Updated on July 24, 2019

No matter what market your company is in, every legitimate business needs a way for their customers to contact them. When you start out small, you can often get away with using your local office line, but as you expand, add departments, and grow your customer base, the front desk phone may not be enough to handle your needs.

This is when it makes sense to get a toll free number and begin taking phone calls like the big boys of the industry. The following guide to toll free numbers explains how to go about getting a catchy, custom number for a reasonable price.

What is a toll free number?

A toll-free number is a phone number that starts with a toll-free code (800, 888, 877, 866, 855, 844 or 833) and allows the calling party to call the number free of charge. The person or business that owns the number is billed for both incoming and outgoing activity, so anyone can call a toll-free number from a landline without incurring any charges.

How exactly does a toll free number work?

The idea behind a toll free number is that anyone calling the business has, in all likelihood, either already spent money with them, or is seeking information to possibly place a new order. Not charging for the phone call is a way of saying, 'thanks for your business.'

Are there any differences between 800, 888, 877, 866, 844, 855 and 833? Is 877 toll free?

Toll free numbers come in seven different formats - 1-800, 1-888, 1-877, 1-866, 1-855, 1-844 and the newest, 1-833. These formats are no different from each other, other than by appearance, and neither one costs any more than the others to acquire or operate. One company draws an appropriate comparison between phone number formats and website domain names. '...800 is essentially .com, 888 is .net and 866 and 877 are like .info, .biz or country codes,' they explain. 'They all technically work the same.”

This is a great way of thinking about toll free numbers as you decide which one will fit the needs of your business. Some incredibly successful companies have created entire brand names around a 1-800 phone number, such as 1-800-FLOWERS, and 1-800-CONTACTS. Ultimately, you must decide how central your new toll free number will be to your business, in what capacities it will serve your customers, and how important it will be to your branding efforts.

What is a vanity number?

Custom phone numbers that contain the name of your business or catchy words to describe your services are known as vanity numbers. These are typically harder to find but infinitely more valuable to your business, because they are easy for your customers to remember without having to look you up.

Some people have the mistaken idea that the best vanity numbers cost more, but this is not true. Much like finding a good '.com' domain name for your business, registering a strong toll free number comes down to a bit of searching and some luck. With the recent release of 833 numbers, there are more vanity numbers currently available.

To choose your custom number, think about what words best describe your business and what your customers will remember (check out our tips for choosing a vanity number). To find a number, simply type in your keyword using our Custom toll free search tool.

What do you get, what do you need?

Once you have a toll free number, the hope is to reduce the amount of time necessary to service a customer so as not to rack up an exorbitantly high phone bill. Often times, business will set up automated phone systems to gauge the customer's reason for calling and route them to the proper department. These systems are known as a Private Branch Exchange, (or PBX) systems.

Unfortunately, toll free numbers themselves do not come with PBX systems, office phones, or any other accessories necessary to make the most of your new number. In order to decide what you need to buy in addition to your new number, you must do a full assessment of your business and decide exactly which departments your number will route to, and how many phones need to be present in each. For small businesses, this can be expensive, which is why many companies use a virtual phone system.

How can I call a toll free number?

Toll free numbers are called the same way you would any other number. Just be sure to dial “1” followed by the correct toll free prefix (800, 833, 844, 855, 866, 877, or 888). Toll free prefixes are not interchangeable. In other words, dialing 1 (800) 123-4567 would not route your call to the same place as 1 (800) 123-4567. Toll free calls are paid for by the owner of the number. You may be charged for a toll free call from your mobile phone unless you have unlimited minutes in your plan.

How do toll free numbers work internationally?

Toll free numbers are free to call because the business owner pays for the cost of the call. Since international calls are quite expensive, many toll free owners block access from international callers. These businesses will provide a local number for you to call instead. In cases where international calls are not blocked, you, the caller will pay for the call.

The exception to the above is international toll free freephone numbers. These are toll free numbers with an additional country code and are free to dial from countries that have adopted the freephone system. For example, to dial internationally from the US, you would dial 011 800 xxx-xxxx.

How can I get a toll free number?

To get a toll free number, you simply have to choose a provider, select your toll free number, purchase it and have it ported to your existing local number. Grasshopper makes it simple to get a toll free or vanity toll free number and you can even try one for free for 7 days! Visit our number selector and get started with one for free.

What is toll free number hoarding?

According to the FCC, hoarding (also known as 'warehousing'), is an illegal activity in which a business or service provider will snatch up large blocks of toll free numbers with the intention of reselling them at a premium in the future. The FCC regulates this activity by checking to make sure there are actual subscribers for whom the toll free numbers are being reserved. In fact, the FCC even reports that it is illegal for any subscriber to sell their toll free number for a fee. This law is intended to regulate the marketplace and ensure that all of the best vanity numbers do not become incredibly expensive to reserve.

Other posts on toll free numbers

Picking the Perfect Vanity Number Why Your Business Should Have an 800 Number 10 Facts About 800 Numbers

Have a question about toll free numbers that we didn't cover in this post? Post it in the comments section below!