In real estate, they say it’s all about location. The same is true for determining whether you need a toll-free number. The location of your business and the locations of your customers will greatly influence whether a toll-free 800 number would be beneficial for your company.
A toll-free number is a telephone number that your customers can call without incurring long-distance fees for landline phones. Toll-free numbers are especially popular for customer service phone lines. They allow more people to reach a business versus a toll number.
There are a variety of area codes that toll-free numbers can use. These include 800, 888, 877, 866, 855, 844 and 833, but the 800 code is likely the most familiar to the general public. In fact, “toll-free number” and “800 number” are often used synonymously.
If your customer base is relatively local, then a toll-free number may not be justified. On the other hand, if you’ve got a national customer base or have an e-commerce website, you may want to consider getting one.
“If you’re getting a lot of orders over the phone, a toll-free number is probably necessary,” said Luanne Mayorga, an MBA faculty member at Southern New Hampshire University.
The cost of a toll-free number depends on your calling plan. A good estimate is $10 to $15 per month. Calls to the number will cost you between $0.06 and $0.30 per minute, depending on your plan.
If you aren’t sure you want to pay the extra cost of a toll-free number, you’ll take comfort in knowing that plenty of business experts think toll-free numbers are increasingly unnecessary.
“We don’t think toll-free numbers are as important as they used to be because the internet and cell phones have driven down the cost of making a long-distance call,” said Fred Manuel, co-founder of Golden Circle Advisors. Even if you have a toll-free number, cell phone users will still have to pay their regular rate to call it.
However, companies that offer services should always have a toll-free number, Manuel said. “If you’re trying to talk a customer through a problem that is going to take a half an hour, you want to give them a way to make that call for free,” he said.
Mayorga said that an alternative option would be to use online ordering and offer a live chat function on your website. That would likely cut down on the number of calls to a toll-free line. [Read related article: 7 Live Chat Practices to Offer Better Customer Service]
To get a toll-free number, you must find a toll-free service provider. A variety of business phone service providers offer toll-free numbers alongside hardwire and Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) calling options. Grasshopper is one example of a virtual phone system vendor that also supplies toll-free numbers, vanity numbers and local numbers.
Other worthy vendors to consider for toll-free numbers are Nextiva and RingCentral, which, along with Grasshopper, are included in our roundup of the best business phone systems. To learn more, read our full Nextiva review and our detailed review of RingCentral.
Many business phone system vendors include toll-free numbers in their packages, which typically cost more than a singular toll-free number because they come with a bevy of additional communication features, like call analytics. You’ll need to factor that in when weighing whether these providers are right for your budget and your company’s needs.
In order to choose a toll-free number for your business, you must check to see what’s available. You can use a website tool like the one on somos.com to find out what numbers are unassigned. The site relies on data from the SMS/800 Toll-Free Number Registry, which tracks the more than 40 million toll-free numbers currently in the North American Numbering Plan.
There are many factors to consider when choosing a toll-free number. From vanity numbers that can be especially easy to remember to numbers that match your local business number, you want to choose a toll-free number that makes sense for your company. You also want to prevent market confusion by avoiding numbers that may be too similar to those of other businesses.
Your toll-free number can be a vanity number, as in the case of 1-800-GOT JUNK, 1-800-FLOWERS and other companies that use clever number combinations to create phone numbers their customers won’t easily forget. As a result, the numbers serve as a marketing technique.
These vanity numbers, which sometimes involve numerical patterns instead of words, are often available at the same price as a regular toll-free number. You can search to see if the one you want is available on your local or long-distance phone carrier’s website.
Toll-free numbers have uses beyond voice calls. For example, if you’re implementing a text message marketing platform, your account will often include a toll-free number through which you can send SMS messages.
Using a toll-free number can increase your availability for certain clients. For more and more customers, though, toll-free numbers are wholly unnecessary. Below are the pros and cons of using a toll-free number for your business.
Just as members of the general public have to decide whether to use landlines or cell phones, your business may need to choose between landline and VoIP phone systems. Your decision will likely come down to cost and reliability.
For customers who still use landlines, toll-free numbers can make your business much more accessible. And even with cell phones now being nearly ubiquitous, a toll-free number can be a marketing tool in and of itself. Plus, toll-free numbers are relatively inexpensive, so if you use them right, they can be a low-hassle way to better connect with your customers. And that’s always the end goal.
Max Freedman contributed to the writing and reporting in this article. Source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.