they aren’t even in the same book.
When each team has its own set of tools, silos can develop, and things start slipping through the cracks. And if you have remote team members, as so many of us do today, active collaboration becomes even more of a challenge.
Unified communications platforms tear down silos by pulling everyone into the same space for their daily tasks. With features like team messaging and video conferencing, coworkers are just a click away from each other no matter where they work. And with file sharing and task tracking right inside the platform, it’s easy to keep everyone up to speed and heading toward common goals.
4. Delight (and keep) your customers
Every customer counts when you run a small business. One surefire way to keep them around is to offer excellent customer service. The customer experience encompasses every interaction you and your team have with someone: before, during, and after a sale. A powerful unified communication platform can help optimize every step of the customer journey so folks feel seen, heard, and valued.
Put yourself in your customer’s shoes. Is there anything more annoying than having to call a business multiple times to have a simple question or concern addressed? That’s why your service team’s first call resolution rate (FCR) is critical to customer retention.
Unified communication platforms that offer automatic call distribution and other advanced call routing features can be clutch for improving your FCR. For example, if you have tech support on hand, you can use skill-based routing to ensure customers who call with IT issues reach an expert the first time, every time.
The best UCaaS platforms also give your customers more ways to interact with you: phone, video, SMS, even online chat for collaboration with your team if needed. Whether your fans are introverts or extroverts, they’ll feel comfortable reaching out, and more likely to stick around as a result.
5. Empower your employees
It’s not just important to keep your customers happy as a small business. It costs real time and money to replace an employee when they leave—sometimes as much as nine months of that employee’s salary.2
So, it’s cheaper to keep your employees on board. How can a cloud communications app help? The right UCaaS platform could improve your employee’s experience by:
- Making work more flexible. The ability to work remotely has become essential in 2020, especially as parents juggle work and virtual schooling. Even before the pandemic hit, the “work from anywhere” trend was on the rise, and now we know people can be just as effective from home as they are in an office setting.Unified communication platforms make flexible work more possible than ever before, and it’s what teams want. Why not leverage these tools for happier employees?
- Strengthening teamwork. Communication breakdowns, especially across departments, are a huge cause of frustration for employees. Increased frustration can lead to greater attrition. See where we’re going with this?With a unified communication platform, you can rid your team of siloed discussions so everyone is more likely to get the most accurate information the first time. Plus, with access to the messaging feature from any device, your team might get faster answers to questions, which means fewer mile-long email threads full of misunderstandings.
- Providing tools for success. The right unified communication platform for your business will equip your team with automation to help them do their best work. Employees will love the ability to set their own task reminders, sync the app with their calendar, annotate shared files, and collaborate via their preferred channels.
Assemble a diverse search team
One of the best ways to ensure you decide on the best UCaaS platform—and add some enthusiasm to implementation—is to enlist folks from every corner of the office in the process.
By doing so, you’re more likely to choose a product that best fits everyone’s daily needs the first time, instead of finding gaps and shortcomings once teams start to use the system.
Brainstorm your biggest needs
Sit with your team and create a UCaaS wish list based on everyone’s daily app usage and tasks. As with any good brainstorm, the word “no” should be off the table in the first round. Let everyone shout out their ideas; you never know what useful tools might come to light.
From there, narrow down the list. It’s helpful if the tools you prioritize align with your business goals for the year; that way, everyone understands the criteria for the new software’s specs. For example, if one goal is to improve internal communication, a powerful messaging feature should be a must-have on your final list.
Decide on a budget (hint: value > price)
Take a look at different platforms and decide what you’re willing to spend. There are lots of options available (we’ll get to them later in this post) at a variety of price points, and most UCaaS platforms offer several pricing tiers with small businesses in mind.
A note of caution: while some products might look like a steal on the surface, you might end up paying more in the long run… either in supplementary tools or lost customers to lower quality service. Be sure to consider the upfront price and the long-term value of these services before buying.
Long-term value includes features like scalability—so you don’t outgrow the platform and need to shop again in two years—and an impressive uptime SLA (the monthly number of minutes the phone service is up and running). For example, RingCentral’s uptime is 99.999%, which is hard to beat.
Test drive different UCaaS platforms
Just about every platform we’ve included here gives you a way to try before you buy. This could be a demo, a trial period, or even a free tier of their plan.
It’s a good idea to include both tech-happy and tech-averse people on your team in these demos or test runs. That way, you can see which platform is really the easiest to use for folks of all technical comfort levels.
Ask lots of questions
This is when that wish list you made really comes in handy. As you shop around and test your options, don’t be afraid to ask about all of the features you need. Make sure a software provider can meet as many of your must-haves as possible so you don’t have to start the whole process over in a year or two.
Choose your favorite platform and implement
Once you’ve settled on the right unified communication platform, it’s time to roll it out to your team. Take advantage of the tool’s online knowledge base to train everyone on the new software. For example, RingCentral has an entire training site full of self-guided modules, helpful videos, and more.
During these early stages, don’t be afraid to reach out to the software provider for assistance! Some platforms, like RingCentral, even offer a few hours of custom training with a member of their team. Take advantage of everything a service offers to make sure your whole office is comfortable with their new product.
Evaluate the tool regularly
As you’re planning the implementation of your new UCaaS platform, make sure to schedule out some check-ins throughout the year. It’s important to take the temperature of new users to see what’s going well and where there are snags, if any.
Be sure to make the UCaaS provider aware of any serious issues so they can correct them, and you and your team can get back to work. Also, don’t be afraid to ask if something new is possible. If you decide to go with a platform like RingCentral, which owns all of the technology it uses, your big idea could improve the way the software supports your team and others.
Here’s our definitive ranking of unified communication platforms, with a focus on value for small businesses. The further you go down the list, the fewer features are offered for the price:
- MiCloud Connect by Mitel
- CenturyLink Digital Phone
TechRadar named RingCentral the #1 VoIP service provider of 2020, and small businesses love the reasons why.
RingCentral earned top marks for best overall quality of calls, ease of use, and our range of pricings to satisfy any budget. As a small business owner, you’ve probably learned that real value beats the cheapest price every time. RingCentral is both affordable and offers a high-quality VoIP phone system for businesses of all sizes, with toll-free minutes included at every pricing tier. Plus, the app has a clean, beautiful interface:
RingCentral is so much more than a cloud phone, though. This modern system comes with over 50 robust features that let you turn any mobile device into a powerful all-in-one communication tool, including:
- HD quality for voice and video
- Team messaging and collaboration: group chat, file sharing, tasks
- 99.999% uptime SLA
- Full cloud PBX service in 40+ countries
- Easy-to-use desktop and mobile app
- Business numbers for desk and mobile devices: over 200 area codes available
- Unlimited audio conferencing
- Up to 200 video conference participants
- Business SMS and online fax
- Voicemail transcription for easy reading
- 24/7 live support: phone, chat, email
- Industry-leading security across all devices
- Real-time metrics for monitoring quality of service
🚗 Get a test drive of RingCentral and see how it 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.
RingCentral customer reviews
It’s one thing to brag about our own VoIP service,3 but how do these features hold up in the real world? Here’s what customers are saying about RingCentral:
“I am totally satisfied with all aspects of RingCentral! – Fairly priced – 99.999% uptime – Excellent tech support. I can offer no higher recommendation. Thank you!” – William Kisse, RingCentral user
“Within the first week, we deployed to hundreds of employees. A few weeks later, thousands. The app works great for users, managers and admins. User adoption rate is impressive. I can’t say enough to promote RingCentral support and professional services. Thank you for bringing so much to a modern, easy to use interface.” – Justin Davidson, RingCentral user
“The system was built so that minor problems can be handled by the end-user, on average. When help is needed it’s available immediately by chat. Most everything is resolved on the first attempt. If not, RingCentral escalated immediately. Having the ability to expand our system and network at the touch of a keyboard is invaluable. Additionally, integrating with Salesforce was a snap. We couldn’t be happier with the choice we’ve made in this technology for our business.” – Ron Joyal, RingCentral user
“I was stressed about changing business phone plans, especially during these challenging times. The staff at RingCentral were absolutely awesome to work with. The implementation team went above and beyond to make sure everything was set up and configured properly as well as making sure that I understood the setting in the Admin console. The mobile app and softphone app work very well. I’ve tried and tested several different plans without too much success. I would highly recommend RingCentral.” – Thomas Cote, RingCentral user
If you’re interested, we’ve compiled all of our online reviews for easy reading. Read more RingCentral customer reviews.
RingCentral app integrations
RingCentral also integrates seamlessly with over 200 popular apps. You can sync a CRM like Salesforce with RingCentral to track and route every call for better customer service:
All of these features add up to time saved on manual tasks and toggling between different tools, and that means more time spent on the work that matters most to growing your business. That’s real value.
RingCentral customer engagement
And speaking of growing your business: RingCentral also offers an omnichannel customer service center that can take your customer service game to the next level:
This additional service helps you handle and track all your customer interactions—phone calls, emails, text messages, even social media comments—all from one easy-to-use platform that’s built for collaboration.
🕹️ 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.
8×8 is another solid choice for small businesses in need of a UCaaS platform, and it’s ranked high because of its affordability. They offer competitive quotes, short contracts, and deep discounts. But buyer beware: their pricing can be a real study in “you get what you pay for.”
We recently did a deep dive on 8×8, and here’s what we found. Compared with RingCentral, 8×8 falls short on live phone support availability (only certain products qualify), and their number of app integrations (a couple dozen versus RingCentral’s 200+). They still deliver good service and a user-friendly interface, and they rank well overall as a VoIP service provider. But you’ll end up paying as much as you would for some other services on this list if you need video conferencing and team collaboration features.
What’s the verdict? 8×8 could be the right choice if your budget is super tight. But be prepared to pay more for additional features over time. This might mean outgrowing their service more quickly than an all-inclusive, scalable choice like RingCentral.
Fuze is a solid unified communications platform. Just like RingCentral, they offer a 99.999% uptime and one central app for all of their capabilities, which makes your life easier. They’re also in the Top 3 of Gartner’s 2019 UCaaS Magic Quadrant for completeness of vision (behind RingCentral, who has been an MQ leader for five years):
There’s a reason RingCentral is so far out in front, though. If your business has distributed teams—either in different office spaces, on the road, or working from home—Fuze might not be the right platform for you.
According to recent customer reviews of Fuze, their main pitfalls are call quality, service reliability, and tech support. People have complained about the app itself freezing or seizing up and taking a long time to get started. They’ve also struggled with the mobile messaging feature crashing and slow or unavailable phone service.4
As a small business, these are areas that could really cost your business valuable time and customers. And if your team works from home or on the road, issues with the app could slow down collaboration.
(On the other hand, RingCentral won PCMag’s Editors’ Choice Award because of our reliable service and easy-to-use app. Just sayin’.)
4. Vonage: A fan of small businesses
Vonage is a big name in the communications game, and for good reason. Like RingCentral, they offer an extensive set of features with several tiers of pricing and service, so you can choose the plan that makes the most sense for your small business and the option to add on a customer engagement suite.
They also have a good-sized base of customers who are small business owners, which means they know what they’re doing when it comes to your unique needs.
There are, of course, a few catches. For one, they’re one of the most expensive products on this list. You also can’t sample the app with a free trial. So if you’re considering Vonage, be sure to ask lots of questions about functionality specific to your business needs before signing that contract.
Vonage also owns less of their tech than RingCentral for some of their features. That means behind their app, Vonage is juggling several different platforms, which might lead to snags in seamlessness on your end.
5. Dialpad: Easy to use
Dialpad offers low-cost plans for small businesses. Besides the price point, customers most appreciate the easy installation and ease of use, and Dialpad integrates with a few of the big-name apps: Salesforce, Zendesk, Microsoft 365, and a handful of others. Their paid plans include some of the features RingCentral offers: cloud phone, video, and text messaging capabilities, as well as internal group chat in one app.
But just like the other more cost-conscious options on this list, you might notice the difference in quality. While RingCentral guarantees just about the highest level of phone service in the industry, Dialpad customers have complained about spotty calls over Wi-Fi at times.5
Also, their video conferencing software is somewhat in flux; they recently acquired Highfive for this functionality within the app after outgrowing UberConference.6 This could mean the video portion of Dialpad improves and becomes more powerful. But there could also be some growing pains that customers feel while the companies merge, especially when it comes to tech support for the new service. Only time will tell.
Mitel’s been in the game for a long time, opening back when the idea of the cloud hadn’t even been thought of yet. They’ve earned this longevity by offering reliable products, and it shows; TechRadar ranked them #4 in 2020 for best VoIP (behind RingCentral at #1).
For about the same price as RingCentral (potentially a few dollars less per user per month, depending on what tools you need), MiCloud Connect’s offerings fall a little short. As of the writing of this post, Mitel’s uptime SLA is listed as 99.99%, compared to RingCentral’s 99.999%. This might not seem like a huge difference, but having phones down as a small business can mean real business lost, so try to find the best uptime as you’re shopping.
Reporting is an important feature to consider, too. While RingCentral offers intuitive, easy-to-read dashboards for any number of metrics and KPIs you care to track, MiCloud’s reporting functionality is siloed across the different versions (internal and external usage). That means it can be a little clunky trying to bring all the data together and identify trends for decision making.
Star2Star is another top contender for a unified communication platform, offering a 99.999% uptime SLA just like RingCentral. Customers seem happy with the ease of use and price, and Star2Star touts being affordable, but they don’t list their plan prices on the website. That’s why we’re hesitant to rank them any higher.
Star2Star has also come out strong on their disaster recovery capabilities: the ability to keep your business up and running no matter what happens, thanks to the cloud and constant monitoring of service.
It’s worth noting, though, that these functions and the other few they list for disaster recovery all come standard in other UCaaS offerings, including RingCentral, so it’s not clear how exactly they’re doing disaster recovery better than their competitors.
Star2Star includes the ability for external collaboration through their messaging feature, but it’s limited to, at most, 20 outside contributors at their highest price point. This might not be the best product for your business if you’re any kind of consulting or creative team that collaborates heavily with your clients, sending drafts or other items back and forth for multiple projects at once via the messaging function.
It’s also unclear what the video conferencing capacities are at each pricing tier, so be sure to ask about this if face-to-face remote meetings are important to your business.
CenturyLink is pretty different from the other UCaaS providers on this list, because they are also an internet provider for small businesses. This means they could be pricier than other services you’ll find here if you decide to use them as a full-service product, but it might be nice to have your internet and cloud services under one umbrella if there’s an issue.
Their Business Communicator app includes internal collaboration tools like group messaging and file sharing as well as video conferencing. It’s unclear what the price points are for their two digital phone tiers, however, so if you’re interested, you’ll have to call or chat with them to find out. CenturyLink offers a 99.99% uptime SLA, which falls short of RingCentral’s 99.999%.
CenturyLink runs into a similar hurdle that some of RingCentral’s other competitors do: unlike RingCentral, they don’t own their technology. CenturyLink’s softphone service operates on Broadsoft-hosted VoIP, which means technical issues might take more time and communication to properly fix.
They also offer limited out-of-the-box integrations with popular business software, so you could find yourself doing a lot more toggling between different apps. And some pretty basic features—Auto Attendant and call recording, for example—are add-ons you have to purchase separately.
Broadvoice is another solid PBX provider, especially for small businesses on a budget. They’re an affordable, no-frills cloud phone service that touts flexibility and scalability, with a generally happy base of customers. Their B-hive Communicator app is what you’re looking for when it comes to a unified communication platform: phone, video, and team messaging are included there.
As with the other more affordable options on the list, you’ll end up paying more for certain features. These include call recording, virtual fax, global availability, and the B-hive Communicator app. All of these are only available at their highest price point. Plus, there’s no call routing available at any tier, and there’s a charge for texting at the lowest tier. Beware the à la carte apps, reader.
Like 8×8 and Dialpad, Grasshopper is likely to be a more affordable business phone solution on the surface, so check them out if your main concern is price. You’ll get the basic cloud communications features for this price: business phone numbers, SMS capabilities, and call and voicemail routing.
There are some limitations, however. Grasshopper currently offers no video conferencing or third-party integrations, which could mean a lot of toggling between different apps. They also don’t offer a solution for your contact center at this time. Details on the breadth and depth of their features are also pretty thin on the ground, which isn’t usually the best sign. Compare their features page with RingCentral’s features page. We’ll wait here.
11. 3CX: Super cheap
3CX just might be the VoIP service provider for your small business if you’re on a super-tight budget. While most other applications cost around $20 per user per month, give or take, for a middle-of-the-road plan, 3CX offers their highest tier for $1.31 per user per month (as of the writing of this post). They do also offer a very limited plan for free, with different capacities depending on expected simultaneous calls.
You can probably imagine where this is going. 3CX is probably the least “unified” product on this list, with no video conferencing included and few features beyond handling phone calls. Integrations are extremely limited, focused mostly on CRMs, Microsoft 365, and a few others. They do offer a CRM template creator for systems that don’t sync with 3CX, however.
One way 3CX can keep their prices so low, besides offering a no-nonsense phone system without the bells and whistles, is not owning their cloud technology. To get up and running with cloud phones, you first have to choose your cloud provider: Google Cloud, Amazon Lightsail, or one of several others.
This might be great if you already use the cloud for other aspects of your small business, but we can see this outsourcing causing issues if you run into a technical problem with the cloud down the line. Will 3CX be able to help quickly, or will you have to call multiple companies just to get back online with your customers?
Unified communications platforms: Which one is right for your business?
RingCentral is the clear industry leader and offers some serious bang for your buck, thanks to hundreds of integrations, team collaboration tools for marketing (and sales, and customer service), and high-quality phone and video service. But we know every small business is different, and that’s why we pulled together this diverse set of tools for you to investigate as you weigh your options and priorities.
It’s always a good idea to take these products for a test drive with your team, so you can choose with confidence the option that makes their lives easier and increases productivity. Our biggest advice: take advantage of free trials or demos from the tools on this list, or others that you’re researching, before you buy.
- “Employees switch apps more than 1,100 times a day, decreasing productivity.”
- “The real cost of losing an employee.” https://www.peoplekeep.com/blog/employee-retention-the-real-cost-of-losing-an-employee
- “Best VoIP services of 2020.” techradar.com/best/best-voip-service
- “Fuze Reviews 2020.” capterra.com/p/168394/Fuze/reviews
- “Dialpad Reviews 2020.” capterra.com/p/148730/Dialpad/reviews
- “Dialpad acquires video conferencing service Highfive.” https://techcrunch.com/2020/09/01/dialpad-acquires-video-conferencing-service-highfive/
Originally published Jul 01, 2020, updated Jul 22, 2021