Phone systems explained

What is a phone system?

A phone system is a device which sits in between the telephone lines coming in off the street and the phone handset you see on your desk. A phone system allows any single handset to pickup a call or dial out using any of the lines that are connected. At the core, that is what a phone system is – a big, automated switch box that connects your phone handset to whichever phone line you need to access. These days phone systems are very smart and have many complex features that save time,  money and improve the customer’s experience when they call. Almost all brands of phone systems have the same or similar features. Lets have a look at some of the most common features:

Auto Attendant

Auto attendant is what you listen to when you ring your bank and you hear a recording asking you to select from a list of options or hold to speak to an operator. This is a fully customizable part of a phone system. Here are a couple of examples of a typical setup in a small to medium sized business.

1. A caller rings in to a Steve’s consulting business. The reception phone rings for 15 seconds, if the receptionist has not been able to pickup the call, the auto attendant will answer the call, play a message like “thank you for calling Steve’s consulting, we are currently busy handling other calls. Please hold and we will be with you shortly. The call will continue to ring on the reception handset. Another 2 phones start to ring as a backup, the caller has now been waiting for 1 minute. Another message is played saying “we are currently attending a high volume of calls. Please hold and we will be with you as soon as possible”.This message will repeat itself every 40 seconds until the call is answered.

2. A caller rings in to Bob’s PC parts. There is no receptionist so as soon as a call comes in, it is answered by a recording that says “thank you for calling Bob’s PC parts. Please select from the following 3 options. Press 1 for sales, 2 for support or 0 to speak to an operator once the call has been transferred to the appropriate phone handsets.

Most new small business phone systems are capable of having an auto attendant although this is one feature that if required is worth investing in one of the more expensive brands such as Panasonic or Samsung as they are far more flexible and well designed when it comes to how the auto attendant actually works. An auto attendant is great if it setup correctly on quality hardware. The last thing you want is callers getting stuck in a never ending loop.

Voice Mail

Many voice mail units these days incorporate the auto attendant function and voice mail in one unit. Having a Voice mail enabled phone system will give each handset on your system a unique mail box and personalised greeting message. Some voice mail units on the more expensive phone systems offer features such as, voice mail to email (you receive an email attachment with your message) and live conversation recording.


Least Cost Routing LCR (also know as automatic route selection ARS) is a programmable feature of modern phone systems that allows you to decide for each type of outgoing call, ie Local, national, mobile or international which line to dial out on and which carrier to use. It routes, as the name suggests, the outgoing call through the cheapest possible carrier for that type of call.


Most new phone systems are capable of using VoIP lines, VoIP remote extensions and interconnecting with other VoIP capable systems through the internet. More information can be found here – Understanding VOIP for small business

Music on hold/Messages on hold

Music on hold is a standard function of every phone system ever manufactured. All phone systems have a port (usually a 3.5mm headphone jack) that when connected to a radio or other source, delivers the sound to the people waiting on h0ld.


There are many other features that are out of the scope of this post but keep in mind that almost all phone systems have the same features as standard. The most important this to do when purchasing a phone system is to find a phone company that listens to your requirements and gives you good honest advise. Remember that a new phone system is only as good as person who installs it.