A Comparison: PBX Phone Systems vs. Contact Center Software

Before you build your contact center, there’s one crucial decision to make.

Will you need a PBX phone system or contact center software?

Both systems allow you to make and receive phone calls, but that’s where most of the similarities end.

The key is to decide which system will work best for your business’ needs.

So here are some things to take into consideration before you take this first major step.



If you’re looking for a way for your employees to communicate with each other, make occasional outbound phone calls, and answer inbound phone calls, then a PBX phone system will suffice.

It is, after all, the traditional analog style of phone systems used by companies for many years.

Features of PBX phone systems include:

  • Menu of options (e.g. connect to an extension or to a department)
  • Directory of employee extensions
  • Placing callers on hold (with music or custom messages while they are holding)
  • Employee or departmental voicemail
  • Call Transfer and Conference Calling

If your goal is more customer service or sales/productivity oriented, then contact center software will provide a dynamic range of features that will keep your customers satisfied and your team busy.

Contact center software allows companies to handle customer issues from any communication channel (eg. chat, email, phone call), be more efficient with outbound campaigns, improve agent performance, analyze data, and achieve customer experience and sales goals.

At Five9, our contact center software includes features designed to optimize your business (inbound vs. outbound vs. common platform/administration), including:

  • Automated call distribution (ACD)
  • Intelligent routing
  • Automated outbound dialing (can increase talk time by 300%+ per hour)
  • Dialer list management
  • Campaign and list management
  • Call recording & quality monitoring
  • Text-to-speech & speech recognition
  • Agent scripting
  • Real-time, historical & custom reporting
  • Contact history database
  • Data import



For businesses, this is a major consideration.

PBX  systems may save money when it comes to phone bills, but when it comes to daily operation, that’s where the costs can pile up.

Normally, the up-front costs of starting a contact center through a PBX system costs about $1,000 per user, not including setup and installation costs.

In addition, there’s the cost of purchasing the equipment along with monthly service and maintenance fees.

With contact center software, there’s no large, long-term investment or start-up fee, and businesses often find that contact center software reduces costs in several areas.

In a survey of nearly 100 Small Businesses who use Five9 Contact Center Software, it was found that there are several key areas where contact center software helps reduce costs for organizations:

reduce costs

Additionally, many cloud contact center providers offer a pay-as-you-go model, eliminating the fear of a lengthy contract or equipment you can no longer use.



As your business continues to prosper, you’ll no doubt be adding new agents.

PBX systems are built to only allow a certain number of phones and lines.

There’s a central box (with prices ranging from a few hundred to several thousand dollars) that supports a large (but limited) number of lines, typically anywhere from 8 to 32 (and upwards).

Instead of having dedicated phone numbers for each department or individual, companies can have fewer lines but still have telephone units for team members.

Calls made within the company are routed internally, while outside calls utilize any available lines.

If you outgrow the system you currently have, you’ll have to pay for the extra capacity.

With contact center software, you can add lines at will, the only limitation is your internet connection.


Equipment Needs

When it comes to setting up a PBX system, there’s a laundry list of equipment required to start even the most basic system.

This list includes:

  • Cabinets and other housing
  • Console or switchboard (to control incoming calls)
  • Wires and cables
  • Stations or telephone sets

Conversely, the list of equipment required to use contact center software is dramatically shorter.

In addition to computers for your agents, all you’ll need is:

  • An internet connection
  • A Headset (noise-cancelling or duo headset preferably)

It’s also worth noting that the flexibility and minimal equipment requirements of cloud contact center software provide an ideal environment for employing at-home agents, which is a proven way to find good talent and save on costs.



You need a reliable system, but inevitably, there will be issues along the way.

PBX systems often require a dedicated employee to maintain the system, which may lead to all the costs of hiring someone new.

And if a piece of hardware breaks down, it means scheduling an appointment to have a service technician come on-site to inspect and fix the problem.   

Using contact center software means that your provider will handle any updates or system maintenance.

If you currently have a PBX phone system and aren’t sure if contact center software is something that’s feasible, consider investing in a hybrid solution.

In short, a hybrid solution offers the basic functionality of contact center software, but without the additional hardware costs.

If your business requires it, a hybrid system will even allow you to use the same phone to dial outside numbers and dial employee extensions in different countries.

For many businesses, these basic features are all that’s required of the phone system.


For more information about building a contact center specifically for your needs and budget, contact us today 1-800-553-8159