Toll-Free Service Arrives
March 17, 1997
Although E.T. had trouble phoning home, it doesn't mean your users should when
they journey abroad.
Currently, there are several million 800 and 888 numbers in use in the United
States and Canada. In contrast, there are only about 150,000 international
toll-free service numbers in use throughout the world, according to industry
estimates. That's about to change.
Global 800 numbers, which are set to roll out this spring in 20 countries, have
the potential to extend the usefulness of traditional 800 numbers beyond North
America to an international scope.
Global 800 numbers, which are more formally know as Universal International
Freephone Numbers, are worldwide, 8 digit, toll-free numbers assigned by the
International Telecommunications Union that would allow a company to simplify
access for employees and customers alike.
"Employees who travel internationally would be able to call their office
while on the road without incurring toll charges," said Chris Busch, Global
800 market director at USA Global Link , Fairfield, Iowa. Similarly, a
U.S.-based multinational company could establish a Global 800 number for
employees in foreign offices to communicate with people in headquarters.
Corporations might also use Global 800 number to help customers and attract
potential new customers. "A company could provide a Global 800 tech-support
number for foreign customers," said Busch. "Or, a company might simply
publish a Global 800 number for potential customers to call to obtain product
information." This would let a U.S.-based company run the same phone number
in advertisements and product literature internationally.
Global 800 numbers have the potential to help U.S.-based multinational
companies, but foreign companies also could gain by using them. When it comes to
800 number activity, "95 percent of consumer action is in the U.S.,"
said Judith Oppenheimer, publisher of ICB Toll Free News, an online newsletter
specializing in toll-free issues and support. "[Global 800 numbers] could
help non-U.S. companies enter the U.S. market."
Demand Not Blossoming
With all this potential, you would think companies, especially those with
so-called vanity numbers like 800-FLOWERS, for example, would be quick to stake
their claim to comparable 8-digit equivalents.
"We figured about a quarter of a million Global 800 numbers would be set
aside," said Busch. "But that's not been the case." The period
during which a company with an existing vanity number could reserve a similar
number has just ended and only about 15,000 Global 800 numbers were set aside.
One factor for the less than expected result might be that the common telephone
keypad used in the United States is not standard internationally, according to
Busch. After all, it would be difficult for callers to enter vanity numbers if
they use a different alphabet. And Oppenheimer notes that "there are a
warehouse full of numbers and only a small percent are useful as vanity
Copyright (c) 1997 CMP Media Inc.