What is a toll-free number, and why does my business need one?

6 min read
Jennifer Lin

So your business is growing, and you’ve decided that your current phone number just isn’t going to cut it as a point of contact anymore. Maybe you’re still using a landline, and customers are unhappy about having to foot the bill for the customer service calls they’re making to you. Maybe you're tired of taking business calls on your personal cell phone.

Deciding to get a separate business line is sound logic. And when it comes time to assess your options and set it up, you should be thinking about a toll-free number. If that doesn't immediately sound familiar, it's because you might have come to know them as 1-800 numbers.

“Those things that were all the rage back in the 1990s? They still have those?”

Yes! Even in an age that prizes disruption and innovation, older methods can pay dividends. Toll-free numbers can still be distinctly valuable for growing companies. Not only do they allow customers to make free calls to your company, giving you a crucial point of easy and direct contact with your consumer base, but they also imply a national presence.

And here's another benefit: Toll-free numbers still carry the implicit trust that people have, over the years, come to place in that 800 prefix. They are, after all, numbers recognizable across the U.S. and across several generations. Even though we carry the world in our pockets, with smartphones that don't charge extra for "long-distance calls," we still trust a number first established over 50 years ago by AT&T.

What phone number you choose to make your business line might seem like a pretty small detail, but it really can have a considerable effect on the image of your brand and on your relationship to your customers.

What is a toll-free number?

With a toll-free number, calls are billed to the company, not to the customer. All toll-free numbers are associated with particular prefixes – preset combinations at the start of the number – with 800 being the most common.

1-800 numbers came to the public's attention when AT&T introduced toll-free lines in 1967 to help make customer service calls a smoother and cheaper prospect for the customer. Since then, other toll-free prefixes have been introduced, including 888, 877, 866 and 855.

Think you may want to avoid the “old days” feel of the 800 prefix and register for a newer option? Not so fast: A study by Engine Ready showed that 1-800 toll-free numbers had far higher conversion rates than toll-free numbers with newer prefixes. For example, phone numbers beginning with 800 had up to 60% higher conversion than those beginning with 855.

This is all due to the strength of association held by the older, recognizable prefix: that 800 means business.

What's a toll-free number good for?

Like we said, your business phone number can seem like a minuscule concern, but going toll-free can have a considerable positive impact on both your company’s brand image and the way in which it can handle customer service.

Brand image

On a fundamental level, having a free number that your customers can dial to have a chat and get their issues solved makes your company look good. Service of this kind is imperative for a company that wants accessibility, friendliness, and a willingness to help to be part of their brand image.

Toll-free numbers also come with considerable trust benefits. They're highly recognizable as “business” phone numbers, and a company that uses them is unlikely to be seen as a small-time operation. The numbers can therefore be highly useful as a catchall identifier that customers nationwide will recognize and trust.

That's right — nationwide. Without an area code connecting you directly to a state, county, or city, your company is immediately perceived as having a national presence. Customers in Des Moines, for example, won't know they're calling a business in Cincinnati. You could be anywhere, and a 1-800 number says you're everywhere.

Customer service

Where the web and customer service meet, newer does not always equal better. Forrester data shows that most customers still overwhelmingly favor talking to a live agent to overcome problems with a product, and the disadvantages of web-based customer service are well documented:

  • Limited information sharing — Owing to the threats of data theft and the often unclear degree of security practiced by companies online, customers can be hesitant to share information there. If you pursue an online-only service policy, this can make it difficult to get a clear picture of your customer base.
  • Delayed responses — Time is often of the essence when solving problems with your product, and it’s easy to get on a customer’s bad side with the long resolution times inherent in email or other digital-based approaches to service.
  • Most crucial, the human touch — Does anyone prefer hearing a recorded or computerized response over a cheerful agent who is happy to help?

Those are all things that a call placed on your new toll-free line can easily circumvent. Being able to speak with a company representative will put your customer at ease. Many issues can be solved on-call, then and there. All this and a little charm can give a massive boost to your company’s reputation as service providers.

How to get a toll-free number (for your smartphone)

Even though the phrase “1-800 number” may conjure images of '90s cordless phones, you can easily connect a toll-free number to your smartphone using GoDaddy SmartLine. Once you have your phone connected, you'll be able to make and receive calls from that number using your own personal phone.

Beyond a national brand image and accessibility, a toll-free number offers practical customer service benefits. Complex problems can be more easily solved in the interactive environment of a phone call, something that a toll-free number actively incentivizes. Of course, if you can handle these issues with speed and a cheerful attitude, your customers' positive experiences with your additional service will lead to a far stronger likelihood of customer retention. Nationwide, of course.

Don't forget to add your new toll-free number to your website, social media and other business materials!

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