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Should My Business Get a Toll-Free Number?

Adam Uzialko
Adam Uzialko
Editor
Business News Daily Staff
Updated Oct 27, 2022

Toll-free numbers have historically benefited small businesses, but they might be somewhat obsolete now. Here's how to decide whether you need one.

  • Toll-free numbers are a great way to help customers reach you from a long distance, saving the client money and improving your sales.
  • From vanity numbers to numbers with patterns that are easy to remember, a toll-free number can be a great way to market your company.
  • Getting a toll-free number involves finding a service provider, some of which have specializations like texting to toll-free numbers and call analytics.
  • This article is for small business owners interested in obtaining a toll-free business phone number.

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.

What is a toll-free 800 number?

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. 

What do toll-free numbers cost?

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]

How do you get a toll-free number?

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.

How do you choose a toll-free number?

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.

How can you use toll-free numbers for marketing?

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.

Did you know?Did you know?: 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.

What are the pros and cons of using a toll-free number for your business?

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.

Pros of using a toll-free number for your business

  • Extended service: Just under 2 in 5 homes still have a landline phone, according to AARP. But if you learn that many of your customers call you via landlines, then adding a toll-free number can help you expand your service. That’s because landline customers can call your toll-free number for any reason without worrying about being charged for the call. 
  • Marketing uses: Think of the jingles you heard in TV commercials during your childhood. You probably still remember the phone numbers in the ads – and that’s exactly the point. Toll-free numbers are often so memorable that they basically serve as their own form of marketing for your business. If someone knows your number more quickly than they know your competitors’ numbers, they’ll call you first.
  • Illusion of a larger business: Since toll-free numbers were once a staple of large companies’ TV ads, using a toll-free number can make your business seem bigger. That, in turn, can make your company appear more authoritative and trustworthy. 

TipTip: 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.

Cons of using a toll-free number for your business

  • Imperfect for local businesses: Local audiences often want to feel confident that you and your business are rooted in your shared community. Toll-free numbers achieve the opposite effect since they start with non-local area codes. That fact alone can cause a mental division between you and the customers in your backyard.
  • May appear spam-like: Do you automatically send calls from unknown 800 numbers to voicemail? Your customers might too. If a toll-free number makes it unlikely clients will answer your call, you probably shouldn’t use one.
  • May no longer be necessary: Per Pew Research, a whopping 97% of Americans own a cell phone. These phones typically come with plans that allow for unlimited calling. That inclusion negates the customer cost savings of toll-free numbers, rendering them increasingly unnecessary.

Should you get a toll-free number?

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. 

Image Credit: Deagreez / Getty Images
Adam Uzialko
Adam Uzialko
Business News Daily Staff
Adam Uzialko is a writer and editor at business.com and Business News Daily. He has 7 years of professional experience with a focus on small businesses and startups. He has covered topics including digital marketing, SEO, business communications, and public policy. He has also written about emerging technologies and their intersection with business, including artificial intelligence, the Internet of Things, and blockchain.