We have a lot of information, but I just wrote a great summary designed for anyone new to toll free. It’s called Toll Free Simplified, and it’s Everything you need to know about toll free numbers in 17 sentences.
This section covers all of the basics of toll free service. It’s the first place to start if you’re new to toll free service.
This probably seems a little basic, but a toll free number is a telephone number that can be called at no cost to the caller, because the recipient pays for the cost of the call. Also referred to as ‘800’ numbers after the original area code, although toll free numbers today can start with the area codes, 800, 888, 877, and 866.
A toll free number is basically like a remote call forwarded number that can forward to whatever local number you want it to. You can also change the number if forwards to (the “ring to number”) whenever you need to. So if you’re starting a small business, you can get your own toll free number and point it to your existing home or cell phone number without any separate line or extra equipment. You can always add a separate line or change the ring to number as your business grows.
Not having to have a separate line will usually save quite a bit more than the cost of the toll free number in just the first couple months, not to mention making your business look more professional and giving you the flexibility to grow and change things whenever you’re ready.
To simplify things a little, there are basically two types of services in the toll free business. There are vanity number owners (which I sometimes call “Squatters”) and there are regular phone companies. Regular phone companies also break down into two types too, Traditional carriers and Enhanced voicemail service.
Vanity number squatters own specific numbers and want to sell or even worse, rent a small part of their number for as much as possible. This is usually called “Shared Use” and can provide access to better vanity numbers but they’re also significantly more expensive both with their monthly fee and their per minute rates. They also limit your territory and they retain the ultimate ownership rights and control which can ultimately leave you at their mercy the more you advertise the number. Shared use companies also tend to come across a little like used car dealers sometimes.
The major phone companies from AT&T or MCI down to hundreds of smaller competitive long distance companies mainly sell long distance service but also provide the toll free service directly to end users. They are portable so the number owner can change them from carrier to carrier and so are much more competitive in price but they don’t come with voicemail, they simply route the calls to your toll free number to your local number, period.
Enhanced Voicemail Services
The other type of phone company generally offers more services such as voicemail, menu options, recorded greetings and follow me features to try you at multiple different numbers. These “enhanced service providers” sometimes called Virtual Office Services or Enhanced Voicemail Services don’t just deliver the calls straight to a local number. The call goes into their platform, switch or even a simple computer, where they can play an initial greeting and then give the caller options to hear recorded messages, leave messages or be routed to selected departments or people. The computer then routes the call based on the programmed menu and the caller’s input to one or multiple different people usually while the caller is on hold.
Enhanced services can oftan announce the call, give the recipient the option of accepting or rejecting the call, try additional numbers and even take messages. These services can provide a lot of additional functionality and value if you need these services, but they also generally cost more per minute since there is usually two “legs,” one going into the computer and one going out to the recipient and they always have a slightly higher monthly fee. You also have to be careful because some of these companies deceptively hide this 2nd leg charge in the fine print to try and sound cheaper.
There is more on all of these different types of services and their rates and which is best for you in the Providers Section, but this quick overview explains just a little of the types of companies you generally see.
This is a good question because I’m not any of the above. Technically I am my own phone company and have access to do things that a phone company does being a responsible organization, (abbreviated RespOrg) which basically means I have access into the national SMS/800 database. But I’m not really like a phone company or an enhanced service provider because I’m not trying to sell you the ongoing toll free service. I just want help you get the best number and then help you transfer it to the best service for your needs, no matter what company that is. Continue reading
A toll free number just forwards to or rings to any regular local number, kind of like a remote call forwarded number. No special equipment or additional line or installation is required. All the features (ie. Caller ID, Call Forwarding, Voicemail, rollovers etc) on the local line, work the same as if the caller had dialed the local number.