Toll-Free Numbers

I remember several years ago when I was at Citi and was trying to secure a toll-free “vanity number” for Citibank.

I did my research. First of all, I discovered that (800) CITIBANK was being used by our Citi Credit card partners…but NOT for their main customer service number! Instead, they were utilizing it as an “applications status” line that new applicants could call to find out about the status of the recently-submitted application.

I tried on numerous occasions to get them to release that number to us, the U.S. Retail Bank, so we’d be able to use it as our main customer service number across the country. We already had (800) CITIGOLD for our affluent customers &
(800) CITI-IRA for our Telemarketing Unit our of NY.

Since I could never secure (800) CITIBANK, I started searching for other toll-free alternatives. I found out that (888)
CITIBANK was available.

Unfortunately, (877) CITIBANK was already being used, but not by Citi!

It was some sort of sex talk line!

There was no way in hell that I was going to get (888) CITIBANK when the (877) one was being used for a sex line!

A “true” 800 # is different in that it stands out in people’s minds. But once you start getting into the other toll-free number “alternatives”, e.g., (888), (877), (866), (855), etc., they all just seem to blend into each other. I could just imagine the thousands of complaint letters we would receive from clients who called (877) CITIBANK instead of (888), not to mention all the e-mails & phone calls from the Monday morning quarterbacks on senior management.

Very recently, I’ve seen (800) CITIBANK being part of a retail bank offering. Apparently, someone got Bank Cards to succumb & surrender the number.

I remember when Justice Greene’s ruling, in the 80s, broke up the Ma Bell monopoly, sending major ripples (tsunamis?) throughout the entire telecommunications industry! Long-distance & local service all became separate & distant entities (AT&T, NY Telephone, Pacific Bell, Ameritech, etc.). It also brought about the birth of new long-distance carriers like MCI & Sprint.

It was also the time when you were able to “reserve” 800/toll-free numbers…the vanity numbers…so that you were able to secure them for your own personal use!

*decides against a discussion of WATS/Wide Area Telephone Service as it would certainly cause a brain aneurysm*

I know of many people that secured these 800 #s (800-Hershey, 800-DOCTORS, 800-RENTCAR, etc.) not as representatives of those companies or one in that particular field, but to hold them as hostages.

They would “force” ransom payments from these companies who weren’t fast, or sharp, enough to get their own applications in. Payments of $50,000, $100,000 or more were not uncommon. I would imagine those numbers would be in the millions or tens of millions nowadays.

When you see what large corporations pay just for the naming rights to sports stadiums & areas, one can only imagine what they would be willing to pay for (800) YOURCOMPANY or (800) YOURINDUSTRY!

But it would have the be the ol’ reliable (and memorable) version…(800)!

That damned (877) CITIBANK ruined it for everyone!


As always, thank you so much for listening!

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