Toll free numbers are telephone numbers that are charged for all received calls, instead of a service provider billing the caller. First seen in the 1950s and 1960s in North America and Great Britain, toll free numbers were invented to combat the exorbitant pricing faced by a consumer when they are attempting long distance calls to businesses or individuals on the other end of a country. Data about the first Indian toll free number is scarce, but it seems likely it’d be a government helpline. These predecessors to modern-day toll-free calling were innovations for their era, coinciding with when television and telemarketing first entered households.
However, manually connecting two ends of a line proved tiring and inefficient when it came to processing day-to-day requests of large corporations, and resulted in dropped calls of potentially new customers. As with most things, automation arrived as the solution. Telecommunications giant AT&T introduced an automated toll free number service in 1966, but it was only suitable for companies that already had large volumes of long distance calls. It could not cater to small businesses wanting to expand their national footprint. Modern direct-dial systems emerged in the 1980s. Today, toll free numbers are billed according to the number of minutes spent on call per month or per year, depending on your subscription plan. The fixed monthly charges in India are affordable. There may be separate charges for processing your request, for a security deposit, and for each call.
The first prefix for a toll free number was 800, which is why they are still colloquially called ‘800 numbers’. Incoming calls would be placed into a computerised database, allowing them to be patched anywhere.
Today, proactive startups as well as small to medium-sized businesses (SMBs) are switching to toll-free number services offered by cloud telephony companies, as the natural next step in the evolution of telecommunications.
Toll-free calling in India
The prefix for toll free numbers are not random—they are assigned according to a geographic area code. In India, this prefix is 1800, and is followed by a six or seven digit number (for example, 1800-ABC-DEFG). The call charge goes to the owner of the toll free number, regardless of whether a consumer is calling from a landline, mobile phone, or smartphone. Traditional telecom operators do offer toll free numbers, but they come without the added advantages of the cloud. No call recordings, logs, analytics, and so on.
Industries that use toll-free numbers
Boosting brand recall and being able to accept a higher number of call requests are the main reasons why businesses would opt for a cloud-based toll-free number today. This is across a variety of domains, such as:
- In research organisations or think tanks, where a large-scale survey requires callers to dial in with self-reported data or sign up to be part of a study.
- In emergency helplines for government departments, such as ones used for fires, to report crime, one for women’s safety, and for natural disasters or public service announcements.
- In medical helplines to request a consultation, ambulance, doctor or paramedic
- In E-commerce, where customers can call a common number for a brand with all enquiries and grievances
- In the travel industry, where restaurant and hotel chains, as well as airlines, receive a mammoth number of booking requests, confirmations, and cancellations over call
- In new companies that want to secure loyal membership by snagging curious consumers
- In contact centres that support quick output, impulse-based ventures like telemarketing. A toll-free number ensures the consumer has no hesitation in making the call—they quite literally have nothing to lose
Apart from these specific industries that most benefit from toll-free numbers, they can also be used for after-sales customer support to assess and address the product/service-to-delivery cycle.
How could a toll free number enhance business performance? Here’s eight avenues:
When integrated with Interactive Voice Response (IVR), a consumer calling a toll-free number will be directly navigated to their department of choice without having to wait for a manual operator to connect them. This reduces the likelihood of calls dropped due to impatience, enabling companies to handle a large volume of incoming requests with ease. Personalised greetings can be incorporated into your IVR setup, using experienced voiceover artists.
IVR, when part of a larger cloud telephony suite, is often bought as a bundle with call forwarding to enable the switch to the specific department. If your employees are on holiday, or are working from home (for example, as is the case during the coronavirus pandemic), then call forwarding can direct customers from the toll-free number to a personal number without revealing the change to the caller. This helps maintain brand reputation while still getting work done.
Toll-free numbers remove the need to buy hardware for SMEs (small and medium-sized enterprises) wanting a unified communication plan, especially if taken from a cloud telephony operator. The reduced expenditure and increased business efficiency deliver a high return on investment. And when customers see an SME having a toll-free helpline, it adds to brand credibility.
Toll free services are often combined with call recording features. This helps track customer feedback, pick out recurring queries and keywords. This paves the way for managers to carry out performance reviews with scrutiny, plan training regimens, and make detaoled agent performance reports.F
If you buy a toll-free number specifically for a marketing campaign or project, then it ought to be alongside a call monitoring dashboard and caller analytics. This helps track the success of each campaign, plus areas of improvement. One can also opt for real-time SMS alerts to track every dropped call from the dashboard. The number can be retired once the marketing life cycle is concluded, to avoid customer confusion. And yes, you can obtain more than one toll-free number from a company like Servetel.
Every brand has their own unique telecommunication requirements, and cloud telephony firms cater to this by offering a wide range of numbers. The extensive catalogue also includes vanity numbers, where digits are often replaced by letters to create an advertising-oriented mnemonic. Whether this be polished, fun, or uber direct is up to the buyer, but vanity numbers certainly leave a more lasting impression than the usual suspects, especially when used in TV commercials, print and radio advertisements, and sponsored posts on social media.
Toll-free numbers keep business portability in mind. Should you shift locations, your number can stay the same, instead of having to register multiple new contact details and inform customers. This is also helpful if you’re aiming to build a national-level customer base, as one uniform point of contact reduces friction between callers, agents and partners. Less hassle, more uptime, no rifts in customer satisfaction.
Cloud-based toll-free phone numbers are inherently scalable. Should you need a change or greater bandwidth, then the only requirement is to contact the cloud telephony company for a software change. No technicians are required to shut and work on systems for expansion, saving manpower and business hours.
At the end of the day, everyone likes free things. Opting for something as simple as a toll-free number is a gateway for businesses to highlight their best features to inquisitive callers. Fuse that with accessibility, timely monitoring, mitigation, and a little bit of marketing flair, and you’ve got the recipe for optimum customer satisfaction.