Back when payphones were still a thing, toll free numbers had a different purpose. People were able to make free calls to toll free numbers from a payphone or their landline, and the other end would be charged for the call. With toll free numbers, the owner of the phone number is responsible for the inbound calling costs.
But if most people have free national calling plans today with their cell phones and free calling apps, why are toll free numbers still so popular? So popular in fact that businesses continue to purchase them every day, and new prefixes are coming out every few years to create more inventory for the demand. There are a number of ways businesses can use toll free numbers to grow, and we'll go over them further down this page.
The good news is, toll free numbers aren’t just for big corporations anymore.
If you’re a small business looking to learn more about how toll free numbers work and how to get an 800 number, you’re in the right place.
We’ll answer the following questions:
- What is a toll free number?
- Who’s in charge of toll free numbers?
- What are vanity numbers?
- Are toll free numbers portable?
- Can toll free numbers be used for texting?
- What are ways businesses use toll free numbers?
- How are toll free calls routed?
- How do I get a toll free number?
What is a toll free number?
A toll free number is a special telephone number starting with the prefix 800, 833, 844, 855, 866, 877, or 888, and allows callers to call a business without being charged.
Toll free numbers are an age-old communication and marketing tool used by businesses everywhere. Toll free numbers first came to be in 1967. Since then, toll free numbers have become portable, and VoIP services have emerged, thus making it more accessible to SMBs.
According to a sample of Telzio customers, at least 22% of small businesses with an average size of 15 employees have toll free numbers.
The percentage of SMBs getting toll free numbers is projected to increase, since toll free services have become more affordable and easy to manage over the past decade.
Who’s in charge of administering toll free numbers?
The FCC establishes the laws that phone companies have to abide by, and it designates various agencies to administer those laws.
Somos is the entity designated by the FCC to manage administration of toll free numbers. Somos works with authorized telephone service providers known as Responsible Organizations (RespOrgs) such as Telzio, that can access the Somos database and get toll free numbers on a first-come, first-serve basis.
Somos distributes new toll free numbers as they are released to RespOrgs, that are then able to offer the numbers to business customers.
Toll free prefixes and number inventory
We immediately think of the 800 prefixes when we think of toll free numbers, but they can contain the prefix 833, 844, 855, 866, 877, 888, and at some point in the future, 822 as well. There are only around seven million combinations possible for the 7 digits of 800 numbers, so it wasn’t long before both the US and Canada were running short on numbers.
To remedy this problem, the FCC introduced additional toll free codes between 1998 and 2017 to include the codes 800, 888, 877, 866, 855, 844, and 833. The most recent toll free prefix that was made available was 833 in 2017. Presumably, the next batch will contain the prefix 822, but that release date has not yet been announced.
Toll free numbers in US, UK, and Australia
Toll free numbers vary by country. In the US, they begin with the prefixes 800, 888, 877, 866, 855, 844. and 833. In Australia, they begin with 1800, and in the United Kingdom, they begin with prefixes 0800 and 0808.
Toll Free Vanity Numbers
Vanity numbers spell out a certain word or acronym, making the number easy to remember. The main purpose of vanity numbers is to make it easy for customers to reach you. Additionally, the appearance of a vanity number in itself gives your brand image a boost.
An attractive vanity number would spell out your business name or the product you’re selling. Most importantly, a good vanity number is easy to remember.
It's easy to dial 1-800-NOCUFFS from memory if you don't have time to look up the phone number during a sticky situation. Some businesses develop their entire brand around their toll-free number, like 1-800-PETMEDS or 1-800-FLOWERS.
A toll free vanity number is a marketing tool. Like property, vanity numbers can carry substantial value and become an important business asset.
Some vanity numbers sell for millions of dollars.
Is your vanity number available? Ask our sales team.
What makes a toll free phone number more valuable?
A good phone number is like a good domain. Think of it this way – an 800 number is like having a premium dot com address, or a 90210 zip code.
The term “800 number” has become synonymous with “toll free number” and is the original toll free number. Toll free 800 numbers are limited and don’t change hands very often. Technically there’s no such thing as a “new” 800 number because there are only so many that exist, which is part of what makes them valuable.
Are toll free numbers portable?
The good news is, once you buy a toll free number, it’s yours. Unless of course, you cancel service with the provider.
Toll free numbers are portable, which means it’s your property and no phone provider can hold it hostage or refuse to port it to a different carrier.
The selection of phone numbers is finite just like domain names and retail locations. So once you get your hands on one, it becomes a business asset.
Texting with toll free numbers
Today, toll free numbers can also be used for texting. Toll free SMS lets a company facilitate sending and receiving text messages with customers via the same toll free number used for voice calls. Users can text with customers via mobile app or through an online dashboard.
How toll free numbers are helping businesses
Here are some ways businesses are using toll free numbers to their advantage.
Promo & marketing
Having a memorable toll free number is like owning prime real estate. The phone number is the marketing strategy. Some companies spend hundreds of thousands of marketing dollars on campaigns focused around a single phone number.
Netflix is such an example, who purchased an 888 number from Telzio for their show Stranger Things and plastered it all over billboards from coast to coast.
Other examples of businesses who advertise heavily around their phone number – attorneys, insurance companies, and real estate agencies. These companies want you to know their number off hand.
Customer support lines & contact centers
A toll free number makes it easy for customers to contact support when they have questions. Displaying a toll free number on your site tells your customer – We’re here if you need our help, and we want to make it easy for you to call us.
Toll free calling is particularly important when serving customers nationwide, not just because of the calling costs, but because of the perception. A customer calling a local area code they don't recognize for customer service may have questions about the company's legitimacy.
Toll free routing to remote workers
With VoIP services today, you can route calls on your business number to employees in any location. The Telzio mobile app and webphone enables calling from a mobile phone or a virtual phone, making it easier to bring on remote workers as needed to handle incoming calls.
National presence & branding
Because most people have free national calling today, the concept of having a toll free number really speaks to your brand as opposed to any other real functionality. If you’re an online store that sells nationally or internationally, it makes sense to have a toll free number. If you’re a brick and mortar store like an auto dealership or a barbershop that caters to a local area, then a local number should suit you just fine. National chains generally utilize both a main toll free number along with a local number for each franchise or branch.
Having a toll free number indicates that your business has a national presence.
In addition to the marketing potential and convenience for your business and customers, toll free numbers still have a lot of prestige left over from the days of landline phones. It used to be that only the biggest businesses had them, but now they are more readily affordable. To have a toll free number is to bear an image of professionalism.
Routing toll free calls over landlines and VoIP
When customers place a call to your toll free number, it is routed to an interexchange carrier (IXC). The IXC provides connections between local exchanges across geographic areas. Since IXC’s utilize digital streams, they are compatible with the public telephone switching network (PTSN). This essentially means VoIP to landlines, computer to computer, computer to phone, and IP devices to other phone services use the same routing system.
Call routing can be done in many ways, based on the needs of the business with some of the more prominent ways including the following options:
- Business Hours that distributes calls to various teams based on time and day set.
- Queues that retain callers on hold and evenly distributes calls to agents.
- Auto attendants that enable callers to choose a destination using their keypad.
With Telzios intuitive interface, call routing can be customized instantly online to fit your particular business situation without the need for a technician. Whether you need to create hunt groups or route calls to field reps on their mobile phones, the ease of managing phone services has come a long way.
An example of a Telzio Call Flow.
A toll free number can serve as your main line, or as an additional line used solely for sales or customer support purposes. As with standard local phone numbers, you can assign multiple extensions to a toll free number so incoming calls can go to any desk phone or mobile phone regardless of their location.
Inbound calling versus outbound calling
While toll free numbers can be used for both inbound and outbound calls, most companies today reserve toll free usage for managing inbound traffic, and dial out from their local numbers. There are two main reasons for this.
One is the perception of receiving a call from a toll free number. People see a toll free number on the caller ID and immediately assume it’s a telemarketer. The second reason is cost. Toll free numbers have slightly higher rates than local numbers, so businesses allocate outbound usage to the lower cost route.
How to get toll free numbers
Purchasing toll free numbers is easy and instant. Here is the step-by-step process of getting a toll free number with Telzio.
If you don’t already have an account with us, sign up for a free 30 day trial and you can instantly choose a toll free number to use with your trial account.
- Navigate to Plans & Numbers and click Add Number.
- Choose the country where you want a phone number.
- Select Toll Free Number.
- Filter by prefix or start typing in the search field.
- Click Add to add a number to your cart.
- Review the confirmation page.
- Assign the number to a plan.
Whether you’re reserving a toll free vanity number for your startup or scaling up your business, Telzio keeps it flexible by giving you all the features and users included at no additional cost.
With unlimited users, you can have one main phone number, and all employees can have an extension behind that number. On top of that, all users can simultaneously be making calls.
Does every business need a toll free number?
Toll free numbers are important for companies who serve customers nationwide and have dedicated phone lines for sales, support, etc. If you are a local business like a real estate office or auto repair shop, then a local phone number is probably better for you. In the case of a local brand, make sure to find an area code and prefix that is based in the city you are in.
One reassuring benefit of having a toll free number is that no carrier owns it, meaning that your number is completely portable. It is a number that you own, and you can consider it as an asset to your business. You can move the number away from any provider as needed.
Jennifer is part of the content marketing team at Telzio, providing insight and tips on how Telzio can be used to optimize business communications and customer service.