Consumers are once again getting confused – this time with the burgeoning number of, well, numbers, with an Ofcom study showing that many people don’t understand the call rates associated with 03, 08 and 09 numbers and turning away from using them – often not making important calls – because they fear massive call charges.
This is all very reminiscent of 20 years ago when premium rate numbers ended up all over the papers because of massive bills ‘inadvertently’ racked up by ‘unsuspecting’ callers. But is this really the case?
Alright, adult and other proper premium services have always relied on high call rates for their premium products But, for a while, back in the 1990s, many businesses adopted freefone numbers for customer contact as they were getting so many calls. These days, however, a growing amount of contact with businesses is through IM, email, skype, text and even social media channels. As a result, businesses have started to use premium or local numbers again for call centres calls – to justify having call centre staff.
While I am clearly not your average telephone user, I have long used chat services and IM and email to contact businesses as it is cheaper, quicker and easier. ‘Normal’ callers however don't always trust these ways of contacting business.
As a result, Ofcom is looking to re-order numbering. Again. It is also proposing insisting on putting more warning messages in calls to tell people exactly what they are likely to be spending when they call a particular number.
But will this make any difference? Probably not. To be told that a call is going to cost £X per minute doesn’t really tell you how much the call will cost, as the one variable in the equation is time.
Similarly, the move could be damaging to an already damaged PRS business, where margins are getting tighter and call volumes are on the slide.
While the arbitrage market goes from strength to strength (for better or worse) it is predicated on leveraging more and more international traffic. Domestic calling to ordinary companies for help and advise, or for important things such as enquiries to HMRC (the tax office) – something cited by Ofcom as a particular issue – are not really fit for purpose any more. While I am all for operators make some money out of calls, sometimes you have to pick your battles. Confusing ordinary people is not the modern way.
As more and more OTT services start to arrive – especially apps that let you call PRS numbers from mobile at a landline rate – then any premium on mobile calling is starting to be eroded. Maybe, while Ofcom has its rethinking cap on, it needs to look at a radical shake up of numbering and what can be used where.
I’d be interested to hear what you think…