Business – Toll Free Phone Numbers


1 (800) 320-3792

When I was growing up, I remember having to be careful which phone numbers I called.  Some were local (free) and some were long distance ($).  It was hard to tell the difference.  For me, a town 5 miles to the south was local, but a town 5 miles to the north was long distance.  Calling out of state was less expensive than calling in-state.  I didn’t understand how that could be.  My folks were pretty tight with their money. We were not allowed to call anyone outside of town so they would be sure to not incur any long distance calling charges.

Then along came something called a WATTS line.  WATTS stood for Wide-Area Telephone Service and was used by big companies to automatically reverse the telephone charges so the person being called always paid the toll charge.   Today, we call them toll free numbers or 800 numbers.  What a great idea! 

The person selling a product was now able to make his phone ring by appealing to consumers who wanted to keep their phone bill as low as possible.  Companies that picked up the tab for incoming phone calls soon became leaders in their industry. The one I remember best was for Holiday Inn–1-800-HOLIDAY.  The easy to remember name along with knowing that I would not be charged for the call made this the only number I called when I was traveling for a living. 

In 1999, I bought my own business, the Munro House Bed and Breakfastin Jonesville, Michigan. To appeal to the people who traditionally frequent bed and breakfasts, a toll free number was very important. Paying up to 8 cents a minute for incoming calls was a price that I was willing to pay, so we kept a toll free number.

Over time, that cost per minute has been cut by more than half. It is still a large expense that is becoming more and more unnecessary.

These days, most people have a calling plan on their land line telephone that allows for large or unlimited amounts of long distance calling time. Another large percentage of the population uses cell phones with calling plans that have no long distance charges. It is unnecessary for people in these categories to call a toll free number any more.

There was a time when we called a toll free number to save ourselves some money. Today, anyone with a calling plan on a land line or cell phone who calls a toll free number is basically wasting the money of the person receiving the call. We are all trying to cut expenses. Educating people on this single issue could save a lot of money for a lot of companies.

It is going to take a while to educate people to think about when it is prudent to use the toll free number and when it is not. It is also going to take some time for companies to adjust all the literature about their business to include a standard number along with the toll free number.

Mike Venturini

Mike Venturini

Until that day comes, I will have my land line phone number along side my toll free phone number and hope my clients take the time to choose the right one.


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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. It seems to me that the real culprits are the LEC’s who keep calls within the state (intrastate or intralata) so expensive that the idea of reversing the charges appeals to your customer base. Unfortunately, education is not really going to help with that.

    Realistically, though, there are some other advantages to an 800, 877, or 866 number. First, with the profusion of area codes, a toll free number makes it easier for customers to remember your number. This is especially important when your advertising doesn’t always allow for the customer to call you right then – radio advertising during the morning commute is a great example. 800-HOLIDAY is something a customer is going to remember easily, while 327-555-1783 might be a bit difficult.

    Also, an 800 number still states in a subtle way that you are interested in saving your customers money. The psychological value of such care for your customers is a gig part of why 800 numbers brought so much success to companies that used them. I still feel better about companies when they offered me an 800 number, because it felt like they cared more about me than a piece of their profits.

    I think so long as the bulk of the customers you might attrack are baby boomers and GenerationX – used to using 800 numbers to cut telephone costs, you’ll need an 800 number. As later generations grow up, used to free long distance on cell phones, and internet calling using VOIP, toll free numbers, much like WATTS lines (really a very different technology), will start to fade away.

  2. i thought this was a nice post. useful advice.

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