Author:Fran Fish

Why your 03 numbers are failing (and what we can do about it)

Back in March we wrote about why some 08 numbers will be against the law for many businesses from the 13th of June this year. In that article we also covered what the pros and cons of the alternatives are. And, we promised to publish the results of some research that the respected pollsters ICM ran for us on what consumers actually felt about the old and new numbers.

Well, here it is. It’s not only told us more about what numbers you should consider. It’s also showing something that the whole of the UK service sector needs to take note of, if theses changes really are going to help build customer confidence. If not, that confidence may well be damaged rather than repaired. This article contains just a summary of the research. If you’d like a more in-depth look at the figures, and further comment from us, just get in touch for our in-depth research and analysis.

Consumers are as concerned about calling the new 03 numbers as some of the old 08 numbers

Figure 1: Consumer concern at calling different prefix numbers. It seems that 0333 was the best performing of the new numbers. But, with 64% of callers stating they’d be ‘very concerned’ or ‘concerned’ about calling it, that’s a real cause for alarm. Just 39% showed the same concerns when dialling the 01 / 02 prefixes, which is interesting given that call charges for the two are the same. With a concerted effort what it should be possible to do is to bring down the level of concern at calling 03 to that which matches 01/02 at least.The other big surprise was that consumers showed about the same level of concern when calling an 0845 number (66%) as they did with either 0345 (65%) or 0370 (68%). Calling an 03 number may be to the consumers benefit (as calls have to be included in most packages). But, at the moment at least, they just don’t seem to know it.Those businesses that have moved over to using 0800 numbers can feel reassured that they’re using the best of the bunch. Only 29% of consumers feel concerned about calling it. Having been known as the ‘Freephone’ number for such a long time perhaps that isn’t a surprise.At the moment callers using 0800 numbers may still be charged for their call if they’re using a mobile network. This may be what’s stopping it from reassuring more customers. However Ofcom will make 0800 free to call for all customers, from June next year, no matter what network (mobile or landline) they’re on. When this happens we may see the level of concern drop further.

Consumers have less confidence in their knowledge of call charges for 03 numbers than most 08 numbers

Figure 2: Lack of confidence in knowledge of landline call charges to various number prefixes.’One of the things that we thought might be driving this high level of concern (other than the level of call charges) was how confident consumers were in how much they’d be charged. You can see the results in figures 2 and 3. These cover what customers thought of their own knowledge of call charges when calling from landlines and mobiles respectively.

Figure 3: Lack of confidence in knowledge of mobile call charges to various number prefixes.Comparing all the prefixes in both graphs consumers had less confidence in their knowledge of what they’d be charged when calling from a mobile than a landline (there’s a 7% difference in the means of all prefixes).You can also see that 0800 was on top for landlines. But, drops to second, behind 01/02, for mobiles. As I mentioned earlier, 0800 is charged for by some mobile providers. This is probably creating the consumer confusion that lies behind this switch in positions.

What you should do about it

For the moment, wherever you publish your new 03 numbers – on websites, letters, emails, brochures and even phone systems themselves – let consumers know how much it’ll cost them and that the number change is to their advantage. Unfortunately what callers will actually pay is variable as it’s dependent on where they’re calling from and whether they have any ‘bundled minutes’. So, communicating this in a concise, easy to understand and accurate way is very difficult. If you need some help on where and how to communicate the changes in the best way take a look at our number change communication review below.Also, it won’t suit everyone, but think about publishing your geographic numbers (01/02) alongside your 03s. They’re useful for overseas callers and consumers seem happy to call them and are confident in how much they’ll be charged.Finally, consider using 0800 numbers if you really want to reassure your customers. It’s the number that had the lowest concern associated with it. And, when Ofcom’s changes come about next June, confidence is likely to grow further.

We’re going to need to work together on this one

The good news (if you can call it that) is that using 03 numbers is going to be no more damaging than using your old 08 numbers. The bad news is that it was Ofcom’s intention to create greater consumer confidence in the numbers they’re asked to call, that just hasn’t happened yet. In short, customers simply don’t yet know what 03 means to them in terms of cost.The cost of asking almost every business in the UK to change their numbers is likely to run into hundreds of millions pounds. But, if these changes are to start to build consumer trust immediately and be worth this considerable cost, the UK service sector is going to have to work together to make sure that consumers know that something good has happened for them.Ofcom will also be promoting 03 numbers as part of a consumer information campaign around non-geographic numbers next year.

Number change communication review

To help you to make sure that the numbers you use for sales and service are not barriers to your customers we can carry out a review for you. We’ll look at where you’ve communicated the changes so far and make sure that you’ve covered all of the bases. Also, we’ll see whether what you’re saying is short, accurate and easy to understand (as well as suggest any changes if necessary). If you’d like us to carry out a review, or just want to know more about what it entails, get in touch.

Will your 08 numbers be against the law?

On the 13th of June the Consumer Rights Directive will come into force and your ‘service’ and ‘helpline’ numbers may have to be charged to your customers at a ‘basic rate’. The new directive will mean that it’s against the law for you to only provide numbers like 0844 and 0870. Instead, you’ll need to provide numbers such as those beginning 03 and 0800.We believe that what your customers think about the numbers they’re dialling should play an important part in your choice of new number. And, how you should approach the changeover.We’ve also asked ICM, the famous political pollsters and market researchers, to find out more about what consumers currently think of the numbers they’re asked to call.

Here’s a round up of the why, where and what of the latest number changes. We’re saving ‘how’ for the coming weeks, when we’ll also publish the results of our number research by ICM.

Does it apply to you?
If you’re selling goods, services or digital content to consumers the changes apply to you.

Financial services companies are not affected by this change. But, the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) is considering whether it could introduce similar measures for customers calling banks, insurance companies and investment brokers.Currently there’s no requirement for package holiday and timeshare companies to make a change either.Some technical helplines may be exempt as well. This is as long as they’re not using lines that customers are also expected to call to discuss problems with something that they’ve already bought.The government also says that it’s inappropriate for callers to pay high call charges for accessing vital public services and The Cabinet Office has already published guidance on this.There are some other exceptions too. You’ll find them in the Department for Business Innovation and Skills (BIS) Implementing Guidance document. Page 7 section B.

Why oh why?
In short the change is designed to stop businesses making money out of calls to service lines. At the moment they can collect some of the per minute call charges if customers come through on some 08 numbers and those beginning 09.It’s also hoped that the move will make the amount that consumers have to pay in call charges lower and more consistent.It’s being brought in with a raft of other consumer protection legislation as part of the Consumer Rights Directive.

What will change?
If you’re covered by the directive you’ll have to provide ‘helpline’ and ‘service’ numbers that are charged to your customers at a ‘basic rate’.What does ‘basic rate’ mean? Well, the Department for Business Innovation and Skills says: “the basic rate requirement means not charging more than a geographic or mobile rate. Consumers should generally expect to pay no more to phone a trader about something they have bought than to call a friend or relative.”Here’s our rough guide to what’s not OK number wise. If you’re using any of them you’ll need to provide a basic rate alternative:

  • 0843, 0844, 0845 – revenue sharing numbers
  • 0870 – older non-geographic number popular with businesses
  • 0871, 0872, 0873 – revenue sharing numbers
  • 09 – premium rate numbers

For more advice about what does and doesn’t comply with the new directive, take another look at the BIS Implementing Guidance. Page 20 section J.

Which new numbers should you choose?There are 4 big things to consider when choosing your new numbers:

  1. Whether they comply with the new directive
  2. How much they’ll cost you
  3. How much they’ll cost your customers
  4. What your customers actually think about the numbers

Here’s a run down of the numbers that comply with the new directive. And, a rough guide to how much they’ll cost you and your customers. We’ll cover what customers actually think about the numbers in our next blog.

NumberDescriptionTypical cost to your customersTypical cost to you*
Standard geographic numbers.Calls from landlines typically charged up to 10p per minute. Calls from mobiles are between 10p – 40p per minute. For landlines there’s normally also a call set-up fee and call charges are dependent on the time of day. Most providers offer call packages that allow calls free of charge at certain times of the day.None 
030Non-geographic number reserved for charities, not for profit organisations and public bodies.Calls cost no more than calls to geographic numbers (01 or 02). Calls from landlines are typically up to 10p per minute. Calls from mobiles can be as low as 3p per minute. Calls from landlines and mobiles are included in call packages.2p per minute
Newer non-geographic numbers popular with businesses.Calls cost no more than calls to geographic numbers (01 or 02). Calls from landlines are typically up to 10p per minute. Calls from mobiles can be as low as 3p per minute. Calls from landlines and mobiles are included in call packages.2p per minute
Newer non-geographic numbers also popular with businesses. 
Companies with existing 0844, 0845, 0870 numbers may take the 03 equivalents (e.g. 0844 234 5678 will change to 0344 234 5678). These have been set aside for this purpose.
Calls cost no more than calls to geographic numbers (01 or 02). Calls from landlines are typically up to 10p per minute. Calls from mobiles can be as low as 3p per minute. Calls from landlines and mobiles are included in call packages.2p per minute
07 Mobile numbersBetween 5p and 32p per minute from landlines. Typically not included in landline free call packages. Calls from mobiles vary according to the package chosen. Typically they cost between 8p and 40p per minute. Calls between mobile phones are normally included in call packages. None
Freephone number.Calls are normally free from landlines but those from mobiles may cost. You must make an announcement telling the caller that they’ll be charged, although you don’t have to say how much. Calls from mobiles typically cost between 14p and 40p per minute. From June 2015 calls from mobiles will be free. 3.5p per minute

*Typical costs when a customer calls from a landline, doesn’t include set up and line rental fees. You can find more information about how much calling these numbers will cost your customers in Ofcom’s guide to numbers.

A good or bad thing for you?
Overall the changes should mean that your customers will be less confused and concerned about calling you as the cost of doing so will be clearer. But (and it’s a big one) it’s likely to cost you more. This is because you won’t be able to collect call revenues for helpline and service calls. And, unless you opt for a non-geographic or mobile number, you’ll have to pick up at least some of the cost of calls if you don’t already do so.

Look out for our next blog on what consumers actually think about the new numbers. And, some tips on what to do to make sure your number changes happen at the minimum cost and with the maximum customer satisfaction.