Leadership optimize

Telephones are so 1876

Chip Camden expresses his problems with a survey by a virtual phone service provider about area codes and zip codes. He also explains why he dropped his toll-free service.

The people at eVoice, providers of a virtual phone number service, have just published the results of a survey they conducted in May and June about whether area codes and zip codes project a professional image for small businesses. Here are some highlights from the press release:

  • The majority of respondents (68 percent) say having the right area code or 800 number gives them a competitive edge.
  • Seventy-one percent of respondents believe their area code carries more prestige than their zip code.
  • The majority of respondents (56 percent) confirmed that the biggest benefit to having an 800 number is that their business appears larger.
  • Seventy percent of respondents stated that their mobile phone is their primary business phone.
  • When asked “What does a recognizable area code say about your business?” The number one answer from survey respondents was "Legitimacy."

I see a few problems with this survey.

There's little doubt in my mind about eVoice's reasons for asking these questions, so I think that confirmation bias is playing a big role here, in several forms. First of all, the people surveyed were "current eVoice customers and visitors to eVoice's website," thus people who have either already invested in setting up a virtual phone number or are somewhat interested in doing so. Second, the questions are leading: Does having the right area code or 800 number give you a competitive edge? Of course it does. A better question would be whether that edge is enough to warrant the cost. I'd also like to see individual results for toll-free, local area code, and other. The reasons why a local area code and a toll-free number might be attractive to customers may differ, yet the survey lumps these into a single question.

Comparing area code to zip code is a bit of a straw man. Who said that anybody ever considers zip code? You might as well ask whether your phone number or your hair color contributes more to your corporate image. Maybe some people care about zip code, but it doesn't mean much to me. I'm much more likely to judge someone by their website.

Regardless of the survey, though, I see several benefits to having a toll-free number:

  • Like they said in the survey, it makes you look bigger. I'm disappointed that this got a 56% response as the "biggest benefit," though. I think it's the least significant benefit in this list.
  • It makes you look more professional. You've invested money in taking calls from your clients, so you must be serious.
  • It says to your clients, "I want you to call me, so let's do it on my nickel."
  • It's a nice thing to do for your clients and prospects, which is always the best kind of marketing.

Some of the same reasons might apply to getting a phone number with the same area code as some of your clients, but there's one more: People like dealing with local businesses, and a local phone number fools them into thinking you are one. That applies more to consultants who work regularly on-site.

Sometime back in the 90s, a telemarketer for a small carrier offered me the number 888-44-CAMDEN. I snatched it up, printed it on my business cards, pasted it on my website, and emailed all my clients. Soon I found out that the extra number (the "N"), although it's ignored on most phones, caused one of my clients' PBX system to hang up the call. I switched to publishing the all-numeric version, which wasn't nearly as memorable.

In recent years, most of the incoming calls were from telemarketers or surveys for those "free business listings" that they "need to update" seemingly once a week. I also found that almost all of my conversations with clients and prospects have migrated to email or other Internet-borne communications. When I got to the point where I was having approximately one real business telephone conversation per month, I dropped the toll-free service. I also switched to using my mobile phone for business, with an unlisted number.

Do you have a toll-free number for your business? Do you have numbers in multiple area codes? If so, how is that helping your business?

About

Chip Camden has been programming since 1978, and he's still not done. An independent consultant since 1991, Chip specializes in software development tools, languages, and migration to new technology. Besides writing for TechRepublic's IT Consultant b...

19 comments
JohnMcGrew
JohnMcGrew like.author.displayName 1 Like

...in a few years? Just as today's children now ask what a phone booth is for, they'll soon be asking why an 800 number is relevant when almost every home and cell phone plan now includes free domestic long-distance calling. As those of us who still remember paying by-the-minute to make a phone call get closer to retirement age, few are going to remember why 800 numbers existed in the first place.

Sterling chip Camden
Sterling chip Camden

They were inconvenient (had to make sure you carried quarters), but they didn't reveal where you were (or weren't).

HAL 9000
HAL 9000

I remember them being convenient well at least the Ones here provided by the Telco, those provided by Business as a money making concern where a different story. However no matter just how badly located a Public Phone was you could always hear the person that you rang reasonably clearly unlike the Cell Phones who's reception can be downright terrible. Maybe its just me but a bad Mobile Connection to me is worse than useless and does make me think about the quality of the service that I have called. Col

JohnMcGrew
JohnMcGrew like.author.displayName 1 Like

You had to stand there, and enter in a dozen-number or so code, which you inevitably mis-dialed at least once. I usually used one attached to a credit card. For a while, I used this cool little device about the size of a card-calculator that I could program all the relevant numbers into that you'd hold up to the mic and then it would dial the numbers. At least it solved the mis-dial problem.

HAL 9000
HAL 9000 like.author.displayName 1 Like

Nothing is working at the moment. Just yesterday I was out and about and I didn't take [b]The Masters Voice[/b] with me mainly because I had 2 urgent things to do and I couldn't be interrupted till they where finished. Of course I had to make a phone call and I didn't have the beast on me. So I asked for a Public Phone and naturally I didn't have any small change on me just a $2.00 coin for a 50 cent call. It saved me money paying that $2.00 instead of trying to find change in a modern Shopping center without people who take your money. I don't get the idea of introducing Machines to scan in your purchase take your money and give out change when you have a person standing there to work the machines and there are no maned checkouts. Seems to me to defeat the purpose a little but then again maybe because I insist on using a manned checkout I'm weird. :D I had to deposit some money into a bank account and naturally the idiots who sent me the forms didn't put the Bank Account Number on the Bloody Form even though they insisted that I directly deposit the money into their account. Some people make me wonder what they use for brains but as they where accountants I suppose I couldn't expect any better. Anyway in a massive Shopping Center covering about 2 hectares there where 2 public phones and it took just about as long to find them as to drive home ring the crown who I had to pay and then go back to their bank. The only thing it saved me was petrol about a gallon of the stuff so that extra $1.50 that I donated tot he Phone Company was cheap as far as I was concerned. Also as those phones where more or less on the way to this crowds bank I just had to walk away from the Public Phones and down the isle to their bank so it saved me quite a lot of time really. I just wonder ever if these things are not used much these days is it really acceptable to only have 2 Public Phones in such a large Public Place. When I left those phones there where about 20 people standing in line to use them. ;) Col

Sterling chip Camden
Sterling chip Camden

... you had to have quarters to make a call, and if it was long-distance you had to have enough quarters or you'd get dropped. Later, the telcos issued calling cards so you could bill the call to your home phone account. Of course, you had to key in the calling card number. Bad mobile connections aren't as much of a problem around here now as they used to be -- of course, I can't speak for your region.

JohnMcGrew
JohnMcGrew like.author.displayName 1 Like

...I was walking into a local mini-mart which actually does still have a public phone out front. As I walked past, it started ringing. I seriously had to suppress the urge to pick up the handset and say "Dave's not here, man!"

Regulus
Regulus

I have one 'Hard Wire' line which has no services and costs less than $25.00 per month. Honestly, it's just a backup. I have a MagicJack and a Grand Central (now Google) with different 'Prestige' prefixes which I was able to personally select. Both forward directly to my cell, as does my Skype. If you call out to any business, most will not even talk to you if a caller ID does not come up. People who work these incoming lines recognize certain prefixes as sources of 'difficult people to handle' (been there). Maybe they will 'sneeze' or something, causing the call to drop and you going through the que again. Maybe a 'nice' prefix can make life easier. And, I could go on.....

Sterling chip Camden
Sterling chip Camden

... then does fooling them with the area code really help? Are you making cold calls? That's something I never do.

www.indigotea.com
www.indigotea.com

Chip, I've used eVoice for a while now, and a previous provider for many years before that. I live and work in a large metro area where people can have the same area code, and yet still be a long-distance call via landline. I also have clients from Pennsylvania to Seattle, so it's a courtesy to give them a way to reach me that doesn't incur LD fees. Some of my clients are still very old-school, and would rather chat over the phone than online. I am encouraging more of my clients to adopt technology such as Skype, but that's not always conducive for the "road warrior"-types who like to call in from their car, between appointments. One of the benefits of using a service like eVoice is being able to forward it to any phone number, anywhere. If I want to forward calls to my VA, associate, or any other number, it's very simple and straightforward. If you travel, or cover a wide territory, it's a great option to have available for your potential client base.

Sterling chip Camden
Sterling chip Camden

I guess a lot of it has to do with the kind of consulting services you provide, and how necessary it is to speak rather than to write.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

I don't assume anything about a business if they offer a toll-free code, but I'm more inclined to call such a number simply because I don't have pay for the call. Next on my list is if the area code is the same one I'm in, for the same reason - it's cheaper than an LD call. Other than that, I don't what would make any one area code more 'right' or 'wrong' than any other.

sandyabrams
sandyabrams

It's not that you think something of a biz if they offer a toll free number but rather what you think of the company if they don't! The benefit of the 800 is tremendous because most people do expect to be able to call a company through a toll free number, and it does make people assume that it's more than a solopreneur at their kitchen table, when many times its not! Also toll free numbers are expected because of the inconvenience usually associated with calling big companies; i.e. long hold times etc. The call needs to be on the company's dime. Also, having a local area code within the area that you specialze in is critical escpecially if you live outside of that area but are still truly a local specialist. It's what a client would expect if you claim to be local. eVoice's options for noth (800) and local area codes is a huge benefit to solopreneurs like myself, it gives us immediate credibility and a bigger presence in this day & age when so many companies are run from virtual offices.

NickNielsen
NickNielsen like.author.displayName 1 Like

What about businesses in metro areas that have more than one area code? Or businesses that work in metro areas that cross state lines? I live just a few miles from the boundary between area codes, and do business in towns on both sides of that boundary. Yet, because of the different area codes, some calls are local and some long distance. The 800 number is a better bet in such areas.

Sterling chip Camden
Sterling chip Camden

800 number says "we're a business" (even if that "we" is really "I"). I used to try to project that, but lately I've moved towards a more personal relationship with my clients. Using email now for more of my communications means that I'm more guarded about my phone number. I give my number only to my established clients, and it's a privilege. It says, "you can interrupt me if you really need to." That's not a privilege I grant to just anyone.

HAL 9000
HAL 9000

800 Numbers may be great and even expected if you have to make a Long Distance call to speak to someone but to me it seems a large unnecessary cost for allowing the person to call a local number supposedly free. They still pay the cost of a Local Call so why increase your overheads paying extra? Im not sure just how having the same area code is any help if you have to travel 100 miles to get there either. If you're local your local you have the same area code already. Its not something you need to service your local area. I personally dont want people ringing me from even an adjacent Area Code and expecting me to arrive there in 10 minutes as there is at the very least a 60 minute drive if not longer involved. Let alone a Area Code from a different state. I dont want that type of work or the time wasted in taking the call. The big one however is Mobile Phones while some people love them I've found that the call quality is terrible and that alone is driving many clients to E Mailing me. Its not the coverage of my carrier involved here but the way that their systems access my network provider. Then there is the issue of other Mobiles having lousy coverage calling my Mobile and being to the point of almost useless in understanding that persons queries if you can hear them at all. Sorry maybe its just me but this service sounds like a [b]CON[/b] its great for the provider but a unnecessary expense for the user. Col

Sterling chip Camden
Sterling chip Camden

... a lot of service providers in Kitsap County also have a Bainbridge Island number listed. If you try to find a local contractor or plumber based on their phone number, you're likely to get someone in Port Orchard with a 45-minute drive each way -- and they'll charge you for that!

Sterling chip Camden
Sterling chip Camden

I'd be interested to hear about your experiences with that service as well.

sandyabrams
sandyabrams

Hi Chip, I'm an eVoice fan & posted my comment above. Thanks!