Before toll-free telephone numbers were introduced, the only way for a caller to reach a business for free was to place a collect call through a telephone operator. Upon the request of the caller and acceptance of the receiver, the charges would be reversed. But in 1967, AT&T introduced toll-free calling to the United States. They created specialized telephone numbers that made a call free for the person dialing the number, no matter where they were located in the US. The “800” prefix told telephone companies that the owner of the telephone number would pick up the long distance charges.
The Evolution of the Toll-Free Telephone Number
At first, only large, national companies were able to afford this revolutionary service. But as telephone technology improved, toll-free telephone numbers became less expensive, and more businesses got on board. It didn’t take long for the toll-free telephone number to go viral.
They were so popular that the supply of available 1-800 numbers was dwindling by 1996. In that year the FCC had to expand toll-free prefixes to include “888.” They would expand prefixes several more times over the next decade. They eventually became so popular that there are now five toll-free prefixes circulating in the US. This massive expansion was partially spurred by the growth of internet telephony, more commonly known as voice over internet protocol (VoIP).
VoIP transfers calls across the internet, rather than using the public hardline network. As such, VoIP systems are far less costly than traditional phone services and customers can add advanced calling features to their home or business line without requiring hardware changes or upgrades. This means that customers can direct toll free numbers to their existing telephone line, without trading in their local number. They can purchase a virtually unlimited set of toll-free telephone numbers at a very low cost.
Don’t Mobile Phones Render Toll-Free Telephone Numbers Obsolete?
One of the most common arguments against toll free telephone numbers is the way cell phones process calls. For almost all US providers, there is no such thing as long distance. A call is a call. Minutes are minutes. And since more and more people are using cell phones as their primary telephone, at first blush it may seem as though toll-free telephone numbers are obsolete.
But there are a number of reasons why toll-free telephone numbers still make a lot of sense for large and small businesses including:
Toll-free telephone numbers generate instant trust – For nearly 50 years consumers have learned to trust companies that give them the option of a toll-free contact number. They inherently associate these numbers with large corporations that can handle their needs efficiently. Toll-free numbers give new and small businesses the chance to compete with larger, more established companies.
Marketing and Branding – Vanity toll-free telephone numbers allow companies to incorporate a bit of branding into every customer call. These personalized numbers also help improve customer recall, making advertising far more effective.
International Reach – We operate in a global economy. Many organizations have operations in different countries around the world. If a customer in the States must call an international number – even from their cell phone – they will be hit with extra charges. Local, US toll-free telephone numbers can be set up and forwarded internationally, allowing customers to reach global companies for free.
Global call center efficiency – Many companies operate call centers in India, Pakistan, and Mexico. US-based toll-free telephone numbers can be directed through VoIP systems to those foreign countries at no cost to the caller. This helps keep costs down and efficiency high, and allows companies to control the quality of their international customer service operations.
The rise of mobile communication has changed the way people connect to one another, but it has not made the toll-free telephone number any less effective, or any less necessary for business operations. They provide a convenient way for companies to connect with customers, no matter where they may be located. They generate instant trust, and can improve marketing and branding. The rise of internet telephony has made toll-free service even more attainable. Now, even microenterprises and solopreneurs can establish themselves in the national, or even international marketplace.