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Toll-free and 1-800 numbers for business

Customers shouldn’t have to pay for help. Maximize value and authority with a toll-free or 1-800 phone number.

A guide to toll-free phone numbers

Last updated May 13, 2024

Toll-free service started in the 60s, decades before the birth of the internet. Its staying power, fueled by convenience, has helped 1-800 numbers remain important for how modern businesses support their customers and manage voice operations. Even startups and small businesses can use 1-800 numbers to improve the customer experience.

However, it can be tricky for new businesses to know how to pick a service that best fits their needs. Our guide can help you learn more about toll-free numbers, including what they are, how to get the best toll-free phone number service, and why they might be a good fit for your business and customers.

More in this guide:

What is a toll-free phone number?

A toll-free number allows customers to call your business from a landline for free. However, if they call from a mobile phone, their service provider may charge you for minutes, depending on their plan.

Toll-free numbers are often recognizable by their three-digit prefix: 800, 888, 877, 866, 855, 844, and 833.

Usually, when customers call a non-toll-free number (meaning none of those listed above), they’re charged for the call. But with toll-free numbers, the fee structure is switched, and the business pays for incoming and outgoing calls.

How does a toll-free number work?

Toll-free numbers work by sending a customer’s toll-free call through the SMS/800 database to identify who pays for the call and then routing it to the responsible party.

Here’s a step-by-step breakdown of the toll-free number process:

  1. The customer calls your toll-free number.
  2. The call is sent to the customer’s local telephone company.
  3. The customer’s local telephone company asks the SMS/1-800 database for the routing information of the business responsible for the cost of the call.
  4. The customer’s local telephone company routes the call to the appropriate long-distance telephone company.
  5. The long-distance telephone company receives and routes the call to the business’s local telephone company.
  6. The local telephone company routes the call to the business.
  7. The business connects with the customer.

This entire process takes less than three seconds to execute.

Why get a toll-free number for your business?

Toll-free numbers provide customers and prospects outside the local calling area with a convenient way to contact your business via phone, as they can avoid long-distance toll fees. When businesses don’t have a toll-free number, customers may not reach out to avoid paying for call charges. Businesses also use toll-free numbers to make it easier for prospects and customers to remember their phone numbers. In short, toll-free numbers help businesses remove barriers—financial and otherwise—for their customers who want to contact them.

When integrated with customer service software, companies can unlock additional benefits. These include AI assistance for agents, real-time reporting, robust customer profiles to personalize conversations, and help centers to deflect phone conversations.

Benefits of toll-free and 1-800 business numbers

If phone support is one of your primary customer service channels, toll-free numbers are highly beneficial. Here are a few perks for getting a toll-free or 1-800 number for business.

Boosts brand recognition

The best toll-free numbers are simple and brand-specific. Creating a toll-free vanity number that includes your business name (like 1-800-SAFEAUTO) or what your business does (like 1-800-GOT-JUNK) helps customers easily remember the number and your brand. As a result, customers won’t have to look up the number to call you. This added advantage can be the difference between a prospect calling you or a competitor.

Three location point identifiers represent the importance of using toll-free numbers for brand recognition.

Free for your customers and prospects

A hand holds a coin representing cost savings.

According to the Zendesk Customer Experience Trends Report 2024, customers prefer speaking with reps on the phone to resolve complex problems. Paying a fee to get help from your business could push them to give up and seek a competitor. Toll-free numbers remove financial barriers for customers and, in turn, create a more seamless and positive customer service experience.

Convenient for international customers to reach you

A toll-free number is essential if you’re a global business—long-distance customers can call you when needed. For example, hotel customer service operations have international customers who want to avoid long-distance call charges, and toll-free services make it easy for them to connect, ask questions, discuss issues, and more. Meanwhile, AI agents and AI knowledge bases can further boost productivity by deflecting tickets.

A world map represents the global reach of toll-free numbers.

Use Zendesk AI to provide higher-quality voice support at scale.

Features of toll-free phone software

Don’t stick your team with a one-trick pony. Find a toll-free software provider that delivers these key features.

Unified omnichannel conversations

A screenshot displays the Zendesk ticket main page.

Consolidate conversations with the Zendesk Agent Home.

Imagine a caller starts with a phone call but needs to follow up with an email containing screenshots or documents. Omnichannel customer service capabilities allow customers and agents to seamlessly switch between support channels. It ensures that the interaction history and key customer context are readily available, regardless of where the conversation started. This empowers agents to provide consistent and personalized service, reduces the need for repetitive explanations, and ultimately improves customer satisfaction.


Harness the power of AI to streamline your agents' workflow and minimize call wrap-up times. Once a voice call ends, AI can automatically generate a summary and attach it to a ticket, eliminating the need for manual input and freeing up your agents to tackle the next task more efficiently. AI can also generate a call transcript within the ticket, making every conversation searchable. Meanwhile, AI agents and AI knowledge bases can further boost productivity by deflecting tickets.

A screenshot displays the Zendesk call summary feature.

Use Zendesk AI to provide higher-quality voice support at scale.

IVR phone trees

IVR software can interact with customers when they call in. By providing prompts and options, an IVR phone tree either routes the call to the agent best suited to handle the call or deflects the call with self-service options. It offers 24/7 support, faster resolution times, and call prioritization.

Embedded voice

The best toll-free software providers can also integrate a “Call Us” button that allows customers to seamlessly connect with your business from their browser or within the mobile app. The embedded voice button creates an easy, one-click way for customers to reach your inbound call center, enhancing the customer experience.

A screenshot displays the Zendesk voice interface.

Use an integrated voice solution that works out of the box.

Real-time reporting

A screenshot displays Zendesk reporting.

Improve operations with real-time reports.

Real-time reports allow managers to view accurate, timely information regarding call center operations and key call center metrics. Meanwhile, AI reporting tools can suggest common questions that may be better for an AI agent to handle.

AI-powered quality assurance tools can also help supervisors monitor caller sentiment in real time and assist where necessary. AI can also assist with workforce management by forecasting staff needs.

How to choose the right 1-800 provider for your business

Each business will have different priorities when picking a 1-800 number provider. Here are a few things to assess when weighing your options:

  • Consider ease of use: Look for tools that are easy to use to maximize productivity. This way, your team doesn’t have to endure the costs of large developers and IT teams to implement and maintain the software.
  • Prioritize fast time to value (TTV): Avoid extended onboarding periods by selecting a straightforward interface. Look for tools that work out of the box and integrate with your existing systems so you can get started from day one.
  • Factor in total cost of ownership (TCO): Maximize the return on your investment by finding a solution you can maintain independently to provide all the tools your team needs. You’ll avoid the costly expenses of hiring a dedicated admin team and purchasing supplemental tools to fill performance gaps.

Balance these factors with the software’s features to find the best fit for your business.

Frequently asked questions

Improve your phone support operations with Zendesk

Zendesk makes it easy to acquire a toll-free number and seamlessly manage voice support with our comprehensive, AI-powered customer service software. AI tools such as call summaries, intelligent routing, and workflow optimization help boost productivity and lower costs. Meanwhile, a unified agent interface ensures your agents can manage customer calls alongside all of your other channels. Start your free trial and benefit from a solution that is easy to use, cost effective, and sets up quickly.

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