Toll-Free vs. Local Number: Which is Right for Your Business?
Certainly, you've probably come across "1-800" numbers while watching TV commercials or listening to radio ads. You may already be aware that these numbers are toll-free and allow you to call companies without incurring charges.
However, as a business owner, determining whether acquiring a "1-800" number is a wise decision can be quite perplexing. What are the advantages and disadvantages? When is it more appropriate to stick with a regular phone number?
This article aims to delve into this topic, aiding you in making an informed decision regarding your business's best course of action.
With that in mind, let’s start by answering, “what’s a toll-free number?”
What is a Toll-Free Number?
A toll-free number is one without a specific area code. Thus, people who call this number don’t need to pay any long-distance charges. Instead, the owner of the toll-free number (which is usually a business or organization) pays for it.
A toll-free business number provides a convenient way for customers and clients to connect with an organization, free from any concerns about call charges. Not only does it facilitate seamless communication with your target audience, regardless of their location, but it also serves as an effective tool to encourage inquiries about your products or services.
Utilizing a toll-free number instead of a local one not only signals professionalism but also implies that the business possesses the resources to invest in such a feature. Furthermore, it conveys a dedication to valuing customer feedback and inquiries with utmost seriousness.
Lastly, when comparing a toll-free vs local number, it's important to note that a toll-free number can be a great marketing tool. You can often request a specific number that’s tied to your product or service. “1-800-FLOWERS” is a perfect example of this concept in action. (It’s even their business name!)
While toll-free numbers have their advantages, it's important to consider the drawbacks. One downside is the potential increase in costs, particularly if you receive a high volume of calls. Additionally, toll-free numbers can attract unwanted or spam calls, resulting in unnecessary expenses without any added benefits.
What is a Local Telephone Number?
A local phone number, commonly used within a city, town, or neighborhood, allows callers to reach you. The biggest difference between a local vs. toll-free number is that the former includes a specific area or city code. These calls are managed and routed by a local phone company.
Having a local phone service used to be the minimum requirement for any company. Nowadays, though, more and more owners forgo this in favor of digital channels like email or online chat.
However, it's important to consider using a local phone service to build credibility and trust with your customers. Showcasing your preparedness to engage with them in case of any issues helps reassure them that you are a committed and dependable entity, not just a passing operation.
A local phone number also establishes a stronger connection with the local community and customers within an area. This is important because people love supporting businesses they perceive as “homegrown” instead of a faceless corporation. Best of all, local phone service is a very affordable way to communicate with your market.
One major limitation of this channel is its restricted geographic reach, which can pose challenges for businesses aiming to extend their presence beyond the local region or cater to an international customer base.
International customers also incur the expenses of calling toll vs. toll-free services, which can be off-putting. This cost burden can potentially discourage them from engaging.
Toll-Free vs. Local Number: Which is Right For You?
Now that we’ve discussed toll-free and local numbers, you might ask yourself, “Which is right for me?”
It’s important to remember that there’s no one-size-fits-all approach. Toll-free and local numbers have their advantages and disadvantages, as previously discussed. You should look at your business’s requirements and try to match them with the right solution.
Here are some factors to consider.
Location of Client Base
Where are most of your customers located? The answer to this question can play a big part in whether you need a toll-free or local number.
For example, a toll-free number would be quite useless if you’re a local business that caters only to people in a defined area. You’re better served with a local phone number.
The same is true if you have customers in only a handful of cities (e.g., your store has branches in only New York and Los Angeles). In this case, maintaining two local phone numbers might still be more cost-efficient than going toll-free.
Keep in mind that a local phone number is a big plus for local SEO (search engine optimization). That means you have a higher chance of appearing in searches where people look for a nearby establishment. That said, if you have customers nationwide or internationally, a toll-free number will be the best way to reach them.
When deciding between a toll-free and local number, your expansion plans play a crucial role. Are you looking to grow your business across cities or internationally in the near future? If so, it would be wise to opt for a toll-free number sooner rather than later. Introducing a new number to existing customers becomes more challenging as your business expands.
Toll-free numbers are particularly beneficial if you anticipate a high volume of incoming calls, which is often the case when scaling nationally or internationally. However, if you have no such aspirations or your business operates within a specific geographic boundary (like a locally-focused salon), sticking with local phone numbers is preferable.
You can also include toll-free numbers in your marketing strategy. As we discussed, toll-free numbers can help make your business memorable. Additionally, including a toll-free number in your advertisements can make your business appear more professional and established.
Toll-free numbers are an excellent asset for customer service. They provide a hassle-free way for customers to address concerns or seek assistance without the burden of long-distance charges. Moreover, businesses that employ toll-free numbers often experience elevated customer satisfaction ratings, as customers feel valued and well-attended.
Ultimately, it comes down to your marketing budget and desired outcomes. If you’re a small business operating within a single geographic area, having a local phone number might be the best option. However, if you want to make an impression on customers or create a strong brand image, opting for a toll-free number can be one of the best investments you can make.
If you do a lot of short-form offline ads (such as TV and radio ads), memorable toll-free numbers are a great approach. That’s because they’re easy to remember in a short amount of time, boosting brand recall.
For many businesses, budget is still the deciding factor for going with either toll-free or local numbers. A toll-free number might be the wrong approach if you’re a startup and barely getting by with operational expenses. Your budget might be better spent on getting a local phone number or relying on free online methods such as email.
But getting a toll-free number could be a good strategy if you have a stable operation and want to enhance it further with more communication options.
Customer Service Requirements
If your business relies on comprehensive post-sales support and service, especially for technical products or appliances, toll-free numbers can be a valuable solution to consider.
Toll-free numbers are key in fostering customer engagement by eliminating call charges. As a result, customers are more likely to contact you directly to address any issues they encounter with your product or service, allowing you to promptly resolve them.
By offering a toll-free number, you provide customers with a productive means of expressing their concerns, diverting potential complaints from public online platforms.
Additionally, toll-free numbers facilitate centralized customer service, enabling you to cater to both national and international customers. This streamlines your efforts and promotes standardization in customer support practices.
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