The 800 number Experience Thread

I have seen lots of discussion about 1-800 / 1-866 numbers. One common theme is that everyone recommends you need one and you need it to be visible on your site. What I want to know is experiences regarding 1-800 numbers, so we can decide how worth it they are. Here are some questions I have:

After offering a 1-800 number, how much did your online sales (through your shopping cart) increase or decrease?

What percentage of your sales were over the phone?

For mom and pop shops, how did the 1-800 number affect your leisure time, stress level, etc?

I added a toll free number through vonage for only a few bucks a month. They have no idea that it is virtual. You can also link it with Google voice to make some really interactive ways for your customers to contact you. i.e. Text SMS support and questions.

A lot of people have cell phones these days, but toll-free numbers do a number of things. 1. Can make you look bigger. 2. If they don’t have a cell phone or don’t want to use their minutes, they can call from a land line at no charge. 3. Every big successful business has one, so that should say something. If it didn’t matter, businesses wouldn’t be using them anymore. 4. If you ever move, change numbers, etc. you don’t have to worry about that as your 800 stays the same as it can point to anywhere.

Now customers almost require 1 800 number and ask in their letters whether 1 800 number is available. And i would agree that having such number is a symbol of the business ‘seriousness’.

Sometimes it is even more a psychological point I believe …

Yes, the toll free number can give your business a professional appearance, however if your business is not very big, you can use the live chat system on your site instead of toll free.

Here is a demo of the live chat system (on the left side of the page):

Why would a merchant NOT get a tollfree number? They are so cheap, plus you can get a vanity number for not that much. Also, you can get a phone system for about $600 that will make you look like a large business. I have an article on my site about toll free numbers and pbx phone systems, the one we use that tailors to small to medium size businesses (up to 16 lines or so). Corporate image is very important to a successful business and you can do it for not very much. PM for the article link or search gotmerchant toll free for the link.

The main reason that is making me resistant is servicing a customer who needs a toll-free number is so much more expensive. I do not sell goods with high margins, so having someone call me (I am a one man show) and me having to spend 10 minutes with them to maybe get a sale is not a good use of my time considering the product margins.

However, if a toll-free number increases web-based sales, then it might be worth it. If it increases web-based sales by 10% and only 1% of customers call the toll-free number, then the numbers might work. That is why I am trying to get actual statistics regarding people’s experience.

So far no one has said they added a toll-free number and sales increased. That is, ultimately, the bottom line. Whether people view me as big or trust me more or get feel good feelings doesn’t matter if sales remain constant after adding a toll-free number.

We have always had a tollfree number, so I can’t tell you for certain. Your profit margins may not be big, but will your customers be repeat customers or simply one time purchasers? For many businesses, a customer can be worth hundreds or thousands for the life of the customer. Repeat business, referrals, reputation, growth, etc. There are a lot of companies with VERY slim margins, like 1 or 2% profit that do very well. You can’t simply look at profitability on a per account bases, not on every account, but what does it do overall to the business. There are things that affect your business that can’t be measured, like a customer base that refers others and it dominos from that.

Unfortunately it is very difficult to determine exact sales figures that phone calls bring (unless you issue invoices for all customers manually). A customer may call, ask questions, even leave his name, e-mail address, however later make a purchase under different name, or his colleague will make purchase for example.

You could ask any person calling write/call you back when an order is going to be placed and get some discount for example, however even that does not always help. As alternative you can take name and e-mail address of each customer, however that is not convenient for customers in most cases.

So, as you see, that is not that easy to calculate profit from phone calls.

And do not underestimate good feeling and impression customers get from you. They may purchase nothing from you however they will tell their friends about your company…

Same concept as the reason why you would have a professional looking web site and everything else you do to make your company look good, impressionable, professional and big.

Other virtual phone service such as 0845 or vanity toll free number can create attention. Other businesses take both 0800 or 0845 numbers.
0800 are suitable for accommodating customers on nearby locations
0845 a very good choice if you want nationwide expansion

You should use Live Chat in addition
to a toll free line as many people
are “shy” and prefer to chat before
calling …

Hostgator has a good option where they include a free 800 number with their monthly business hosting. In my experience, most people don’t call it, but it does give them a sense of confidence in the site. If they do call and I’m not there it goes to a professional voice mail. At least until my site grows.

I think Hostgator is the only internet service provider that offers a free 800 number along with their service. I wouldn’t be surprised if they will be offering office phone systems in the near future.