Thursday, August 11, 2011

Flat Rate vs Per Minute Toll Free Service

Nearly all companies that sell to the public have or need toll free telephone numbers. People come to expect a toll free number for ordering or customer service. If they have to pay to call you, they may think twice and go elsewhere. It’s a bit like free WiFi. There are so many places that offer it that the ones that don’t seem less desirable. But, did you know that there are two types of toll free services to choose from?

The two fundamentally different approaches to toll free number service are pay per minute and flat rate. Flat rate means you pay a fixed amount each month regardless of how many or few calls come in.

Note that as the business owner you pay for all calls that come into your toll free number. The caller isn’t charged, and that’s the way they like it.

The way pay per minute services work is that the meter starts running as soon as you pick up a ringing toll free call. An excellent service that works on the pay per minute basis is Kall8. For each minute that you are on the phone with a customer or prospect that calls in on your toll free number, you pay 6.9 cents per minute. That rate applies to all calls coming in from the lower 48 US states. Calls from Alaska and Hawaii have a surcharge.

What happens if you don’t have any toll free calls during a particular month? In that case, you pay just the fee to maintain your number. It’s $2 for 866, 877 or 888 numbers and $5 for 800 numbers. All of those prefixes are toll free. Some companies prefer actual 800 numbers because people know what an “800 number” is. Others are fine with the newer 866, 877 or 888 numbers that are also toll free.

For your, say, $2 per month you have exclusive use of your toll free number. It will ring to any phone that you program it to. It’s not a separate line with a separate telephone hooked to it. For instance, you can program your toll free number to ring to your cell phone while you are out and about, change it to ring to your desk phone when you are in the office and even change it again to ring to your home phone so you don’t miss calls in the evening or overnight.

Some other features you get with your Kall8 toll free number are voice mail that you can use the conventional way or have your messages sent to you as audio files attached to email messages. You can block calls from people or areas you don’t want to deal with, conduct conference calls with up to 25 participants and receive FAX messages to your toll free number. The messages can be read online or sent to you as email attachments. That’s a lot of capability for a mere $2 a month.

The competing service is flat rate toll free. A good example is iTeleCenter toll free service that costs $49 a month. For that you get to pick your number from a list of available toll free numbers that are ready to use. You also enjoy 30 features that include online faxing, follow-me call forwarding, and voicemails sent to email or text messages at no additional charge. What’s more, there’s a 14 day free trial so you can see if you like this service before you commit to it.

It should be noted that “unlimited” calling is actually limited to a fair usage amount of 1,000 minutes per month. If business booms and you talk more than this, you’ll pay an overage charge of 4.9 cents per minute. That compares to 6.9 cents per minute for each minute on Kall8.

So, how do you choose between the two toll free services? The pay per minute plan works well for companies with widely varying phone traffic each month or for startups that don’t expect many calls for a long while. Your expenses expand at the same rate that your business grows. However, if you get lucky and your phones ring off the hook you’ll be paying more than you would with the flat rate plan.

Flat rate toll free service is great if you don’t like surprises and want to know what to budget for incoming calls each month. If you are a very small operation and it takes forever to get business going, you will pay more during the slow times than you would with pay per minute toll free service. However, if all of a sudden business takes off, you have the protection of the flat rate. Even overages will cost less than on the pay per minute plan.

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