(UPDATED: See my most recent updates towards the bottom)
I recently looked into getting a toll-free vanity phone number for a business. Having no clue about it, I did the usual, ask Google. Right away I was presented with a ton of companies who offer toll-free services as well as sites offering “reviews” on the companies that provide the services. Most of those review sites I found were nothing but people looking to cash-in on the affiliate/referral programs that many of the service providers offer. So on most of the review sites they all mention the same basic group of companies (you guessed it, the ones that offer money for referrals). I did manage to find a bunch of legitimate companies and they all generally provided the same information:
- You can register a toll free number (800, 888, 877, 866, 855, 844) with any qualified company (referred to as a RespOrg). From the FCC’s website, “Toll free numbers are assigned on a first-come, first-served basis by entities referred to as ‘Responsible Organizations’ or ‘RespOrgs.’ “
- Most companies have some sort of small monthly service fee ($2-$14/month and up). Some plans include minutes, while others charge a fixed rate, around $0.06/minute. Some plans offer unlimited minutes.
- You can have a menu system (“Press 1 for sales, press 2 for customer service…”), and other features, which is referred to as a PBX system, or virtual PBX. Grasshopper.com includes this in all their plans, while other companies (Kall8.com) offer it as an extra.
- In all instances, you can setup your 1-800 number to transfer to any other number you’d like (cell, home, office, Google voice, etc.). In the case of a PBX system, you can setup extensions that can each be assigned a different number. Very helpful!
- In most cases, you own your number, so you can take it with you if you change service providers. You just need to be careful because some companies will “rent” you a number, which THEY own.
Here’s a quick run-down of the companies I found:
- Grasshopper.com – So far, so good. I’m with them now. Their basic plan runs $12/month plus $0.06 per minute. They include a virtual pbx system, which is awesome. You can easily setup a menu directory, different extensions, multiple users and more. They offer a 30-day money back gaurentee, and there’s even a $75 coupon offer around that basically lets you get a 1-800 and use it for a couple months for free! They’ve recently been acquired by Citrix, so you know they have a solid backing.
- Phone.com – They offer some attractive plans starting at $9.99 per month, they include 100 minutes and offer a large list of features. Looks like a good choice!
- Kall8.com – I read a lot of positive reviews about this one on independent forum sites. They’ve very inexpensive at just $2/month plus $0.069 per minute. They don’t include a virtual pbx, so your toll-free number will simply direct the caller to another number you assign, or voicemail. UPDATE: Found some FCC records showing that this company may be sold as shown here.
- A few more: Callture.com, RingCentral.com, 800.com, Twilio.com and many others.
I’ll update this later once I’ve gained some more experience in this area. So far I’m quite happy with Grasshopper.com. Their customer service is responsive and their system is easy to use and setup. I had signed-up with a custom 1-844 number and it was active in less than 24 hours.
I’ve switched to another service by Twilio.com. They offer a lot of powerful features to developers and those looking for a low-cost, easy to manage number. At just $2/month plus a very low cost-per-minute, I’ve not found a better service for the price. They allow you to setup your own (free, open-source) PBX system, called OpenVBX, on your own server. I’ve installed and setup this system and it offers quite a lot of features. Although for now, I’ve just got my 1-844 number simply forwarded to my cellphone using their twimlet features.
Switching to Twilio was very easy. You just need to fill out a simple form, provide some information, and they put everything into motion. The porting process does take some time since they have to actually schedule a port date and make that happen. Overall the process took just about a week. I requested a port on 12/22 and it was done on 12/30. Super easy, plus customer service thus far has been excellent! Twilio is a solid company, powering the communications for Uber among many other large businesses.