Getting a Toll-Free Number — What You Need to Know
Running a successful small business is all about making sure multiple components work together to support your productivity, your profitability and your brand identity. A toll-free number prefix can play an important role in attracting and retaining new customers.
According to LivePerson’s Connecting With Consumers report, 61% of shoppers still prefer to receive assistance over the phone — having only a local phone number means missing a small but significant opportunity to improve a customer’s experience and increase the odds of retaining them. Read on for a comprehensive guide to toll-free numbers.
What Are Toll-Free Numbers?
AT&T introduced the first toll-free phone numbers in 1967. Toll-free number prefixes were initially created to streamline the process by which collect calls could be placed. Prior to their introduction, it had been necessary for a caller to dial the operator, get the approval of the recipient and be patched through directly.
At first, toll-free 800 numbers were only available on a state-by-state basis. In the early ‘80s, however, the system went nationwide. Around the same time, vanity numbers became available and businesses quickly realized the marketing potential of having their own customized toll-free line.
To keep up with growing demand, the 888 prefix was introduced in 1996. Since then, other prefixes have also become available.
There are many 800 numbers still available, even though it is the oldest and therefore most attractive toll-free prefixes. 888, 877, 866, 855, and 844 numbers are also available, many with stronger selections.
Vanity Vs. Prime Numbers
To get the most benefit out of a toll free number, it helps to choose one that is memorable and strengthens your brand. Toll-free number service providers like to differentiate between “vanity” and “prime” numbers. Vanity numbers include any toll-free number that spells out a company’s name or a memorable phrase. Prime numbers, on the other hand, are memorable simply for being a catchy combination of digits — such as 1-888-444-1212, for example.
While there are still many vanity numbers available in the newer prefixes, prime numbers give you the opportunity to use a more established prefix. Another thing to consider when shopping for a toll-free number is the fact that many cell phones don’t have alphanumeric keypads. Customers calling from a mobile device may have an easier time remembering a prime number instead of a vanity number. For existing vanity numbers, one way around this is to include the numeric equivalent next to it on any Internet advertising.
Why a Toll-Free Number Is Important
There are a number of ways in which a toll-free or vanity number can support your long-term business goals. Some of the most common reasons for getting a toll-free number are:
- Saving customers money: Of course, the obvious advantage of a toll-free number is that, as the name implies, there is no expense to the caller when they phone from anywhere within the U.S. or Canada. Instead, the business that owns the number pays a monthly fee for a certain amount of toll-free minutes. These packages can be customized to the requirements of any organization and frequently include extras such as voicemail, text notifications, music on transfer and more.
- Giving the appearance of a larger organization: Even if you’re working out of your garage or home office, a toll-free number levels the playing field with other organizations, giving you an appearance of stability and authority customers respect. One additional benefit of a toll-free number is that it is portable. As your business grows and you expand or move into a larger building, you can keep your original 800 number as a single point of contact for all your operations.
- Being more memorable: If you’re not fully convinced of the benefit of a toll-free number, put yourself in a potential customer’s shoes: Are you more likely to remember a string of random numbers or a catchy phrase? Or, if the right vanity number is not available, do you want to find a number with a catchy pattern that makes your business look more established — such as prime numbers like 877-733-4500, 855-557-7600, 844-824-6000 or 844-843-1111? The newer toll free prefixes such as 844 and 855 have much higher availability of both vanity numbers and prime numbers. A memorable toll-free number means your customers can call you with greater ease, without the frustration of dialing a wrong number or having to go back and forth between their phone and your ad. This is a benefit that may go unnoticed in the moment, but it’s one that will instantly put potential customers in a more positive state of mind when they contact your office for the first time.
- Strengthening your brand: Part of building an effective brand is remaining consistent across platforms and in different media. A vanity phone number or a prime toll free number that makes your company look more established is one small opportunity to further cement what your company is about and what you stand for. Marketing is something you invest heavily in and expect a strong return from — why pass up the chance to reinforce your business’ carefully crafted image each time a potential customer calls in?
Who Needs a Toll-Free Number?
While practically any business can benefit from a toll-free line, certain organizations may wish to prioritize other telephone services over purchasing a vanity 800 number. That said, there are many situations in which an easy-to-remember toll-free 800 number is invaluable. These include:
- Brick and mortar retail stores that generate most of their business through foot traffic may not need a toll-free number right away. For any business wishing to expand beyond that, however, a toll-free number is a must-have. Particularly if you sell over the Internet — where sales could conceivably come from anywhere in the world — it’s incredibly important to have a free and easy way for customers to contact you with any questions or issues they have.
- Any business in which a customer might contact you in an emergency or on a whim can benefit from a memorable toll-free number. For example, a customer may wish to call a personal injury law firm for advice at the scene of an accident; alternately, someone on their way home may wish to place an order for takeout at their favorite restaurant. In both scenarios, a business wants its number to be the first thing that comes to a customer’s mind — a catchy toll-free number is one of the best ways of making this happen.
- Having a toll-free number for your customer service department encourages customers to call when they have a concern with your product, which gives your team the chance to address the issue and prevent them from returning their purchase.
- Toll-free numbers give franchises a single point of contact for routing calls to local partners. This maintains consistency between locations and ensures everyone calling in gets directed to the store nearest them. It can also simplify scheduling, warranty claims and other issues, and ensures every potential customer has access to up-to-the-minute information about franchise-wide sales and promotions.
Ultimately, more people phoning your business, for whatever reason, is a good thing, as it gives you the opportunity to go the extra mile and demonstrate why you’re the best choice for their hard-earned dollar. Even if you’re in an industry that doesn’t conventionally do much business over the phone, a toll-free number can open up this valuable revenue stream in a way that normal phone numbers cannot.
How to Get a Toll-Free Number for My Business
Clearly there are benefits to having a commercial toll-free number. Once you’ve made the decision to purchase one, your next thought is likely to be “how do I get a toll-free number for my business?” While the process isn’t terribly complicated, it’s important to understand ahead of time how it works, so you can avoid making an uninformed decision with the potential for long-term consequences.
How Do Toll-Free Numbers Work?
Toll-free numbers are regulated by the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC). The FCC oversees the designation of new prefixes and has rules in place to prevent number hoarding (buying up toll-free numbers in bulk and selling them at an inflated rate, a practice similar to “cybersquatting” on Internet domain names).
The FCC also has a rule requiring all toll-free numbers to be portable from one location or phone service provider to another. Other than that, however, they are not involved in the day-to-day administration of toll-free numbers, do not buy or sell numbers, and don’t place restrictions on the content of vanity numbers.
Instead, toll-free numbers are available from a wide range of private companies — known as “Responsible Organizations,” or “RespOrgs” — who have access to the master list of 800 numbers. Many RespOrgs are telephone companies or work closely with them. These organizations typically offer toll-free numbers as part of a packaged deal containing service and technical support.
The package you choose will have a large impact on how you do business and what your overhead costs are. Going with a toll-free number service provider that won’t be there for you when you need them or that wants to charge you extra for features you don’t need or use will cost you money and impact your productivity. As well, many toll-free number service providers force you into long-term contracts that can be expensive to get out of. For this reason, it’s important to do your research when choosing a toll-free number.
Toll-Free Number Prefixes: Why Are 888 Numbers Toll Free Now?
When most of us think about toll-free number prefixes, we think about the prefix 800. For a long time, all toll-free numbers in Canada and the U.S. began with the prefix 800. As more businesses realized the many benefits of a toll-free number prefix, however, demand began to outstrip supply; after all, there are only so many 7-number combinations possible.
Unlike with Internet domains, a toll-free number is limited in length. To meet the need for more numbers, additional prefixes have been introduced. By now, many of us are aware that 866 and 888 numbers are toll-free. Other newly introduced toll-free number prefixes include 877, 888, 866, 855 and 844. All work exactly the same as an 800 number and continue to have many combinations available to interested businesses.
How to Get an 800 Number
When investing in a toll-free number prefix, the easiest, most memorable choice is almost always the best. While consumer awareness of the 888 and 866 prefixes is fairly strong, it’s not uncommon to hear someone wonder, “Is 844 a toll-free number?” or “Are 877 numbers toll free?” After all, we’ve all heard horror stories about innocent callers racking up enormous phone bills to services they weren’t aware they were paying for.
That’s why, for the time being, 800 vanity numbers remain the most prized. While there’s nothing wrong with any other prefix, an 800 number is likely to deliver the best return on your investment. Finding one, however, is another story. In-demand 800 numbers can fetch exorbitant prices, much in the way that high-profile .com Internet domain names are auctioned off to the highest bidder.
Getting a Vanity Toll-Free Numbers
The existence of shared-use agreements makes it possible for smaller businesses to obtain a true 800 number on a regional basis. While 800 numbers are operational nationwide, they can be routed to a specific organization based on the caller’s area code. Owners of valuable 800 numbers — such as, for example, 800-TAXI-CAB — often rent them out to businesses in different areas.
Certain businesses can benefit from renting a shared-use 1-800 number, though the practice has its limitations. Obviously, an organization with a nationwide reach — or one with plans to expand nationwide — would be better off choosing an available 888, 866 or other prefix number rather than renting. Ultimately, the needs of your business will determine the best way forward.
Tips for Selecting a Memorable Number
No matter which prefix you end up with, you will want your toll-free number prefix to be as memorable as possible. Here are some tips for picking something that will really stick with your customers:
- Don’t use your business name unless you’re a well-known player in your field. Instead, choose something that clearly communicates what you do.
- Avoid cute or unique spellings
- Avoid number/letter hybrids
- Don’t use highly technical or hard-to-spell terms
- If an acceptable vanity number is unavailable, look for a memorable prime number such as 844-824-6000.
When choosing a vanity number, try to think like a potential customer who has never heard of your business before — if you’re looking for a used car, would you be more likely to remember 1-800-TJS-CARS, 1-800-AUTOMAX or 1-800-USED-CAR? If the answer in your case isn’t quite this obvious, ask around to previous customers or people you know to get some outside perspective. More vanity number choices will be available in the newer prefixes of 855 and 844.
Choosing a Toll-Free Number Provider
Key to choosing a toll-free number is partnering with a company you can trust. According to FCC estimates, there are currently more than 350 RespOrgs operating today, ranging from small toll-free number service providers to multinational telecom firms. Each brings something different to the table. Some things you should consider when making a choice include:
Choosing an 800 toll-free number service provider is no different than making any other important decision about your business’ communications infrastructure — it takes research, planning, and a realistic understanding of what you’re looking for and what you can get for your budget.
The AccessDirect Difference
AccessDirect is a different kind of toll-free number service provider. We offer fully cloud-based service that requires no major investment in new equipment and no long-term contracts. We can help you find the right toll-free solution for your business, whether it’s an 800, 888, 866 or any other number.
Since 1997, we’ve been building a reputation for excellent service for businesses of all sizes. Because we started small, we understand the priorities of growing organizations and strive to be partners to our customers for the long-term. Our solutions are sophisticated, offering cutting-edge features such as voicemail-to-email and voicemail-to-text, auto attendant/virtual PBX, work from anywhere compatibility and more.
Want to learn more about the benefits of choosing AccessDirect as your exclusive toll-free number service provider? One of our team members would be happy to help. Contact our office by phone or email today.