Do Toll-Free Numbers Matter Anymore?

cloud contacts 800 numbersI came across a post about toll free numbers yesterday on a blog post from Cloud Contacts that I thought was interesting. It’s a question that I think other people might have and want to read about or comment on, so I thought I’d include it here as well.

As we process more and more business cards, one thing I’ve noticed is that some of them have toll-free numbers listed for phone or fax. Toll-free numbers use the following prefixes: 800,877,866,888 and are typically “free” to call.

Taking a random sample of cards, most of the larger companies (especially banks) have toll-free numbers listed while startups and small businesses list local phone numbers.

I asked my followers on Twitter for their thoughts on toll-free number usage and my favorite reply came from Kathryn Finney of TheBudgetFashionista who noted, “(there’s no need for toll-free numbers) because most people use cell phones as their primary phone”.

While I am not sure if everyone is using cell phones as a primary phone, I wonder how many people aren’t on a flat local- and long-distance calling plan.

You’re assuming that the only reason for a toll free number is to pay for the incoming calls. Although that is the original and most obvious reason, there are certainly a lot more benefits than that, the most obvious of which you illustrated in your own simple observations. Toll free numbers provide greater control, flexibility, and a more customer focused image not to mention a larger company image. And that’s not even getting into the branding value of a more memorable vanity number.

Like you said, larger companies use them, which means both that there are probably reasons why larger companies use them, and that having a toll free number makes you look like a larger company. In fact getting a toll free number is one of the easiest ways to create the image of a larger company, for almost nothing. What else can you do to make your business look bigger for literally just a couple dollars per month?

If the only reason to get a toll free number was the cost of the calls the number of toll free numbers would have certainly gone down with huge percentage of flat rate services and cell phones that don’t charge long distance. However, even on a slower lazy August holiday week like this past week, there were 27,030 more active toll free numbers this Saturday 9/5 than there was the following Saturday.

Calling a local number might not technically cost many of the callers any more than calling a toll free number, if they’re using a cell phone or voip phone, but the perception is the key. I could go into all the nuances of it and point out more studies and statistics but the simple fact is that using a local number in advertising, as you yourself detected, still just makes you look smaller.

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    Allen (1 comments.) says:
    September 9, 2009 at 9:06 am

    thanks for the detailed reply! I will add a link to your post on my original post.

    I agree about the perception – but let’s say that Citibank or Dell went to one local number – would this change your perception of them? Just curious…

    At the same time I say that, I am shocked at how many business cards we process with @aol or @yahoo email addresses. Spend the $7 and get your own domain!

      Bill Quimby (666 comments.) says:
      September 10, 2009 at 12:05 am

      Would changing their phone number alone change my perception of them? No, that ALONE wouldn’t change it any more than one other indicator would or should. But you can’t say that it’s not an indicator or flag to people.

      If they changed their domain name to .net or .info, that alone wouldn’t change everyone’s perception of them, but it would make a difference.

      It matters more to the larger advertisers and companies that require an image of credibility and industry leading success. And if you’re a small consultant, and you don’t do much advertising and don’t need to look like a fortune 500 company, it matters a lot less. There’s no single answer. It does vary from situation to situation.



        Orlando says:
        November 18, 2009 at 12:46 pm

        Yes 1800 numbers might make a startup company be percieved as a big one but I have a different view on this. I believe 1800 numbers have become the number to call for when a company doesnt want to be bothered with a client at least this is what clients percieve it to be…

          Bill Quimby (666 comments.) says:
          November 19, 2009 at 2:48 pm

          I think you’re confusing having a toll free number in your advertising, with having a toll free number show up on your caller ID. Seeing a toll free number on your caller ID is a good indication that the caller is a telemarketer.

          But putting a local number in your advertising doesn’t make you look more “personal”, it just makes you look small. It also means that you can’t change where the calls go the same way that you can with a toll free number. It also makes you look like you’re much further away, especially if it’s not a local area code.

          A local number does look more “personal” in one way though. It makes you look like it’s a personal line as in not a business. Like you said, a toll free number makes you look like a larger business and a local number looks like it’s just someone’s personal number. So you have to decide if you want to look like a larger business or just an individual.

          Bill Quimby

            Scott Brown (1 comments.) says:
            July 3, 2010 at 10:10 pm

            Just so everyone knows if you’re looking to buy a vanity number to enhance your business better start looking now in 5 years there will no longer be phone books and you’ll be fighting for space on the front page of google against corporations who will outbid you everyday ( front page google all pay per click in 5 yrs you’ll be onthe second page ) when was the last time you clicked on the second page of search results ? Hence the only thing faster than a search engine ? ………….YOUR MEMORY

            Scott Brown. 1-800-TOW-FREE

              ErnieRoss(new comment) says:
              March 27, 2014 at 3:17 pm

              Individually, I think that the response relies on the characteristics of your business. Nowadays, creating a long-distance contact is more or less free, especially if you are on a mobile cell phone. So it really relies on your focus on the market and what you are trying to offer.

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