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Toll-Free Tools, Not Given So Freely

In Fortune 500 companies, toll-free service is just one of dozens that need constant management. Products and programs are always coming and going. And with offices constantly merging, moving, closing, or opening, toll-free number management is a continual process.

Over the last 15 or so years, ordering toll-free services for our company began by sending our account representative an email. Like any other email, our toll-free orders were sometimes lost, misinterpreted, or even forgotten. Following order submission and a requisite elapsed timeframe, our next step was to beg our account reps for updates. Hardly a sophisticated system, I know.

Frustrated by this, we nagged our various account reps for a better process. We asked: “Could we submit our orders through a self-service portal so we don’t have to bother you?” (In case you didn’t pick up on it, that’s code for “We want to skip you in this chain in hopes of improving response time.”) And for years, the reply was the same, “No, oh my goodness, I want to make sure that your orders are good, so send them to me please.” (Which I suspect is code for “I need to forecast my commission.”)

Then one day, out of the blue, our Verizon account rep introduced a Web-based tool called Toll Free Network Manager. As you probably cleverly already inferred, this tool allows us to manage our own toll-free numbers. Simple move-add-change-delete orders that had historically dragged on for weeks, we learned in a presentation on the tool, could now be completed independently in a matter of minutes. We were happy, but I found it curious that this tool appeared to be slow, clunky, and a throwback to the late 1990s.

After the presentation I asked how long the tool had been around. Our rep said it’s been operational for about 15 years. I then asked how long it’s been available to customers, to which she replied: “Since the early days, also about 15 years.” My boss and I exchanged knowing glances of frustration.

So why did this phone company hold out on us for years after repeated requests? And even if we had never asked, why would a seasoned account rep not want share this tool with us -- to separate the provider from the competition? After all, there’s a handsome monthly fee for access to this self-management portal.

I don’t have a good answer to that question, but my point is that these tools do exist. They seem to vary significantly between carriers. But they can help you to circumvent the bottleneck of emails with your account manager. Don’t be afraid to request them. Ask questions. Can you have online access to ordering? Can you manage your own numbers? Can you access billing records online? Can you download copies of your customer service records?

Ask your account reps which management tools are available. Ask probing questions if you don’t receive the answers you wanted. Remember the old adage: “If you don’t ask, the answer is always ‘no.’” In this case, you know the answer should be “yes.”