You might think that ‘dialing 1-800’ is only for big businesses as seen on TV, but in fact it’s really pretty simple and inexpensive to set one up for your own small business. Adding a boost of professionalism, an 800 number is another helpful internet tool that will increase your customers’ confidence and trust in your company, which will in turn increase sales and the number of returning customers. With 800 services, you can generally forward the calls to one or more other numbers, like your cell phone or Skype, and you also get several extension numbers for other employees and departments, unique greetings, and voicemail options.
Now, there are several different companies out there to choose from which supply 800 numbers and services, but I’m going to focus on just four. They all seem fairly similar, but differ in the details. I personally have been using Grasshopper since 2011 and have found it extremely useful and easy to use. Please note that some of the links mentioned in this article are affiliate links meaning I will get a small commission if you go through the link during purchase. I really appreciate your support for Think Entrepreneurship!
I’m going to break this up into comparisons of different features, instead of just going company by company. The four services I will discuss are Phone.com, Phonebooth.com, RingCentral.com, and Grasshopper.com.
Each service offers the basics, like forwarding calls to different devices, creating and managing extension numbers and greetings online, and call-holding music. Details such as cost, contract length, minute plans, and smartphone apps are where they differ.
To activate an 800 number, a $30 activation fee has been the norm. Of the four reviewed, only RingCentral still has that $30 fee. Phone.com rings in with a $10 activation fee, and the other two include it when you just start a normal plan. The variations 855, 866, 877, or 888 never have an activation fee.
Phone.com offers the lowest price at first glance, at just $8.88 for one number, one voicemail, and 300 minutes. 300 minutes is pretty low compared to the unlimited-minute starter packs with the three other services. 22 bucks gets you the ‘unlimited extension plan,’ otherwise it’s 4.9 cents/minute over your 300 on Phone.com. They do have a pretty clear table to show all the different money numbers though, unlike RingCentral, which has a bunch of little number-astericks leading to fine print below—including a two year contract after your 30 day free trial. Grasshopper and Phonebooth each have monthly plans for more of a “pay as you grow” style, and Phone.com has a slightly ambiguous “no long term contract.”
Grasshopper charges $12 per month per user, with 6¢ per minute—no minutes included, but every other feature is included. For comparison, 300 minutes at 6¢ per equals $18, which would be about the same as Phone.com’s $8.88 + $22 unlimited pack (not including the $10 activation). This is Grasshopper’s Pay As You Grow level, with bigger packages with more minutes: the Ramp package at $24 includes 500 minutes, the Grow package for $49 has 2,000 minutes, and a Max pack includes quite a bit more for $199. You can find more information by reading my Grasshopper.com review.
Phonebooth.com has a flat $20 fee per month per user. This smallish hike in price includes two different free numbers and unlimited everything else: nationwide local and long distance minutes, auto-attendants (answering greetings/directions), group conferences, and extension numbers, which they call groups. Phonebooth.com is also proud to own their own network, “just like a traditional phone company,” which helps with price and quality, they say.
With the exception of RingCentral, all of the services can convert your voicemail messages to text and email them to you so you can read them at your convenience. Though sometimes they can sound a little off, voice-to-text technology has been getting better and better, and can be especially useful when you’re stuck in a meeting or on the golf cart between holes and really can’t stick the phone to your ear. Also, faxes can all be turned to PDFs viewable on your phone or computer, with the exception of Phonebooth.com.
They also all can route each call to different extensions, so you can have employees across the country operating under the same number, just with different personal extensions. And to direct these calls you can record a greeting and message, “for sales, press 1,” etc. etc.
Caller ID on Outbound Calls
The white elephant in the room may be that you couldn’t always call out from these numbers, however, that is mostly taken care of. Grasshopper has a newish smartphone app that allows this, as does RingCentral. Phone.com doesn’t have an app per se, but just includes it as a feature that you can choose your outgoing caller ID, plus each extension can choose their own ID. Now, I couldn’t really find anything about this on Phonebooth.com, and when I searched for ‘app’ and ‘outgoing call,’ there were only complaints about the lack thereof on their Phonebooth Community forum, the latest from November of 2012. Perhaps they are working on this, or have solved it, but I couldn’t find any info about outgoing caller ID on their site.
Adding extension numbers, greetings, and customizing caller IDs can all be managed online, so to add a new employee’s extension, it is generally pretty quick and easy, and updated immediately. RingCentral claims to be the “first and only cloud touch system”… but as far as I can tell, the others are all are pretty similar, and they might just be running with specific the word, “touch.”
While all these calls can be forwarded to your smartphone, which probably makes the most sense for small operations anyway, they do all sell old-fashioned phones too. These might be helpful to make sure that the office always has a phone, in case there’s only an intern around or someone else without a connection. They also sell conference speaker-phones, which are flatter, UFO-looking phones that work well in the center of a conference table where everyone can contribute. Phone.com and Phonebooth.com also boast High Definition voice quality with their HD equipped phones.
You can also set up conference calls with your 800 number. Phonebooth.com can handle up to 8 conference callers, Phone.com can supposedley host 500 attendees, RingCentral 1000, and Grasshopper doesn’t give a number.
In summary, getting an 800 number is an important and very handy step to take in developing your business. These are all pretty great services, but vary in different ways and you’ll have to decide what’s best for you. Study the fees a little more for individuals versus larger groups and how much you think you’ll use it. Like I said, I’ve been using Grasshopper and been very happy with it, and the pay-as-you-go system works well if you’re just starting and want to give it a try. Good luck, and please comment with your own findings!