We live in the era of free long distance telephone calls. But for businesses, a customized 1-800 number may still have extra value.
Today, any business can adopt a custom phone number that, for an easily managed fee, markets their company and makes it easy for customers to recall their number quickly.
A vanity number is a toll-free telephone number that also spells a person’s or company’s name, or spells a word or acronym that is associated with the business.
Companies that lease toll-free vanity numbers and route the incoming calls can even provide the same number and name to multiple businesses.
This makes it relatively simple for many companies to market themselves with a phone number that describes their business, says a Business Observer article. This could be something like 1-800-Drain Clean or 1-800-Weight Loss, as suggested by the article, or 1-800-LAW GUYS, as actually used by a car accident attorney in Boston, Mass.
Businesses like Telename or 800 Response control hundreds of phone numbers that start with 1-800 and 1-888 and can be used to spell out any variety of names or phrases. These companies touts shared-use routing, which allows multiple customers to share a number/name but only receive and pay for calls from a specified geographic area.
Such services also offer analytics programs that enable customers to track where callers are located, what time of day they are most likely to call, and which advertising most effectively generates calls.
Easier to Recall Business Names Instead of Phone Numbers
Phone numbers that can be conveyed as names are strong marketing tools because they eliminate the need for a customer to remember or look up the phone number.
“Relying on customers to remember the 10-digit number they just saw on a billboard beside the highway is simply unrealistic,” says another vanity number vendor, called Grasshopper. “Expecting them to remember something like 1-800-Flowers as they drive by makes a lot more sense.”
To use another example, many customers who shop at ABC seafood market would have trouble remembering the number 1-888-289-3474. But if the seafood market chose to advertise its number as 1-888-BUY-FISH instead, then its customers would not have any trouble remembering the number so they could call the market and check on the catch of the day.
The Memory Institute says numbers are one of the most difficult concepts to remember since they are abstract.Its exercises for remembering numbers suggest linking a number to words that will create a vivid association.
Even the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) says toll-free numbers “have proven successful for businesses, particularly in the areas of customer service and telemarketing.”
FCC Administers ‘800’ and ‘Vanity’ Numbers
The FCC actually offers six toll-free codes, or exchanges: 800, 888, 877, 866, 855 and 844.
Toll-free numbers are assigned on a first-come, first-served basis by entities referred to as “Responsible Organizations” or “RespOrgs.” These groups obtain numbers from a database called Somos (formerly SMS/800, Inc.), which administers more than 40 million toll-free numbers.
According to the FCC, “warehousing” by toll-free service providers is prohibited. A toll-free service provider may not legally reserve a toll-free number without having an actual toll-free subscriber for whom the number is being reserved.
Hoarding of phone numbers by subscribers is illegal, as well. A subscriber may not acquire more toll-free numbers than the subscriber intends to use. Hoarding includes “number brokering,” or subscribing and then re-selling a toll-free number.
Today’s toll-free numbers are modern successors to the 1-800 “Wide Area Telephone Service,” or WATS lines, which date to the 1960s. These early “toll-free” numbers provided consumers free long-distance phone calls to companies that paid for the service and/or allowed employees of companies with WATS lines to make unlimited long-distance calls for a flat fee.
The breakup of AT&T in 1984 and a series of technological advances since then have radically changed the cost of long-distance phone calls. One thing that has not changed is the need of businesses to have an effective way to market themselves and for customers to remember their names.