After conducting extensive research and analysis in 2017, we recommend 8x8 as the best phone system for small businesses. We chose 8x8 from a pool of the dozens of business phone systems we considered. To understand how we selected our best picks, you can find our methodology and a comprehensive list of business phone systems on our best picks page.
8x8 is a reliable cloud-based phone system that is easy to use and packed with valuable calling features. 8x8 costs between $19.99 and $29.99 per user, per month depending on how many employees you have and how many features you need.
Few business phone systems are more reliable than 8x8. It has one of the highest documented uptimes — 99.997 percent — of all of the cloud-based VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) systems we investigated. This means that the system is down for only a handful of minutes each year. A representative we spoke with said there was only one outage throughout all of 2016. It occurred in October, when a major distributed denial-of-service attack took down a number of popular cloud-based services, including many other phone service providers.
Editor's note: Looking for information on business phone systems? Use the questionnaire below, and our vendor partners will contact you to provide you with the information you need:
To help prevent system-wide outages, the company has a number of built-in redundancies. For example, 8x8 has multiple identical data centers around the world that provide automatic and transparent failover to prevent disruptions in service. This means that if one of the data centers were to crash, all of the information would be transferred instantly to one of the other data centers in order to keep the service up and running.
The company also works with a number of call carriers to guarantee high call quality at all times. Before each call, the system selects the path of least resistance. Should a carrier go down, the traffic is automatically redirected to one of the other carriers to ensure call continuity. We were impressed at the extra steps 8x8 takes to ensure uninterrupted service. We didn't get this same level of assurance from many of the other providers we analyzed.
Ease of Use
Because 8x8 is a cloud-based VoIP phone system, it doesn't require any complex PBX hardware; all that's needed is high-speed internet access and IP phones.
Once your network is configured to have the required bandwidth and the voice traffic is prioritized over other online uses, the system will be ready to use as soon as you plug the phones into an Ethernet port.
If you buy your phones from 8x8, they come configured and are immediately ready to use once they are plugged in. If you're using phones from an outside vendor, an 8x8 support team member will help you configure them.
Once the phones are up and running, you can set up the entire system via an online portal. This is where you doing things such as create and set up employee extensions, personalize the auto-attendant and create ring groups. The portal, which is accessed through the 8x8 website, also allows you to manage billing, run call-log reports and get help if needed. [See Related Story: VoIP for Business: Why It Makes Sense]
One way to personalize the system is to assign extensions and numbers to each employee. Once employees are entered into the system, they can access the online portal on their own through a desktop application, via a mobile app or by logging in on any computer that's connected to the internet. Accessing the system allows employees to use a softphone on their computer to make and receive calls, review the company directory, check their voicemail and message co-workers. They can also use the portal to make video calls, send and receive online faxes, and conduct web conferencing.
Setting up the auto-attendant feature is also done within the online portal. You can record and upload your own greetings, or upload customized pre-recorded messages. 8x8 also offers an audio production store for professionally recorded options. This service starts at $79 but can be more expensive depending on if you want music involved and how quickly you need it completed.
An added benefit of 8x8 is that it provides a technical installation specialist to walk you through the configuration steps during a free one-hour session. If you want more hands-on help setting up the system, 8x8 offers on-site technical assistance for between $40 and $75 per extension.
8x8 phone systems include just about every calling and integration feature available. One of the features we like best is the direct phone number option. Each extension includes its own unique direct inbound dial telephone number, so customers can call an employee directly rather than dial the main business line. Although most of the other providers offered this feature, many charged extra for it.
There are also a variety of valuable mobility features. The 8x8 mobile app, available on iOS and Android devices, lets you make and receive calls from your business line, check online voicemail, make video calls, instant message with co-workers and send and receive online faxes.
Overall, the system includes more than 40 standard features, including three-way calling, call forwarding, conference calling, call waiting and call transferring. You can also view and listen to your voicemails online, or have them delivered to your email inbox.
The system also offers a variety of features that allow employees to communicate with each other inside the office. There is an online chat system, as well as a presence feature that shows who is available and who is busy.
The system integrates with a wide range of other programs that your business may already be using, including the following:
- Microsoft Outlook
- Skype for Business
In addition to the standard features, 8x8 offers more than 20 optional features, such as additional auto-attendants and ring groups, call queuing, overhead paging and virtual extensions.
You can see a full list of the features, as well as details on each one, on the 8x8 website.
Because this is a cloud-based system, you pay a monthly fee for the service. You don't have to purchase or maintain any hardware other than the phones.
The company offers two different types of service packages: Virtual Office and Virtual Office Pro:
- Cost: $21.99 per user, per month for five to nine employees; $19.99 per user, per month for more than 10 employees.
- Included features: Unlimited local and long distance calling, auto-attendant, conference calling, music on hold, softphones, voicemail-to-email, instant messaging, presence detecting, ring groups and the ability to connect to the system via mobile devices. A full list of features in this plan can be found on the 8x8 website.
Virtual Office Pro
- Cost: An additional $5 per extension, per month for all users; or $10 per user, per month if needed only for some users.
- Included features: In addition to all of the features in the Virtual Office package, it includes web conferencing, online faxing and call recording.
For businesses that don't make many outbound calls, there is also an option to pay for metered extensions, which only include unlimited inbound calling. These plans come with the same Virtual Office and Virtual Office Pro options, except they include only 250 minutes of outbound calling to the U.S. and Canada. Each additional minute is 2.9 cents. These plans are $9.99 per month, per user for the Virtual Office package and $14.99 for the Virtual Office Pro package.
Not all of the providers we researched offered the metered option. While it might be more cost-effective to just go with an unlimited plan so you don't have to worry about how many outbound calls you're making, it is nice to have the choice to pay for a plan with fewer minutes if you know you don't need them all.
There are a number of other features that aren't included in either plan and do cost extra, including the branch office function, which allows you to have a separate auto-attendant and corporate directory for multiple branches, call queuing and a barge whisper monitor that enables supervisors to listen in on employee calls.
There is also an additional fee for a toll-free number. Toll-free numbers are paid for monthly, with costs based on the number of inbound-calling minutes included. Plans range from as little as $4.99 for 150 minutes to as much as $359 per month for 20,000 minutes. Larger packages are also available.
All of the service plans are offered on a month-to-month basis. Although many of the other providers we looked at did offer month-to-month pricing, they charged a much higher rate for that option. Some charged nearly double 8x8's costs for the same level of service, just for the option of not locking into a yearlong contract.
You can also purchase your phones through 8x8. The company has a wide selection to choose from, which range from $80 to $450 each. In addition to traditional IP phones, they offer cordless IP phones, IP conference phones and analog phone/fax adapters.
8x8 offered some of the very best customer service we received during our analysis of business phone systems. To gauge the level of support offered, we called the company multiple times, posing as a new small business owner interested in phone systems.
During our first call, we spoke with a representative who took all the time needed to explain the system and answer our questions. We especially liked that he understood that we weren't looking to make a final decision during our call. Knowing that, he gave us suggestions on how we should evaluate providers during our search process and even emailed us a list of 13 questions he thought would be helpful when comparing and contrasting each provider.
During subsequent calls, the representatives we spoke with were just as helpful. They all answered our calls promptly and gave us clear, detailed answers to our questions. At no point were any of them pushy, and none tried to give us a hard sell of their service. They simply spent time making sure we had all of the information we needed. Many of the other providers we spoke with were more concerned about trying to determine how large of a potential sale our business could be.
After each of our calls, the customer service representatives followed up with emails that outlined the service and had detailed price quotes. Though many providers we spoke to followed up with emails that included pricing information, 8x8 was one of only a few to give a complete quote that included all taxes. That gave us a true feel for what the monthly cost would actually be. Many of the providers we contacted didn't include those details and thus were misrepresenting what their monthly fees would be.
Overall, the entire U.S.-based 8x8 customer support team is available Monday through Friday between 5 a.m. and 6 p.m. PT and 5 a.m. to 2 p.m. PT on Saturdays. The company does provide 24/7 support for network critical issues. In addition, live-chat support, which we also found very helpful, is offered between 6 a.m. and 5 p.m. PT Monday through Friday.
8x8 is an accredited member of the Better Business Bureau and has an A+ rating. Many of the phone system providers we investigated weren't accredited or had lower ratings. As of December 2016, there had been 76 complaints that had been resolved to the satisfaction of the customer over the past three years and 57 that remained unresolved. It is important to note that nearly all of the phone system providers we examined had at least some complaints filed against them with the Better Business Bureau. You can read more about the nature of the complaints on the Better Business Bureau website.
One downside we found with 8x8 is that some of the features you may want, such as a toll-free number or call queuing, cost extra. Some of the other providers we examined included these features in the cost of their service plans. However, this could be why many of the company's competitors have higher monthly costs. It's nice to know that with 8x8, if you don't need these features, you aren't paying for them.
Another potential downside is that 8x8 doesn't have round-the-clock customer service for all issues. Although it does have 24/7 support for network critical issues, all nonemergency problems can be solved only during the support team's normal hours of operation.
Additionally, we would have liked 8x8 to include a breakdown of its pricing on its website. Having to call to get a price quote can be a turnoff for some small business owners who are just trying to get an idea of what costs they can expect.
Best Business Phone Systems
Ready to choose a business phone system? Here's a breakdown of our complete coverage:
- Business Phone System Buyer's Guide
- Roundup: The Best Business Phone Systems
- REVIEW: Best for Small Offices
- REVIEW: Best Virtual Phone System
- REVIEW: Best for Call Centers
Editor's note: Looking for information on business phone systems? Use the questionnaire below and our vendor partners will contact you to provide you with the information you need: