Local versus toll-free numbers – why local is better
Small details have a major effect on first impressions. For a business, that can mean
the difference between life and death. A business has a very brief window of
opportunity to catch a client’s attention and portray itself in the best possible light.
Your contact details are a very big part of those first impressions: it might be okay for
a casual eBay seller to offer their customers a hotmail address and mobile number
but almost all legitimate businesses will want to be perceived in a distinctly different
At best, a free email service domain and a mobile number are stating that you work
alone – even when you don’t, or that you don’t intend to stick around very long. A
domain that reflects your business and a permanent professional looking number
speaks a thousand words.
At one time, a toll-free landline number added to that impression, especially if you
were more than a local business. When they first became available on the old
switched networks, toll-free number codes implied that the business had significant
resources and that it prioritised customer service. As times have changed, their
effect has become less clear.
Telecom companies multiplied the number of tariffs and the public soon began to
confuse toll-free with premium rate numbers. When they started tweaking area
codes as well, that simply added to the confusion. Now, the public is learning to
approach any odd looking number with caution: a significant percentage are
reluctant to dial them and even more reluctant to pick up an incoming call from
anything “strange”. In fact, a survey from “Software Advice” reported that 8 out of 10
people say they are “extremely unlikely” to answer incoming calls from an 0800-style
Existing enterprises and start-ups, in particular, should be asking themselves what
impression they should be sending with their telephone numbers. Should you be
using a dedicated business number, and if so should it be toll-free or something
else? The new VoIP phone systems give you more choice and more control over
numbers than ever before and at a price that every business can afford.
Why a virtual phone number is good for business
Deciding what kinds of number to operate is also a matter of cost. Specialist VoIP
providers such as IDT Express offer wholesale VoIP termination rates that allow you to
connect all over the world for less than your existing local phone bills, so price is not
likely to be a major constraint. Small businesses that would never have thought of
extending nationally or internationally, or of operating toll-free services, may be able
to consider it for the first time.
The virtual numbers provided with VoIP do not restrict you to any particular local
area code and it is a simple matter to divert calls anywhere you want with no need
for a PBX and at no extra cost. You can choose to use a national toll-free number or
numbers with different area codes – depending upon your target markets. Customers
are much more likely to call your number if they’re confident it will be a cheap call.
Advantages and disadvantages of toll-free numbers
Advantages that used to apply only to national free-phone numbers – such as caller-
ID display, number porting, seamless forwarding, call masking, voice menus and
communication analytics – are now part of many VoIP bundles and available for any
telephone number you choose.
On the other hand, a particular disadvantage of toll-free numbers is that they’re often
not toll-free. Whether customers call from landlines or mobiles, different service
providers can dictate what charges to levy. Customers rarely know in advance what
those charges actually are. This objection is even stronger if your business is
international. In fact, a few telecom companies around the world will charge an
astronomical amount to connect a supposedly toll-free call.
Public perceptions of local numbers
Survey results from Single Platform revealed that 86% of the public they polled
believe that local businesses provide better service than national or international
companies. While “big” is better in some circumstances, too big to care is definitely
not a good thing. 72% also said they would pay more to shop locally.
Nevertheless, unless you are willing to operate a number for every region of the
country, a national toll-free number may still make better sense for national
companies. A Glasgow code is off-putting if you live in Plymouth, especially if you
want something delivered. Even for large companies with offices all over the country,
a non-local contact number is far more useful for centrally conducted marketing
campaigns and advertising material.
Fortunately, it is a simple matter to operate toll-free numbers alongside local
numbers when you switch to VoIP. You can easily channel calls between them from
your desktop interface.