Do You Need a Toll-Free Number?

Apr 25, 2023
Do You Need a Toll-Free Number?

In today’s world, does it still make sense for companies to provide a toll-free number for voice callers?

According to Pew Research, as of 2021 97% of Americans owned a cellphone; 85% own a smartphone. Most mobile phone plans come with unlimited minutes for calling any number in the same country. So where’s the value in toll-free numbers nowadays?

Of course toll-free numbers are still useful for people who make calls from landlines, but that demographic is becoming an endangered species. According to the CDC, only about 1.6% of adults lived in households that had only a landline in the first half of 2022.
What is a toll-free number?
With a toll-free number, incoming calls are billed to the called party and are free of charge for the calling party. In North America, area codes 800, 888, 877, 866, 855, 844, and 833 indicate toll-free numbers. In India, the prefix is 1800. Most countries reserve their own set of dialing prefixes to denote toll-free services. Callers call for free as long as they’re dialing in from within the same country; toll-free numbers don’t accept calls from other countries. Most companies that use toll-free numbers do so for voice calls, but in many cases toll-free numbers can also be used for two-way messaging.

If consumers can text or email you, do you even need a phone number? You do. An Invoca survey found voice calls to be the most preferred communication channel (68%) when consumers are having a problem and need help. Have you ever tried to contact a business and failed to find a phone number on their website? It’s frustrating and a poor customer experience.

Voice calls are also useful for other reasons. Consumers still call retailers to find out if an item is in stock, call pharmacies to find out if prescriptions are ready, and call take-out restaurants to place orders, even though they might use digital channels too.

So you need a phone number, but do you need a toll-free one? Well, we know for sure that some businesses don’t. Toll calling is only a factor for geographically dispersed businesses, so it’s fair to say that local businesses never need toll-free numbers. In fact toll-free numbers can be detrimental if you want your customers to feel that you’re part of the same community, as they’re more likely to do if your company’s phone number shares your customers’ area code and maybe a local exchange.

But before we consign toll-free numbers to the same dustbin as printed phone number directories, let’s consider some of the arguments in favor of toll-free numbers.

Why you might want a toll-free number

We see three reasons why you might want a toll-free number, and the first two are hard to quantify.

One argument in favor of toll-free numbers is brand image. A toll-free number lets consumers recognize a brand nationwide, and fosters feelings of familiarity and trustworthiness. Having a toll-free number makes a business seem more established and authoritative. A vanity toll-free number in particular — such as 1-800-TMOBILE — enhances your brand identity. And if someone remembers your number, they’re more likely to call you than to look for an alternative.

Another argument has to do with perception as well. Most businesses, if they use toll-free numbers, do so for general business. By establishing a separate toll-free number for a specific use case, you can elevate that use in consumers’ minds. For instance, if you set up a toll-free number for customer service, your customers can judge that you’re serious about providing good support.

The final argument in favor of toll-free numbers is cost. Though you do pay more per call for inbound calls on toll-free numbers, at least on a cloud communications platform like Plivo, you actually pay less for outbound calls in countries where outbound calling on toll-free numbers is available. If you run the numbers for your expected use case, a toll-free number might be more cost-effective than one or more local numbers.

How to rent a toll-free number

Fortunately, it’s as easy to procure a toll-free number as it is a local one. A cloud communications platform like Plivo keeps a large number of unassigned ones in inventory.

Monthly number rental fees for toll-free numbers are much lower than you might think. In the US, Canada, and the UK, you can rent one for $1 a month. We have similar low rates in other countries — check our Voice API pricing page.

You also incur charges for outbound and inbound calls, but per-call charges are low and you pay for only as much time as you use — Plivo doesn’t require a monthly usage contract. (However, if you’re spending more than $1,000 a month on voice calling, you should talk to our sales team about the possibility of a volume discount for a committed level of usage.)

Using a cloud communications platform for voice calling offers more advantages than just price. Voice quality is a key metric for any calling platform, and Plivo’s Premium Communications Network provides the best possible voice quality. Reliability is also huge — you want to be reachable at all times. Plivo promises 99.95% uptime, and a 99.99% service level agreement is available.

You can get started exploring Plivo’s Voice API services by signing up for free. If you already have a toll-free number from another provider that you want to keep, you can easily port it in to Plivo at no charge. If not, visit our Phone Numbers > Buy Number on the Plivo console. Under Type, tick Toll-Free, and under Capability, tick voice, then click Search.

If you want a particular number — say one with an 800 prefix, or some numbers that match certain letters on a phone keypad as part of a vanity number — you can enter them in the number field, then pick one from among the returned numbers.

The bottom line

So to answer the question we started off with: If you already have a toll-free number, keep it, because surely you have customers who use it. If you’re deciding whether to procure a new one, first compare the monthly cost for your expected call volume, taking into account both outgoing and incoming calls. A large difference might make your decision for you. If the numbers are close, then factor in the intangible factors like brand image.

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