Most small business startup books recommend that you obtain a 1800 number for your business, especially if you are running an eCommerce store.
But these days, long distance calling is mostly free or extremely cheap. In today’s age of cell phones and free unlimited long distance calling, is having a 1800 number really a necessity anymore? Should encouraging more customers to contact your business via phone rather than going online to make a purchase be one of your goals?
Do The Benefits Still Apply?
So what is so compelling about having a 1800 number? I’ve compiled a list of the commonly perceived benefits of having a 1800 number below. The real question is whether they all apply to your business. Only you can be the judge.
- Increased Sales – According to the books (and common sense), if a customer is given a choice between dialing a 1800 number vs a long distance number, they will invariably call the toll free number first. Statistics show that most customers purchase from the first company they call so it is important to get that first point of contact. But I wonder how many people actually think like this today? When dealing with two unknown companies, I’ll almost always call the company with the most professional and aesthetically appealing website regardless of the type of phone number. The type of phone number is rarely the deciding factor whether I will call a company or not.
- Credibility – Consumers often assume that a toll-free number is associated with a large company so logic dictates that they will want to go with a more established player. Again, I tend to associate credibility with the professionalism and aesthetic appeal of the website itself rather than through a phone number. Personally, I prefer to shop at small boutiques. These days, large conglomerates and corporations are generally associated with lousy customer service. If you appear to be a small establishment, who cares? If anything, I tend to correlate small establishments with more personalized service.
- Increased Order Size – Supposedly, companies with 1800 numbers receive larger order sizes on average. While I believe that order sizes tend to be larger when you are able to speak to a customer face to face, I question whether simply having a 1800 number would actually cause a customer to buy more.
- Decreased Returns – Supposedly, stores with 1800 numbers are less likely to have returns. Once again, I fail to see a correlation between product satisfaction and having a 1800 number. Product returns are usually dictated by the quality of the product and its presentation rather than a phone number.
- Call Forwarding – With a 1800 number, you can accept calls on any phone line of your choice whether it be a cell phone or a land line and customers won’t know the difference. While this is extremely convenient, these services are no longer limited to 1800 numbers anymore. For example, Google Voice allows you to forward a call from one number to any phone of your choice depending on the time of day, and it’s free!
Do I Need A 1800 Number?
So the million dollar question is whether a 1800 number is inline with your business goals and whether the money spent on a 1800 line is worth it. These days, toll free numbers are fairly inexpensive so money is less of a factor. Looking online, a toll free number can be had for a small monthly fee and a 3 cents a minute charge.
Personally, I think that the answer depends on the nature of your business. These days, making a long distance call is more or less free, especially if you are on a cell phone. So it really depends on your target audience and what you are trying to sell. Are your customers located close to your business geographically? Does selling your product require having a phone conversation with the customer?
Naturally, a 1800 number is required if your business relies heavily on voice communications to make a sale. But there are other things to keep in mind as well. For example…
- Does your business have the necessary infrastructure to handle the additional call volume?
- Do you want to encourage customers to place orders over the phone or on your website?
- Is more call volume desirable?
Just keep in mind that answering phone calls to make sales is not easily scalable because it requires manpower.
Instead of focusing on making more sales via phone, how about investing more time and money making your website more automated instead? For example, with our store, we try our best to anticipate customer questions online so they don’t have to call us on the phone. We’ve written detailed FAQs and guides to avoid having to answer commonly asked questions. Truth is, as much as we enjoy speaking with customers, we would rather take less calls and rely on more automated methods of selling. Having a 1800 number might actually encourage a customer to call rather than place an order online.
Our online store gets almost as many calls as we can handle and we don’t currently have a 1800 number. 40% of the time, customers call to ask simple questions that could easily be covered on the website. With each call, we jot down the customer question and add it to the FAQ in hopes that we don’t have to answer the same question again. We also display the FAQ page prominently on the menu bar.
For our business, getting a 1800 number is currently a gray area. This isn’t to say that getting a 1800 number doesn’t make sense, but we are focusing our efforts on trying to reduce call volume rather than increase it without sacrificing customer support quality.
Questions For The Audience
- Is not having a 1800 number a deal breaker when contacting an online business?
- How much does having a 1800 number lend credibility to a business?
- Does having a 1800 number really matter to you when you shop?
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