1-800-TEXT: Enable Your Toll-Free Number for SMS
Up until around 2005, toll-free numbers offered companies a competitive advantage since most consumers were still charged for long-distance calls. As cellphones became more ubiquitous and affordable, cost-free calling was no longer the most significant factor to the customer. Used by some of the biggest and oldest brands, toll-free numbers—also referred to as 800 numbers, with variations including 888, 877, 866, etc.—still hold tremendous value for businesses, especially considering that consumers are likely to associate them with not only a larger, national, established business but also one that values customer relations. Online businesses find them attractive because they’re not tied to a local number (and by extension not tied to a physical location). And toll-free numbers, particularly vanity toll-free numbers such as 1-800-FLOWERS and 1-800-PLUMBER, are also easier to remember.
In fact, studies have found that vanity toll-free numbers have a 75 percent higher recall rate than randomly assigned toll-free numbers and a 57 percent higher recall rate than website URLs in advertisements. Businesses are able to select their vanity number and tailor it to their customer base versus being assigned one by their service provider. That is one of the reasons why so many realtors, lawyers, government agencies, and nonprofits prefer them and trust in their ability to instill customer confidence and engagement.
With more than 42 million toll-free numbers in use today, it’s not surprising that they remain as popular as ever. Providing a convenient way to track the reach and effectiveness of multichannel or national marketing campaigns, toll-free numbers enable businesses to assign unique numbers to various advertising channels (for example digital ads, social media ads, print ads, etc.) which is a good way to evaluate the effectiveness of various marketing campaigns. Likewise, a nationwide business—such as an e-tailer or retail chain—could use a separate number for each region, state, or city. With intelligent routing capabilities, toll-free numbers, like 1-800-LAWYERS, for example, can also enhance convenience by detecting a caller’s area code and connecting that person to a nearby office.
Of the many benefits toll-free numbers bring to a business, there’s still an important piece that’s missing for most: the ability to go beyond voice. Recognizing that consumer preferences are changing, businesses are adjusting to better meet their customers in the conversational pathways they prefer. Text-enabling toll-free is yet another tool in the toolset that customer service representatives can leverage in contact centers and call centers. In fact, the ability for businesses to expand the power of voice with text messaging has become one of the most preferred and trusted customer engagement channels—not to mention effective. Because texting offers such flexibility, it’s no surpise that 56 percent of people would rather text businesses than call customer service, according to a recent Facebook-commissioned Nielsen study.
Every mobile phone sold over the past 20 years has an SMS application preinstalled, with every mobile service provider in the world supporting it. Text messages have the highest open rate of all messaging types and only a 3 percent spam rate, which is in large part why 93 percent of consumers trust text—and why more businesses are using some form of SMS today, with many more expected to adopt the technology in 2020. Those companies that are expanding the power of toll-free numbers are quickly realizing new competitive advantages and faster ROI. In addition to growing the customer service channel, they can be used to strengthen customer relationships and improve results in customer satisfaction by enabling representatives to interact with multiple customers, simultaneously sending updates, confirmations, reminders, and trouble-shooting advice, all of which offer a transparent exchange of information.
Unfortunately, in some cases, customers are texting toll-free numbers but are not getting any response. That is primarily due to the fact that those numbers are not text-enabled. This lost opportunity can result in lost revenue or negative brand experience—and it isn’t logged so businesses sometimes don’t realize the negative effect of that lost opportunity. That is why companies that utilize text can improve the customer experience not only by providing a quick reply to customers but also collecting the requests coming in in order to improve their operations.
Thriving in today’s increasingly competitive market is as much about attracting new customers as it is ensuring exisiting ones know their needs and concerns come first. Considering that consumers are likely already reaching out to businesses via toll-free numbers, there is a real opportunity to increase revenue, brand trust, and customer retention by investing in 1-800-enabled texting.
Mike Gilbert is a senior account director at iconectiv, an authoritative partner of the global communications industry. As a trusted business leader, Gilbert has diverse, progressive experience in telecom sales engineering, software development, project and program management, and new business development. Gilbert has spent his entire carrier in the telecom sector, starting as a software engineer on government communications projects and moving on to integrate VoIP services internationally.