1-800 numbers seem to give the notion of big businesses, ones seen on TV along with their very own catchy jingle. What many small business owners don't know is that it's pretty simple and inexpensive to set one up. Having an 800 number gives your business a nice boost of professionalism and instills a sense of confidence and trust in your company. In the long run, that consumer trust will increase sales and convince customers to return. 800 services generally allow you to forward your calls to one or more numbers, such as your cell phone or Skype. If you have other employees or departments you can also set up several extension numbers, and have unique greetings and voicemail options.
There are many different companies to choose from when choosing an 800 number and service, but I'd like to focus on just three. Phone.com, RingCentral.com, and Grasshopper.com are the three great services for setting up your 800 number. Personally, I've been using Grasshopper since 2011, and I've found it to be extremely simple and useful to my business.
Each service offers similar basic features, 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.
In the past, a $30 activation fee for an 800 number had been the norm for many services, including some of the companies reviewed in this article. Perhaps that wasn't the best for business though, as all three services now include activation at no extra cost. The variations 855, 866, 877, or 888 never have an activation fee.
RingCentral appears to boast the lowest prices at first glance, coming in at $8.29/month – if you sign up for a one year commitment. Otherwise if you choose month-to-month payments it is $9.89/month. This package gets you 300 minutes, 2 extensions, and costs 4.9 cents/minute for additional minutes. RingCentral, which looks to have the lowest prices, also is known for having asterisks leading to fine print below, so make sure to note that while doing your own research.
Phone.com has recently adjusted their plans and pricing, starting with their basic package at $14.99 for one number, 300 minutes, and ‘all calling features' included. 300 minutes is pretty low, but with the features provided it may be worth your while. $24.99 gets you the ‘unlimited user plan,’ otherwise it’s 4.9 cents/minute over your 300 on Phone.com. Phone.com's starter package used to include only 1 voicemail, but now you can have as many extensions with voicemail as you need.
Grasshopper charges $12/month per user, with 6 cents/minute—no minutes are included, but every other feature is included. For comparison, 300 minutes at 6¢ per equals $18. This is Grasshopper's “pay as you grow” level, with higher level packages with set minutes available if you so desire: 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. The “pay as you grow” system has worked well for me and allows for fluctuation within your business if certain months bring in more customers, like Christmas or other holidays. You can read my full Grasshopper review here.
All of the services mentioned provide the useful feature of voice-to-text transcription, allowing you to “read your voicemail.” While voice-to-text technology can make mistakes or sound a bit robotic, it has improved greatly in the past few years and can be especially helpful if you tend to need a message repeated multiple times into order to record a name or call back number. Grasshopper and Phone.com also offer the option of having your voicemails transcribed by human rather than machine so the margin of error is much more limited. Another feature these services provide are the delivery of voicemails and faxes to your email. Voicemails are delivered as an audio file and faxes can be converted into PDFs viewable on your phone or computer.
Each service allows you the capability to route calls to different extensions, which is a nice professional touch, useful whether you have one employee or many. It also allows you to have employees across the country operating under the same number, but with different personal extensions. To direct these calls you are able to record a greeting and message, “for sales, press 1,” “for customer support, press 2,” etc. Grasshopper.com and Phone.com provide unlimited extensions from the start, included with each plan, while RingCentral.com provides 2 extensions with their starter plan, 5 with the next level up, and 10 with their “ProPower” plan.
Caller ID on Outbound Calls
Want to make an outgoing call, but maintain your business identity? Grasshopper and RingCentral have smartphone apps that allow you to do just that. The apps let you choose what number will show when making an outbound call, so your customer will see your professional 800 number rather than your personal number and area code. Phone.com includes this caller ID feature when you sign up and select a plan, rather than having an app for it. There are pros and cons for app vs no app. Obviously whether you have a smartphone or device to support it is important. Apps make it a bit more straightforward when placing outbound calls, since you know when you're in the app the calls you make will show the caller ID you selected. Phone.com's feature is similar to what you can do in an app, but if you are using your personal mobile device it is something that you'll need to toggle on and off manually.
All of the services discussed can be managed online, so you can easily add extension numbers, greetings, and customize your caller ID. Managing online makes the process generally quick and simple and it is updated immediately. RingCentral provides a unique feature called “Softphone,” which integrates your RingCentral features with your personal computer and Microsoft Outlook. If you are working online and a call comes in for you, Softphone will pop up on your desktop with the caller's name and number, and you are able to answer the call from your computer or send to voicemail.
If you're interested in having a more traditional office setup, most 800 service companies have “old-fashioned” phones available as well. RingCentral.com has separate pricing plans if you want to have an office phone system, and Phone.com provides a list of compatible phones and devices. They also sell conference speaker-phones which are good for the center of a conference table where everyone can listen and contribute to a call. While the simple smartphone capabilities of these services likely suffice for most small businesses, some companies may need the option of a traditional phone setup.
Your 800 number can also host conference calls if needed. Phone.com can supposedly host 500 attendees, RingCentral 1000, and Grasshopper doesn’t give a number, though I'm sure it is plenty for a growing business. Phone.com boasts HD Voice and complete control over your conference call, while RingCentral requires that you download an app in order to implement the conferencing feature.
It is no secret that 800 numbers give a business a professional touch that should not be overlooked. It's easy to setup and utilize an 800 number service for your business, and it can be an important step for developing your company. All of the services reviewed are great in their own ways, but you’ll have to choose what is best for you and your business. It is important to do your research, read reviews, and figure out how exactly you'll best utilize this important business tool. As I mentioned before, I’ve been using Grasshopper for a few years now and I've been very happy with the service. The “pay as you go” system works well if you’re starting out and want to give it a try, and the app is extremely intuitive and useful. Good luck and please comment with your own findings!