The toll free number has evolved over the years from a novelty during the days when AT&T had a monopoly on them in the 1960s, to the ubiquitous customer service and marketing tool it is today. But the world has changed. Modern customers often aren’t as concerned with who is going to pay for a call, especially with many home phone plans now including long distance and mobile phones which will ding them for minutes no matter where the call is ending up. So it begs the question: are toll free 800 phone numbers still relevant today?
The early days
From the creation of 800 numbers in the 1960s to the 1980s AT&T held a monopoly on them, and charged a premium many times those of regular calls for the service. Fortunately that came to an end in 1982 when the monopoly that was “Ma Bell” was divided into more seven independent companies. The ensuing competition for long-distance rates, including 800 numbers, drove rates down. This opened the door for businesses that previously could not afford 800 phone numbers and many adopted them as a standard business practice.
Following the breakup is also when the vanity number cropped up. Customers could now select their phone number associated to numeric keypad codes and with it unforgettable corporate numbers. This innovation changed the way businesses marketed phone numbers forever. 800 phone numbers became so popular and such an accepted business practice, that by the late 1990s there were none left and thus the creation of 888, 877, 866, and, most recently in 2010, 855 numbers were introduced to meet growing demand.
The year 2000 and beyond
While the Internet age has delivered a multitude of voice options for consumers including various VoIP offerings and the growth of mobile phone usage has changed our communication patterns and business landscape, the need for toll free numbers is still present today. Even though the draw of the toll free number has less to do with cost to the consumer than in the old days thanks to the unlimited phone plans of today, toll free numbers still offer the perception of reliable customer service. They offer a professional image for businesses, as well as the ability to appear larger, either in size or geographic scope. This is especially important for businesses looking to represent themselves across various cities and states, but also for the smallest businesses who want to appear larger and more established. That combined with the advances in technology that allow for call forwarding with the aid of a virtual assistant make it an essential business tool even in today’s mobile world.
Some have even speculated that we may see 1-800 data in the future, where customers will avoid costly data usage to glean customer support via the web. We will have a front row seat to that debate, which is sure to continue. One thing is for sure, there is no replacement for talking to a live human being, whether that dialogue kicks off with a web search or not, you will want to make sure you have all the bases covered. Customers expect to be able to contact you in their preferred mode of communication and for some that still means picking up a phone and calling someone. For many businesses, offering 800 phone numbers means projecting a professional, larger appearance while also giving them the ability to pair it with many modern conveniences to route calls.
So yes, they are still relevant today, for many reasons. Wondering if you need a toll free number? Visit our recent post to learn more, 4 Ways to Gauge Whether You Need a Toll Free Number.