Monday, January 30, 2012

Why are there still 800 numbers?

Toll-free numbers are de rigeur for most incoming sales and customer service lines. This used to make a lot of sense, say 20 years ago, when people actually paid for an outbound call. You did not want to throw up a barrier.

Now, though, nobody I know pays any differently for a toll-free number versus a normal toll number. Indeed, the very concept of long distance is mostly dead as well. I don't know what the stats are, but I would guess that most people have an all-inclusive plan either on their mobile and/or their landline.

So, toll-free is a great money maker for the phone companies. The caller is paying the same as they would anyway, and the receiver is paying extra for the privilege. With SMS slowly on its way out, the phone companies need a new high margin cash cow.

For the companies themselves, it seems like they could drop it unless they cater to those with lower incomes or no clue.

1 comment:

  1. I can imagine several reasons why 800 #s are still "de rigueur"...

    1. Location Bias - people often don't understand why they do or don't do certain things, but lowering the barriers to adoption or use is going to be huge for most small to medium businesses, startups, and even large companies without an established presence in a given area. Phone numbers tied to particular area codes force the caller to confront something new about the company they are calling, and for better or worse, if they don't like what they see, they may not use that company's services. Example: It's entirely plausible that a Philadelphia Eagles fan would not knowingly patronize a business if it required them to call a 972 (Dallas) number.

    2. Memory - as much as we may think that everyone has a smartphone or are already sitting at a computer, the recent (unprecedented) growth of iPad sales is evidence that many people do not (I refuse to believe this, but I am playing the Devil's advocate here). As such, many people are still "memorizing" phone numbers. That means they are actually trying to...remember it! *gasp*. Since seven is the magic number , having an 800 number effectively reduces the number of digits someone has to remember to seven plus a binary flag for "800".

    3. Permanence - company locations may change. A company may have to make a difficult decision to change their primary phone line if, for instance, they move from San Francisco to Oakland because rents are cheaper. But what of the perception of changing from a 415 to a 510? Would a company necessarily want to advertise they had moved across the bridge to all callers? An 800 number doesn't have to change and lends an air of permanence and credibility.

    There are probably other reasons companies do this that I am not even thinking of, but these three rolled right off the top of my head.


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