Having a toll free number (now often an 866 or other exchange) has been the mark of legitimacy for small businesses. But now, in 2011, just about all the technical reasons to have a toll free number have pretty much gone the way.

So, does it still make sense to pay the phone company to have a toll free number for your small business.

My first advice is NO because : 

Almost nobody pays for long-distance charges anymore (toll free number). And if they do, the cost is pretty close to marginal. Almost all cell phones come with “free” long distance, putting the limitations on total time spent on the phone, not where you are calling. And Internet calls typically don’t charge for long-distance connections either.

Even many home phones now include unlimited long distance or charge just a couple of cents per minute (toll free number). And, of course, it’s always free if you call from work!

Toll free number is actually a barrier to callers from outside the continental United States. International callers typically can’t connect to 800 numbers, so if your business doesn’t want to drive away global business, you need to publish a regular phone number as well, and that can be confusing to everyone.

For everything from sales to customer service and support, telephone calls are increasingly being supplanted by websites, social media, and online chat. Calling the company on the phone is now pretty much a last resort when all else fails.

As toll free number got more common and less expensive, their cachet has faded. When it doesn’t cost much to get an 800 number. There’s little customer security in knowing that a company has one.

While all of those reasons stand, there’s also the other side:

If your business caters to low-income consumers. The cost of a telephone call could still be a barrier to contacting you. Why bother alienating them? After all, no one will hold it against you for having an 800 number.

It’s not that hard to offer alternative means of contact to customers outside U.S. borders. And offering two numbers and specifying that the regular number is for international callers may make your small business seem larger and more impressive (toll free number).

While it’s often cheaper and more effective to handle everything from sales to customer service online. Some people think it’s safer to read their credit card numbers over the phone than type it into a website. Even if it’s not totally true, would you rather conduct an online safety education seminar or make the sale?

A recent survey said that even in 2011, 56 percent of respondents thought an 800 number made a company appear larger.

Survey of toll free number

But the survey also lauded the importance of having a local area code. To connote legitimacy (more important than a local zip code, apparently). That’s ironic since eVoice lets your company use a number with any area code, no matter where you’re actually located.

And the study also revealed that 70 percent of respondents. Most often used their mobile phone to conduct business, making toll free number redundant.

In the end, while I’m convinced that 800 numbers are no longer relevant. They’re cheap enough to continue making available to serve the decreasing number of customers who prefer them.  And garner a little extra credibility in the bargain.

But don’t sign any long-term contracts. It won’t be long before toll free number will be completely out of the picture.

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