Sunday, May 18, 2008

Toll-free directory assistance (411) numbers for U.S. residents

Summary: Three (and more) toll-free numbers, which can help you find businesses and people.

Here are three numbers that U.S. residents should keep in their phone books:
  • 1-800-GOOG-411, or (800) 466-4411
  • 1-800-CALL-411, or (800) 225-5411
  • 1-800-BING-411, or (800) 246-4411
  • 1-800-FREE-411, or (800) 373-3411
  • See more...
They all provide FREE directory assistance (a'la 411) services, but do it slightly differently.

So far, GOOG-411, offered by Google, is my favorite service. In fact, it is the only service, which I actually use (I tried the other two only for testing purposes). For example, a few months ago I called GOOG-411 to locate a small restaurant in San Francisco, CA. Recently, GOOG-411 helped me find a local beauty shop (I had to cancel my wife's appointment on a short notice). In all case, GOOG-411 worked perfectly. Google's voice recognition system was able to decipher my imperfect English (I have a rather pronounced Russian accent). It used the minimum number of prompts (such as state and city, name or type of business). In one case, I did not know the exact name of business, but GOOG-411 was able to find it based on category and location (I think it was the first or second name in the list of matches). In addition to spelling the address and phone number of the business, GOOG-411 gives you an option to automatically dial the number. Overall, I'm absolutely amazed how well GOOG-411 works.

The CALL-411 service is brought to you by Microsoft, as part of the Microsoft's Live offerings (I wonder if Microsoft should use 1-800-LIVE-411, or 1-800-MSFT-411, instead of CALL-411). CALL-411 works very similar to GOOG-411 (the business search prompts are almost identical), but in addition to business searches, it offers the information about such extras as movies, travel, traffic maps (it sends a link to a map via a text message), and more. A nice feature: CALL-411 remembers the last business you searched for (I assume, based on the caller ID). I may be wrong, but it seemed to me that CALL-411 had harder time with my accent than GOOG-411.

Update: Microsoft recently released BING 411, a new service, which (I assume) will replace CALL-411. For additional information, read Bing 411 Gives Turn-by-Turn Directions, Weather by Phone.

FREE-411 (offered by Jingle Network) is the only service (among the three) which will require you to listen to short, pre-recordered advertisements (one in the beginning, and more later), but it offers a few extras missing from the other two services. First, along with local listings, FREE-411 lets you search for toll-free numbers. Second, FREE-411 is the only service that can find residential listings in addition to businesses. And, according to a press release, FREE-411 can provide driving directions via text message in selected cities (San Francisco/ Bay Area, Chicago, and Los Angeles, with more locations offered later; it is not available in Sacramento, CA at the time of writing, though).

I have to mention that all of these free directory services are computer-driven, so they will probably not match the quality of a human operator. On the other hand, in many cases, they will work just fine, so if you want to save a buck or two (per call), add GOOG-411, CALL-411, and FREE-411 to your phone book: you never know when you're gonna need them.

P.S. After I posted this article, several readers left comments recommending human-powered FREE directory assistance services. I have not tried these, yet, but I suspect that they are worth checking out:
  • 1-800-411-SAVE, or (800) 411-7283
  • 1-800-YELLOWPAGES, or (800) 935-5697


Anonymous said...

There are several additional free directory assistance numbers, as well. It would be great if you would also add 1-800-YELLOWPAGES (800-935-5697) to your list. It's worth trying all of the available services every so often, just to see what's new. Even if you have a favorite right now, you may have more than one of these stored in your phone, because the differences between them may make different services more valuable, depending on the situation.

Anonymous said...

I forgot to add that two features that are important to me are the ability to look up residential listings, and most important of all, the ability to reach an operator, when I need one. On most of the services, the automation works pretty well, but no matter what, it isn't perfect...and when the automation isn't working, the frustration goes up, making the availability of an operator a real plus. :-)

Alek Davis said...

This is a great tip. Thank you, anonymous. I'll add this phone to the list. And you are absolutely right: talking to a human operator is priceless.

Unknown said...

Try out 800-411-SAVE. They use live operators as well and provide business, residential, government and 800# service. I prefer it to the automation which is a pain when I'm having to repeat myself and I'm with friends. And of course it is FREE as well.

Alek Davis said...

Thank you, cheap. I totally agree with you: once the computerized system stops understanding you, it turns into a pain, although, I look at it as an opportunity to improve my accent. :-) I'll add the 411-SAVE to the list.

Anonymous said...

I just heard about a 411 service, 800-411-SAVE which has live operators answering the phone. I called looking for pharmacy and they found a local one not too far from my house...nice service and friendly operators. The Good thing about all of this... it's all FREE! Yup its F-R-E-E!!!

Anonymous said...

It's great you've added 1-800-411SAVE, Alek. I personally wanna commend this service also... the live operators are way too cool versus dumb machines! I love it to pieces!