Everyone has probably used or at least seen an 1800 customer service number to contact a business. You can find them in commercials, on billboards, and on other marketing materials. To the average customer, a toll-free number is simply a way to call the business without incurring charges on their landline. But a toll-free number is so much more than that. There are several reasons to consider getting a toll-free number (or two) for your company.
Before we dive into the costs of acquiring a toll-free number and why you should opt for one, what exactly is an 1800 customer service number? These numbers start with a distinct 3 digit number (usually 800 but others are also available) that users can dial without paying for the call from a landline. If you call one from a mobile phone, you will usually be charged for airtime unless you have an unlimited calling plan.
Organizations mainly use toll-free numbers for customer service, marketing, and technical support operations. It gives your current and potential customers a chance to talk to you without incurring long-distance charges. Toll-free numbers can increase your market reach, potential sales, and improve trust in your brand.
These type of numbers are also called 1800 service numbers as many start with the 800 prefix. However, there are now many other toll-free prefixes you can buy. The other options for a toll-free number are 888, 877, 866, 844, 855, and 833.
Technically there is no difference between each of these numbers, except that the 800 prefix is the most popular and recognizable. In other words, the 800 prefix is like the .com extension on a website domain. It’s not the only one as you have others like .net, .org, .biz, etc. But .com is the most used one and everyone is familiar with it.
If the toll-free number is going to be a central part of your communication strategy, then the expense and effort of getting an 1800 number may be worth it. On the other hand, it might be easier to find a number that reflects your company or brand with one of the other prefixes.
You can purchase these 1800 customer service numbers from an entity called a ‘Responsible Organization.’ These entities are certified to reserve toll-free numbers and manage the records on behalf of their customers. Some of these entities also offer toll-free services for business clients. But many restrict themselves to assigning and managing the numbers only.
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) sets rules for how businesses can get and use toll-free numbers. For example, the FCC requires portability meaning once you purchase a toll-free number, you can take it with you to another phone company. But they do not have access to the database or manage it.
Who administers and maintains the actual toll-free number database? That’s done by an entity called Somos. They are also responsible for certifying the ‘Responsible Organizations.’
Getting a toll-free number is not an arduous process. You need to pick a service provider, purchase your number and get it ported to your existing local number. You can buy several numbers to use at once. Some providers allow you to try out a number for a week or two as well. The vendor only provides the toll-free service. You need to connect it to your existing system, set up call forwarding, and other features for your support teams.
The cost of an 1800 customer service number can vary quite a bit. You should make sure to budget for your costs appropriately. You have to buy the number itself – and vanity numbers can be a bit more expensive – as well pay for the incoming and outgoing calls. Since your customers are not paying for the calls, you need to pick up the tab.
The FCC also has certain rules against hoarding toll-free numbers. For instance, organizations may not purchase more numbers than they use. A responsible organization cannot reserve a toll-free number without having a customer who intends to purchase it. This ensures that these numbers are accessible to more businesses. It also prevents price-gouging by companies that buy vanity numbers and then offer to sell them to a business for much higher prices.
Toll-free numbers work because the business pays for the call instead of the customer. Since international calling charges are typically higher, most businesses block them. Generally, most organizations give out a local number for their international audience. If such calls are not blocked, then usually the caller pays for it.
What if your business wants a toll-free number that works internationally? Those are available as well. Available in countries that have adopted the freephone system, callers need to dial an additional country code prefix.
Have you ever noticed custom phone numbers on advertising billboards? They usually spell out the business name or a related word so that callers can remember it easily. For example, 1-800-FLOWERS is certainly easier to remember than a series of random numbers.
Vanity numbers are a valuable marketing tool and can be correspondingly expensive to boot. Having toll-free vanity numbers is a good marketing strategy for an emerging business. Established companies with a long history don’t have to worry about attracting potential customers. But a small business or startup could use the name recognition from a vanity number so much more.
A few tips when choosing vanity numbers – whether toll-free or not:
Once you have your vanity number, use it everywhere. Put it on all your marketing materials and even your vehicles or emails. Whatever channel or medium you use, the vanity number should be the first point of contact. It should become second nature for your customers to call that number to buy something from you.
Toll-free numbers are not just for large companies but many people automatically assume that any business with one is large and professional. For this reason alone, it’s worth the expense for a small business to have a toll-free number. For a moderate fee, you can convey the impression of being a big organization even if your office has only 5 employees!
You can also improve your brand by using toll-free numbers. Think of all the opportunities to showcase your toll-free numbers – packaging, delivery trucks, commercials, stationery, and merchandise. All of those efforts will pay off in a consistent and recognizable brand.
Toll-free numbers – especially vanity ones – are easy to remember. Your salespeople can give them to customers while closing a deal. It’s easy for your technical and customer service people to say over the phone when talking to clients. It’s a wonderful tool to help you increase sales due to word of mouth. Your existing customers can give the number to their friends and family, thus sending more clients your way.
Have you ever tried to reach out to a business only to find it’s so hard to get a number to call? In the age of social media, marketing gurus tend to forget the humble phone number. But research indicates that customers still prefer to pick up the phone and talk to an actual person rather than rely on a webpage for help. And having an easy-to-remember toll-free vanity number certainly helps.
Toll-free numbers can help you track concurrent marketing campaigns as well. Imagine you are running an advertising campaign via TV, radio, and outdoor billboards. You can create extensions to your toll-free number and track which medium is more effective at funneling customers to your business.
Alternatively, you can assign different extensions for multiple products or service lines. Each extension could lead to a different technical support queue so you always have the right people to handle customer issues. There are so many ways you can use toll-free numbers that it’s a shame more small businesses don’t use them.
If you’ve ever thought about buying a toll-free number for your business but are worried about the expense or effort, don’t be. Purchasing a toll-free number need not be expensive and the benefits it brings your business are well worth it. All you need to do is buy one – or more – and hook it up to your current phone system and you’re all set!
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