Thursday, January 06, 2005

Toll Free Numbers for Everyone

We're used to seeing toll free numbers on TV ads, in magazines and catalogs. They're a standard tool that larger companies use for taking orders and providing customer service. It might be nice to have a toll free number for a home business or private use, but the cost has got to be out of sight, right?

Well, not any more. Like most special telecom services, toll free numbers were once a luxury that only major corporations found worth the cost. Now the costs of having a toll free number assigned for your exclusive use can be little or no more than what you pay to make standard long distance calls. You can also get toll free numbers that call your cell phone, fax machine, or pager. Some even give you the ability to switch them from phone to phone at will.

Here are some examples. PowerNet Global offers inbound toll free service starting at just 3.9 cents a minute. That's the per minute rate you pay when someone calls your toll free number. The caller doesn't pay to call a toll free number, the person receiving the call does. There are so many people and businesses that want toll free numbers now that there are four prefixes being used: 800, 866, 877 and 888. Note that the first number is always an 8.

Another interesting service is offered by Kall8. You can sign up online, pick one of the available toll free numbers and have it instantly available to you. Using the online control panel, you tell the number which phone to ring to. Some business people on the go set it ring on their office phone or cell phone during the day and then reset it to ring to their home phone at night. The caller doesn't know the difference.

One ambitious entrepreneur hands out flyers at flea markets for his low cost health insurance. People are encouraged to call for quotes because they don't have to pay for the call. He's ready to do business at a moment's notice because the toll free number rings his cell phone, perhaps before he even gets back to his car.

Kall8's service is really useful for running a business because you also get voice mail messages and faxes sent to your email from your toll free number. This is great when you don't have a separate line available for a fax machine or want to be able to pick up your faxes while you're taking a break at a wireless hotspot. You can read the fax on your computer screen and then decide if you want to print it or just file it away.

The cost for this service? As little as $2 for activation, as low as $2 a month for use of the number and just 6.9 cents a minute for incoming calls. There are various classes of numbers with the easier to remember ones costing a bit more per month.

Here's a way families can make good use of toll free numbers. Say you have a student away at college who is reluctant to call home because they don't want to use up their cell minutes or spend a fortune to make long distance calls on the school phone system. Set up a toll free number for your home phone. They'll call and talk all they want for "free" to them. You won't be paying much if any more than you would if you called them. The same trick works for older relatives who are on a budget and might be hesitant to call for fear of running up their phone bill. Let them know they can call your toll free number anytime and it won't cost them anything because it's part of your "phone plan."

There are a lot of ways to get your own toll free number. The PowerNet Global and Kall8 services I mentioned are called "stand alone" services because they are completely separate from your regular local and long distance service. Other companies bundle long distance and inbound toll free or let you add a toll free number to your local and long distance bundle.

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