Does Your Business Need a Toll-Free 800 Number?
Should your business have a toll free number for customers to make sales, service and billing inquirers? The industry began in the early 1970’s and today most customers expect you to have it. Providing a toll free line can bring in a number of benefits to your business.
From the customer standpoint, it opens an opportunity to inquire about your products or services at no expense. Not only does it show you are established and successful, but it also shows that you care about what is convenient for them. It creates a corporate image of your company in their mind. Customers expect you to give something back in return for their business.
Think of it this way. Have you ever purchased from a company that didn’t have a toll free number? Some companies may not benefit from a toll free number, such as those with business to business sales or companies with a limited local targeted market. In other cases, such as catalog sales, Internet stores or companies with a continuous demand for support will most definitely need it. A toll free number allows you to advertise a “local” number to anyone in the United States. It is human nature to be attracted to anything free and it entices the customer to act now.
When was the last time you heard a toll free number in a radio or TV commercial? Were you able to remember or write it down? Did the number spell out any words? Having it spell a particular word is called a vanity number. Vanity numbers can be crucial for any business as they are easier to remember and promote. One company spent millions to have 1-800-FLOWERS and it has affected their sales in a positive manner.
When considering activating a toll free number it is important to also look at the drawbacks. Besides the fact of creating an extra expense, you will receive more calls from customers that are not necessarily serious about your offerings. Since the customer has nothing to lose, they may be tempted to call even if they are not interested anytime soon. Toll free lines also give them the ability to inquire multiple companies at no expense, while increasing your chance of losing the sale.
Whether you are a home-based business or a large fortune 500 company, anyone can get a toll free number. For larger corporations, it is best to purchase a hardware phone system such as a PBX. For an excellent online guide, see: http://www.buyerzone.com/telecom_equipment/phone_systems/. For smaller companies, many long distance providers offer an identical service at a fraction of the price. Such systems are what they call a virtual PBX or office. They allow you to have personal greetings, multiple extensions and mail boxes, on-hold music, etc.
Number Search – ATT’s web site has a useful tool for searching toll free numbers on any available prefix (800, 888, 877 & 866). Take your time and find a good vanity number that is relevant to your line of business. Avoid using words that are hard to understand vocally, such as “swipe.” Asking a few friends or family members to repeat the number will be a good test.
Service Providers – doing a search on Google for “toll free number” or “800 number”, will come up with a number of service providers. Be careful when choosing one as you may run into a few flakey companies. Major carriers such as, ATT, SBC, Sprint and Verizon offer the service, but are normally higher for low usage clients. Other carriers that specialize in this line of product, such as Telcan.net, also provide a reliable service.
Tracking System – most providers offer an online management system that logs your call data in real-time among other features. One common feature is the ability for the provider to place a 1 or 0 in front of the caller’s phone number. You can use the call data to improve employee productivity and per call profitability.
Personalized Auto Greetings – if you need a personalized auto greeting, look into the virtual PBX or office system feature. An example of such greetings would be, “Thanks for calling Gotmerchant.com, for sales press 1, billing press 2 and so on.” Even though this will add to your long distance bill, it may give an impression of a larger corporation.
Live Rep – the toll free number can also be setup to go directly to your phone without any greetings. Having your customers bypass a list full of menu options before speaking to someone may have a positive affect.
Voice Mail – You can retrieve your messages by calling your toll free number or use an online account management system if one is available. The voice mail service provided by your local telephone company may also be used.
Number Portability – a portable toll free number belongs to you and not the carrier. You will have the ability to switch providers at anytime.
Incremental Billing – the long distance is billed in blocks of time and typically come in 6, 30 or 60-second billing increments. A shorter interval will result in lower fees and can be significant on a larger monthly volume. 6 second billing is the most popular choice.
Call to Ring Number – toll free numbers are pointed to any phone number of your choosing. One helpful feature among providers is the ability to instantly change this number.
Setup Charges – there is normally no setup fees associated with a new toll free number unless you are using a vanity number. Even then, there are some carriers that do not charge a fee for setting one up.
Interstate & State to State – when researching providers, make sure the rates you are quoted is for interstate (within your state) and state to state calls.
Residential or Business Line – not all carriers are able to provide service to a business using a residential line.
Shared-Use Numbers – some providers offer what they call a shared-use line and allows more than one person to use the same number by utilizing a pin number.
Curtis Stevens is the founder of Gotmerchant.com (www.gotmerchant.com), an online guide to merchant account service for any business looking to accept credit cards. His online site has helped thousands understand the service and protect themselves from unethical sales reps.