Your Toll Free Number Could Be Turning Customers Away
by Bill Lampton, Ph.D.
Many businesses have a toll free number because they assume people will be more likely to do business with them if they don't have to pay for the call. But in this day of cell phones with free long distance, your toll free number may only be attracting telemarketers and friends or relatives.
When I launched my company, Championship Communication, ten years ago, a veteran entrepreneur advised me, "Get your toll free number right away." He argued that I would attract more clients and keep ongoing clients happy if they could call me at no charge.
"But," I asked, "isn't that quite expensive?"
"No, Bill, it's surprisingly reasonable, and it will be well worth the moderate cost because of your increase in customers."
Following his advice, I got an 800 number and displayed it on my stationery, Web site, business card, and E-mail signature. For a decade, I mentioned that number when I was leaving a voice mail message for an out of town contact I had called and missed.
Then not long ago, I started rethinking whether my toll free number was gaining business for me. Discussing this with a professional speaker colleague, I was surprised to hear him say, "People who want you to have a toll free number, so they can save three or four dollars when they call you, are unlikely to be able-or willing-to pay the professional fees your experience merits. If they are so cost conscious that they don't think they could afford to call you, then how will they change that mind set to invest in your services?"
His idea startled me. At the same time, his logic seemed sound. Over the next few months, I started looking at my monthly telephone bill to see who was using my 800 number to reach me. The answer: mostly friends and relatives.
Even worse, one company I had never heard about printed my toll free number as the contact number for its customer service department. I spent some agonizing times assuring callers I had nothing to do with that company.
Also, I reasoned, in the era when many calls originate from people using cell phones, the savings an 800 number once promised are likely to be obsolete. With most providers, cell phone minutes used are cell phone minutes, period.
Then I thought back to my twenty-three years in management. Like every manager, I fielded numerous calls from sales people who wanted to talk with me about their product or service. How did I decide which calls to return from someone whose name meant nothing to me? Simple-I eliminated the calls from strangers with toll free numbers. I knew I was in for a sales pitch, and with my packed schedule taking time for those calls would not demonstrate wise time management.
Remembering that, I wondered how many people had filtered me out of their calls-to-return list since 1996 because of my 800 prefix.
However, I didn't want to trust my intuition alone. So I surveyed twenty-five professional speakers I had become acquainted with through our state and national associations. Included in my survey: the speakers with the most book sales, highest fees, packed calendars, and greatest reputations. Most I reached by E-mail, and with the rest I simply checked their web sites.
The results astonished me. Out of the twenty-five, only eight have toll free numbers. The seventeen others were prospering nicely with ordinary phone lines. The most significant indicator: a speaker with a $20,000 keynote fee publishes his office and cell phones, but no toll free number.
So I took the logical next steps. I called the phone company and cancelled my toll free number. I notified my friends and relatives who had been using the number that it was no longer active. The tech professional who makes requested changes in my Web site eliminated the number from those pages, and even from the "landing pages" accessed through Google. And I eliminated the number from my formal E-mail signature.
Do I fret because the toll free number remains on my business card and stationery? Not really, certainly not enough to order a fresh batch of both. I'll change those eventually. Meanwhile, from what I have learned I will not be missing out with top-tier prospects.
I recommend that you evaluate whether my findings match your professional niche. If your toll free number attracts mostly friends, relatives, and marketers who want you to spend money on them, it's time to switch to a traditional phone number. You'll save substantial dollars annually, and more importantly you will attract the caliber of callers you want to do business with.
Bill Lampton, Ph.D., Communication Consultant,
Speech Coach, and Video Trainer, "Helping You Finish in First Place." Visit his Web site, Championship Communication. Call Dr. Lampton: 678-316-4300