When calls are placed across the Public Switched Telephone Network, the carriers which connect that call from the originating party to the terminating party each charge an access fee. These small charges add up to the toll cost for completing the call. This cost is owed by the originating party, much like postage is paid by the sender of a letter or package.
Businesses realized long ago that they would attract more calls if they offered to pay the toll cost for calling their number, so many offer so-called toll-free numbers. They are free for the originating party to dial, because those connection costs are paid for by the terminating party. Think of this as a collect call to the business.
According to the FCC all toll free numbers begin with the following dialing three-digit codes: 800, 888, 877, 866, 855 or 844.
How is a Toll Free Number Used?
Toll Free Numbers (or TFNs) are purchased by a Responsible Organization (or RespOrg) and utilized by your service provider. Frequently, they will have a set charge per incoming call, rather than requiring a whole list of municipal, state, and federal taxes to be itemized for every call. So, your business will be responsible for a monthly fee, plus a small charge for the calls themselves. In exchange, you have a business number that can be dialed anywhere in the U.S. at no charge for the caller.
Porting the toll free number from one RespOrg to another is a little more complicated and time consuming than porting a regular number, but follows a similar process.
How Do I Use a Toll Free Number?
Your UCaaS portal may provide a way to edit the destination of any and all Toll Free Numbers. Changes made to the destination of the these numbers takes effect almost immediately, so you can redirect incoming business calls in a hurry if need be. Some providers will need to edit these fields manually, so check with your service provider to be sure.
Depending on your ability to track incoming calls, these numbers can be deployed for marketing research purposes. You can have three toll-free numbers that go to the same place (an inbound sales hunt group, for example) but those numbers are published in different media. One number might be on the website, another on business cards or handouts, and the third on Google Ads. You can then look back monthly or quarterly and determine which method is getting the best return on investment.
How Much Does it Cost?
Check with your UCaaS provider for actual numbers, but there will likely be a monthly charge to lease the number itself, as well as any usage. Usage is the wildcard, and you may take steps to limit the amount of traffic or the location of the inbound calls. International calls, in particular, can accrue high costs per minute.
Does it Still Matter (Given an Era of No Long Distance)?
The big question is an important one. “Does it even matter if your business represents itself with a toll-free number?”
There is no consensus on this issue, and just like many things, it depends a lot on your business. While it is true that long distance isn’t that big of a deal for most urban areas, it remains a factor with rural customers. In addition to the ease of access for these customers, merely having a toll-free number automatically adds an air of legitimacy to your enterprise.
But, if the majority of your leads come in through other means, such as chat, website, or email, the extra expense of a toll-free number may not be justified.
In general, though, having a toll-free number is a low-cost way to make your business look national, or at least regional. The month to month cost of maintaining the number is minimal, and if most of the time calls are not the majority of your traffic, then the few cents (or even fractions of cents) per minute do not add up to much.