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Toll-free numbers (also known as freephone numbers in the UK) have been used since the 1960s, though they only started to become popular around 30 years after that. Since then, they’ve become a standard tool used by almost every big company and small business alike.
So, what exactly are toll-free phone numbers, and how can they benefit your business? We’re going to answer those questions – and more – to provide you with all the things you need to know to use toll-free numbers effectively.
What are toll-free numbers?
The FCC (Federal Communications Office) in the USA defines toll-free numbers as telephone numbers that don’t charge people who dial them. That definition holds the world over.
In the UK, toll-free numbers start at 0800 or 0808. In the US, they start with three-digit toll-free prefixes, such as 800. They don’t typically include an area code since they can be called from all over the world.
In their early days in the States, all toll-free numbers were issued by one single service provider: AT&T. This has changed since the service has become more popular, and demand for it has increased worldwide.
Essentially, toll-free numbers let callers reach businesses without being charged a fee for their call. This includes long-distance and international calls.
Toll-free numbers can also receive text messages, provided the business that owns them has set them to be “text-enabled”. Businesses can then also respond to any text messages they receive, which helps to improve the customer experience by allowing them to use messaging as a channel of communication with the business.
The reason why toll-free numbers don’t charge callers who dial them is that the business they’re calling is paying for the call instead.
This makes toll-free numbers attractive for anyone dialling them while boosting the number of incoming calls for those who own the toll-free numbers.
What’s the difference between a toll-free number and a vanity number?
Vanity numbers and toll-free numbers often go hand in hand. At the same time, they also sometimes exist entirely independently of one another.
What is a vanity number?
Vanity numbers are a largely US-based phenomenon that has digits to spell out a word or phrase. This phrase will generally have something to do with the nature of the business, such as the number ‘1-800-FLOWERS’ for a company that sells bouquets or ‘888-GRASSHOPPER’ for the business behind the programming language. Many vanity numbers will also include the name of the company that owns them.
The idea of these kinds of numbers is to stick in a customer’s mind since the word(s) they contain are typically easier to remember than a seemingly random string of numbers would be.
Having a vanity number essentially allows companies to have access to an easier way of making sure their prospective customers will remember them.
As mentioned, vanity numbers, as such, are most commonly used by American businesses. However, a more personalised number can be just as useful to UK-based companies. Even if a UK-based company opts for a vanity number that’s less ‘flashy’ than an Americanised one might be, businesses in the UK can still take advantage of number sequences that are easily memorable to their target audience.
While not all of them necessarily have to be, vanity numbers can be toll-free. As with non-vanity toll numbers, this depends on whether the corresponding company owns the number.
How to distinguish between vanity numbers and toll-free numbers
The easiest way to tell whether a given business phone number is toll-free is to check its prefix. If that prefix is on the list of toll-free prefixes, then the business number you’re looking at is also toll-free. This still applies when that number is a vanity number.
Vanity numbers are distinct from other types of phone numbers in that they can include non-numbers. Therefore, if the phone number in question isn’t made exclusively of integers, that number is most likely a vanity number.
Not all vanity numbers have to include letters, however. Many UK-based vanity numbers consist of an easy-to-remember string of numbers, such as O2 UK’s number, ending in 0202. Since O2 and 02 look very similar, the number is easy to recall and litter-free while still being a vanity number. Toll-free variants are still distinguished by their prefix, though.
To put it one way, not all toll-free numbers are vanity numbers, and not all vanity numbers are toll-free. This Venn diagram provides a handy visual representation:
A business that chooses to invest in a vanity number would, in practice, benefit most from a toll-free variant. This is because there are a finite number of toll-free prefixes in existence; in the UK, they’re all 0800 or 0808. This makes memorising your company’s vanity number easier for customers, as there will be even fewer numerical digits to remember.
At the same time, a company that uses a toll-free vanity number also benefits from the fact that their long-term customers will always have easy access to their phone number. This helps with customer retention, as the customers will remember exactly which number to dial when they need help or talk about a product or upgrade.
Why get a toll-free number for your business?
The short answer to this question is that toll-free numbers make it significantly easier for your customers to get in touch with you. The long answer can be split into multiple distinct benefits that toll-free numbers carry for your business.
1. Improved customer service
As mentioned above, toll-free numbers allow your customers to reach you more easily. However, the full extent to which these phone numbers help improve your customer service reaches beyond customers’ ability to make free calls to your business.
Since your customers will be able to reach you at their convenience, never having to consider whether the investment in making the call is worth it financially, they’ll be more likely to contact you in general. This gives your business the chance to speak with a greater number of customers.
It also means that when an issue does arise, no matter how small, customers will phone in to ask for help fixing it. This allows your customer service team to provide excellent service and consistently help anyone who needs it.
All in all, these factors combine to ensure that your customers will have a better experience with your brand. That’s why toll-free numbers improve your customer service.
2. Increased flexibility
With the switch to a toll-free number, you’ll be able to manage any phone line more effectively due to the increased flexibility offered by a toll-free phone number service.
Toll-free numbers are often included as part of an overall phone system. When you set up a new phone system for your inbound business calls, you, therefore, have access to useful features like voicemail, call forwarding or caller ID. All three of these features make it easier to manage calls.
With voicemail, you’ll be able to ensure that even when you miss a customer’s call, you can return it later with a solution to their query. Caller ID makes it easier to connect your customer’s details with any existing profile you might have on them. It’s simpler, then, to resolve a recurring issue or to take a forwarded call without having to ask the customer to explain what their query is repeatedly.
Managing your incoming calls more easily also helps with improving your customer service, both for the customers and for the employees providing them with that service. That’s why this is another benefit of getting a toll-free number for your business.
3. Upgrades to your business phone system
Securing a toll-free phone number for your business creates the perfect opportunity to upgrade the phone system that your business uses. While this is possible to do without necessarily also getting a toll-free number for your business, the benefits of securing a toll-free number make it an attractive option for anyone seeking a phone system upgrade.
We’ve discussed how introducing a toll-free number can involve the simultaneous introduction of new and useful features. Making the switch to a toll-free number can include numerous other benefits and upgrades as well.
One example of a desirable benefit is the ability to move away from having many local numbers. This is detrimental to your business’ growth. Having many different numbers set up to redirect callers from each local area to one central call centre wastes customers’ time and business owners’ resources.
With one unified toll-free number to call, waiting times are cut down, and hence, the business phone system undergoes improvement.
Another example is the introduction of increased automation. When customers call your line, they could, for instance, get through to the phone number’s auto-attendant before being put through to a human operator.
This will ensure that they only stay on the line if the other available resources don’t help with their query, helping you provide them with a better business phone service. Furthermore, the automated system would take care of all initial routing, leaving employees to cover areas that automatic services cannot deliver.
4. Expanding your accessibility
The more accessible your business practises, the more customers you’ll be able to target and retain. And toll-free numbers can help make your company more accessible to prospective customers.
A key way toll-free numbers accomplish this is by being free to dial for callers using many different kinds of devices. Whether customers are phoning in employing a landline, mobile phone, or VoIP based virtual phone, anyone can access your free phone lines without ever having to worry about pricing.
5. Providing a focus for advertisements
Offering a free service can help make your company show that it’s more attractive than your competitors. That’s why a toll-free number can provide a great focal point for any marketing campaigns that would highlight the quality of your customer service, for example.
How to get a toll-free number right now
Getting a toll-free number is a quick and simple process when choosing RingCentral as your business communications provider. All you need to do is navigate to their website. There, you’ll be able to select your own toll-free number, meaning that you can choose a vanity number that suits your business.
The toll-free numbers that RingCentral offers are also available on various pricing plans. This means that you have the flexibility to choose whichever option best caters to your needs.
While these toll-free numbers are most commonly used for businesses, this doesn’t mean that you’re excluded from using one as your personal number. For example, if you receive many calls from abroad, it can be a great idea to secure a toll-free number for your international contacts to reach you, so they don’t incur any fees when they call you.
Which is the best toll-free number service?
The toll-free number service that best suits you depends on a few factors, including whether a given provider can offer a specific functionality you’re after.
With that said, the most flexible and versatile toll-free number service is the one offered by RingCentral.
Since RingCentral provides you with the option to choose your own toll-free number, you have free reign when it comes to the look and feel of your new number. Are you or your clients particularly accustomed to your existing number? RingCentral can let you transfer your existing number to a freephone number.
RingCentral is also a provider of cloud phones and another VoIP-based cell phone, or mobile phone, software. This means that they’ll ensure that any number and corresponding plan that they provide you with functions smoothly in association with those types of mobile devices.
Whether for established companies, small businesses, or startups, RingCentral is the provider of choice for toll-free numbers.