Many businesses today use toll-free numbers as a way for their customers to reach them. When a toll-free number is called, the caller does not pay for the call, but rather the business which subscribes to the toll-free number pays for the call.
Before the existence of toll-free numbers, the only way to make a long distance call for “free” was to place a collect call. This is a concept which you rarely hear of today because the cost of long distance has dropped drastically over time, and toll-free service has evolved over time.
History of toll-free – those were the days
In the old days, in order to make a collect call, you would dial “0” to get an operator and then tell them that you wanted to make a collect call at which point they would dial your party’s number and ask them if they would accept the reverse charge and if so, the operator would connect the call.
The process was very manual and put a huge strain on the phone company which then had to manage the billing to reverse charge for thousands and thousands of phone calls.
In 1967, AT&T introduced an interstate calling service called InWATS (Inward Wide Area Telephone Service), as an alternative to operator assisted collect calling. By today’s standards it was primitive and expensive and only very large companies like major hotel or rental car companies could afford the service.
What we consider to be modern toll-free calling really emerged in the early 1980’s when telephone switching systems moved from the electromechanical age into the computer age. Computerized switching systems, signaling, and call routing evolved to a point which allowed the number being called to be routed based on instructions in central databases.
This level of automation, combined with regulatory changes in the 1980’s (which spurred competition and drove down long distance pricing), put toll-free services within reach of small to medium businesses.
How toll-free can help your business
1). Improve customer satisfaction
A toll-free number makes it easier for your customers to reach you. They can call any day at any time at no charge to them. The easier you make it for your customers to communicate with you, the more likely you are to retain them.
2). Vanity numbers – easy to remember
Toll-free service made it possible to deploy vanity numbers. With a telephone keypad containing numbers and letters, it is easier for people to remember a word or phrase as opposed to the actual phone number. The obvious example is 1-800-Flowers (1-800-356-9377). Vanity numbers can be a powerful branding tool in your marketing toolkit.
3). Using toll-free to measure and direct marketing spend
Let’s say you want to run a marketing campaign which spans multiple types of media and you want to know which one is most effective, for example, print, web, or radio. Using Toll-free numbers for each allows you to track the effectiveness of the individual marketing vehicle in terms of its ability to drive inbound leads to you. The calls can be routed to a central business location for answering, and the business receives valuable marketing analytics about where to allocate marketing dollars based on the success of each type of media used in the campaign.
4). Enhance credibility
Toll-free numbers are great, especially if you are just starting a business. Having a toll-free number gives your business credibility and enhances your company’s image. If you are a very small business, it can make you appear large and established.
5). Location independence
When you have a toll-free number, location doesn’t matter and if you move, you don’t have to change your phone number which would negatively impact your business.
The message is clear; toll-free numbers are a valuable asset for any business. But be careful who you choose as your provider. How do they ensure that your toll-free calls always reach you? How well do they handle business continuity and disaster recovery?
Ask them — you might be surprised at the answer.
At nexVortex, we looked at the big picture and architected a solution to meet real-world business requirements. Through our portal you can configure multiple disaster recovery handling scenarios for each toll-free number and we are also an independent RespOrg. We have an extremely robust implementation.