Sorry, Wrong Number – A Guide to Telephone Numbers

2nd August 2021

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Elite group discuss telephone numbers and charges
 

Phone numbers – a magical group of digits that allows us to contact anyone in any part of the world. Despite advances in technology that have made digital forms of communication, such as online messaging, to become widely accessible for businesses, the humble telephone is still the preferred method of communication for both businesses and customers. A recent Google survey found that 61% of consumers prefer communicating with a business via a telephone, compared with other communication.

Granted, you may be thinking that phone numbers aren’t an important factor when it comes to setting up and running your business. Gone are the days when businesses had to keep a Rolodex of phone numbers and many people find businesses via the internet these days. Furthermore, with inventions, such as caller ID and high-tech database systems, do people even look at actual phone numbers any more. Yes, your customers do and so should you. Even in this modern age, being clued up on different types of phone numbers, what they look like and the potential costs they could incur can avoid unnecessary fees on your next bill and even prevent you from falling victim to scams.

On the other side of the coin, your phone number is part of your brand’s visual identity. It can mean the difference between a potential customer trusting in your business and looking elsewhere. If you’re looking to charge customers for calling you, the way in which you manage this can affect your customer’s experience. There is a lot to consider when it comes to business telephone numbers, so whether you’re looking to find out how to prevent certain numbers racking up charges on your bill or which phone number to choose for your business, keep on reading!

 

History of the Phone Number

I’m sure Alexander Graham Bell would be shocked at the amount of progress the telephone has made since he invented it in 1876. Obviously, making the first phone call was very simple for Alex, as there was only one other phone at the end of the line. In August 1879 the UK’s first public telephone exchange opened in London and by the end of the year two further exchanges were also opened. From there, telephone exchanges were introduced in:

  • Glasgow
  • Manchester
  • Liverpool
  • Sheffield
  • Edinburgh
  • Birmingham
  • Bristol

Fast forward to 1940’s and 1950’s phones were more widely distributed, but not as common as they are now. Therefore phone numbers where much easier to remember. Did you know that early phone numbers began with letters? Yes, letters! Rather than the area codes we know today, e.g. 0151 for Liverpool, 0161 for Manchester and so on, phone numbers began with the first 3 letters of the local telephone exchange. For example if you were calling Deansgate the number would begin with DEA – followed by 4 digits, corresponding to place you were calling. Phones had letters on the dials which would correspond with numbers , so you would choose letters by dialling the corresponding number – similar to how we used to text before QWERTY keyboards were introduced on mobile phones. These are known as STD (Subscriber Trunk Dialing) codes.

By the 1960’s letters were abandoned in favour of all-digit phone numbers. With the population increasing and more areas requiring more lines, issues arose such as:

  • Areas running out of letter codes which could be made into meaningful names and effectively dialled
  • International calling requiring an all-digit number
  • Increasing creation of phones that didn’t possess letters

Local numbers were gradually converted into 5 or 6 figure phone numbers and, in many cases, the initial digits of the new local number would be formed from the digits at the end of the old STD code. Modern day geographic STD codes start with 01 or 02 followed by a specific line of digits assigned to the locality you’re calling.

Before the launch of 0800 numbers, Freephone calls were made by dialling the operator and requesting to be ‘put through’ to the business you required. In 1985 BT introduced the 0800 numbers for their freephone services and, shortly afterwards, other companies used 0500, 0321 and 0958 to offer free-to-call services for their customers. By 1994, 0800 numbers were made available to other companies besides BT. Three years later, demand for Freephone services required more capacity so 0808 numbers were introduced. 0808 9 numbers where then introduced with for the use of the newly-invented dial-up internet. By 2000 all old 0321 numbers were transitioned to an 0808 0 prefix. In the noughties and early 2010s it was free to call Freephone numbers from a landline, but calling from a mobile incurred a cost. By 2015 this was scrapped, as part of Ofcom’s ‘UK Calling’ initiative, which meant 0800 and 0808 numbers were universally free on both mobile and landline phones.

Premium rate numbers (numbers which charge you a higher rate than other numbers as they provide some form of service) were introduced in 1998 and were commonly used for:

  • Adult entertainment
  • Competitions and prize draws
  • Voting lines for TV and radio programmes
  • Chargeable information and support lines

Before the days of smartphones and digital databases, people relied on the good old phone book and phone operators to find contact information for other people and businesses. Thankfully, with innovations like built-in contact lists in our phones, caller ID and the internet, finding phone numbers is so much easier!

 

What Are the Different Types of Phone Numbers?

We’ve briefly touched upon some of the different types of phone numbers in the last section, but now we’ll introduce you properly so you can become well acquainted with what they look like, their uses and their costs.

 

Freephone Numbers

Freephone numbers usually start with an 0800 or 0808 prefix and they are free to call from both landline and mobile phones. Freephone numbers are great for businesses who want a national presence, compared with a local number. Customers are more likely to call you knowing they won’t be charged for contacting your business, which can improve sales. This can be beneficial for your marketing efforts, as less people will be encouraged to follow through a call-to-action (in this case a phone call) that they are going to be charged for. Furthermore, Freephone numbers can enable your business to provide a better experience for your customers as they won’t worry about being charged an extortionate fee whilst waiting on hold to speak to you. They will also have the confidence knowing that they won’t have to rush their conversation or query with you, ensuring better communication between your customers and your business.  However, as the call is free for your customers, your business will have to foot the bill for the call, which is a cost you would have to factor in when choosing your company phone number.

UK-Wide Numbers

Calls made to UK-Wide numbers cost the same as it would to call a normal local telephone number (e.g. numbers that begin with 01 and 02 and start with an 03 prefix. However, if customers are calling from a mobile with a contract that doesn’t include 03 calls as part of the package, then it could be more expensive for them to call your business. Bearing in mind that we live in the age of the mobile phone, this could be off-putting for a large percentage of your customers. Compared with 0800 and 0808 numbers, 03 is a low-cost option. Despite your business having to pay towards the cost towards the call,  the customer is also contributing, which brings your costs down whilst still offering the great features provided by 0800 and 0808 numbers.

084 / 087 Service Charge numbers

These service numbers are used by organisations for sales or helplines lines.

The cost of calling 084 / 087 numbers is made up of two parts: an access charge going to your phone company, and a service charge set by the organisation you are calling.

The service charge for calls to 084 / 087 numbers is between 0p and 13p per minute. The service charge must be clearly displayed wherever the phone number is advertised or promoted.

The access charge, which is additional to the service charge, will vary depending on your phone company, and can range from 8p to 65p per minute.

Premium Rate Numbers

Premium rate numbers start with 09 and can cost anything up to £3.60 per minute, plus an access charge which can be as much as £6 from landline or mobile. These numbers can generate significant revenue for businesses and are commonly used for adult entertainment, competition lines, voting lines and information lines.

 

Which Phone Numbers Are Free?

As we mentioned in the previous section, Freephone numbers start with 0800 or 0808 and you will not be charged for phoning these phone numbers, no matter how long your call is. However, when we’re talking about buying an 0800 or 0808 number they’re not going to be free – sorry.

 

What Are Freephone Numbers Used For

There is a wide variety of uses for 0800 and 0808 numbers, so you may be wondering if it is the best choice for your business. If your business is looking for a lot of interaction from your customers and want to encourage them to contact you, then offering a Freephone number is the best option. For example, if your business requires customers phoning your business to purchase your product, to request support or to manage their account – a Freephone number is more than likely the best way to go. Customers will not be cautious to get in contact with you due to worrying they’ll rack up an expensive call fee. You’ll build a better relationship with your customer, as they will feel that they can contact you whenever they need. However, the cost of an 0800 number is a big factor to consider. You will be footing the bill for every call from your customers, which can become very expensive.

How Can I Get an 0800 Number For My business?

Purchasing an 0800 number is similar to buying any other phone contract. Firstly, do your research. There are many providers that you can choose from, so compare prices, packages and reliability of the provider before making the decision. Once you’ve picked your provider, it’s time to break down what you’ll actually be paying for. Just like a phone contract, you will pay a monthly fee that covers the cost of the line rental. On top of that, you will pay a price-per-minute call charge for every call you receive. You may also have to pay a mobile access charge, which is also a price-per-minute fee, for calls that are made via mobile networks. Again, as we live in the age of the mobile phone, this could make calls pricey for your business. If you’re still wanting to encourage customers to call your business without breaking your budget, 03 numbers may provide the solution!

What Are 03 Numbers?

Similar to 0800 numbers, 03 phone numbers (or UK-Wide Numbers) are non-geographical, which means they are not tied to a particular UK location, which can provide your company with a national presence. What are the benefits of a national presence you ask? Well, it can open up opportunities to your business as it isn’t fixed to one particular location. This means you can advertise in multiple locations using the same phone number. If your business moves to a different location, your phone number stays the same and you have the opportunity to gain customers from essentially anywhere. What are the perks of 0333 or 0330 numbers compared with an 0800 number? For starters, it is a much cheaper option as your business isn’t shouldering the full cost of your customers calls. The cost of the call isn’t expensive for the customer either, as they are charged exactly the same as the national rate of 01 and 02 (normal geographic landline numbers) and will count towards any inclusive minutes within their phone contract. Unlike revenue sharing numbers like 09, 084 and 087 numbers you can’t make money from the calls due to Ofcom rulings. So if you’re looking to make revenue from customer calls then 09, 084 and 087 numbers may be a better option.

How Can I Get a 0330 or 0333 Numbers For My Business?

It’s the same process as buying an 0800 number, but the costing is different. Rather than paying a monthly line rental fee, you’ll pay a call charge, which is on a price-per-minute basis. This charge is usually no more than a couple of pence. Your customer will then pay their standard call rate per minute, like they would when calling a UK 01 or 02 number.

 

Revenue Sharing and Premium Numbers

If you’re looking to make money from customers calling your business, then a revenue sharing or premium number may be the way to go. Which phone number you choose largely depends on the amount of money you want to make from your calls. If you want more control over how much you spend on your phone calls and how much your customer pays, then 084 and 087 revenue sharing numbers may be a good option. If you’re looking to make a lot of revenue from inbound call traffic to your business, then an 09 number is the one for you. You can charge up to £3.60 per minute or £6.00 per call.

How Can I Get a Revenue Sharing or Premium Number For My Business?

084 and 087 numbers have different plans and options for you to pick from. Most plans require you to pay a monthly line rental fee, like 0800 Freephone numbers, but the rest of the charges for your business and for your company is dependent on what you want from your phone number. You can choose to contribute more or less than your customer does to the call, dependent on how much money you want to make. You could choose a plan where the customer covers the full cost of the call, a plan where you cover a small portion of the cost and the customer provides the rest or a plan where you cover more of the cost and the customer provides less – it’s up to you. Customers are charged a price-per-minute service charge, which goes to you, plus the access charge which goes to their phone company.

When it comes to premium numbers, costing is much more simple. Your customer isn’t just covering the cost of the call, they are paying a premium, which drives revenue for you. You will usually have to pay a one-off payment for the connection charge, but apart from that there are no other fees, except for some extra charges for special numbers and certain features. If your business is using a premium number you will have to register and pay an annual fee to the Phone-paid Service Authority (PSA) and agree to follow their code of practice before you use the premium number. Customers will then pay the service charge (the cost of the call specified by you) and the access charge which is paid to their phone company.  You are obliged to display the service charge that a customer will have to pay to phone your company. For example, you know when you’re chilling out watching a TV show and they advertise a competition, where you phone or text a number to enter? They will outline that calls cost x amount, plus the access charge. It’s exactly the same when you advertise your number anywhere, so customers know they are being charged a premium to contact you. Not being transparent about the cost of your premium number could land you in hot water with Ofcom and other governing bodies.

 

Can Phone Numbers Be Hacked?

We tend to associate hacking with computers and online applications, but your business’s phone number can also be at risk. One of the most common forms of phone hacking is called ‘Dial Through Hacking’. It can cause a great deal of financial damage and you may be completely unaware of it until you receive the bill at the end of the month, which will have racked up a lot of costs due to fraudulent calls. The aim of Dial-Through Hacking is usually to make premium calls to make money. Another form of hacking is Voicemail Hacking. In comparison with Dial Through Hacking, the aim of Voicemail Hacking is to gain information rather than money, whether that’s to gain details of your business, sensitive information that could be held to ransom or used as blackmail or information that could be used to perform a further and more damaging attack. Furthermore, with analogue phones being phased out for VoIP phones, due to the impending PSTN/ISDN switch-off, this is going to pose even more of a risk of hacking due to the phones being internet based. Hackers will have new access to your systems and a new way to gain information or money.

 

How Are Phone Numbers Hacked?

When it comes to computers, online presence and data, businesses tend to take a lot of security precautions and implement protective technology. We know that cyber security is a real threat and therefore we take a lot of steps to avoid breaches and attacks. When it comes to our phones, we don’t tend to take the same level of precaution as we tend to think of them as analogue rather than online connections and therefore more difficult for a hacker to get into, right? Therefore we don’t tend to monitor our phone lines as often, which provides the hacker with an opportunity.

How Can I Protect My Business Phone From Hackers?

First and foremost invest in security precautions for your phone system, especially when using VoIP phones. When researching for a VoIP provider, make sure they are reliable and have a bullet-proof security policy. Ask them what security measures are in place, how to report a vulnerability or attack, how they deal with a security issue and what security accreditations they have.

Take care when choosing which employees have administrative access to your phone system. Your entire team does not need this level of access and increasing the number of users with full administrative access could increase the likelihood of a social engineering attack due to somebody accidentally giving out information to an attacker. We all make mistakes and hackers can be very convincing, but by limiting the amount of access your team has to your phone system, the less chance a hacker can get in.

Training is absolutely vital in all business processes, especially processes that could fall victim to hacking or attack from criminals. Make sure your team is up to date with your security practices, including recognising certain phone numbers to avoid scams. Ensure they are aware of any scams that are currently in circulation, such as scammers posing as HMRC, energy providers etc, who will try to get information out of them. Finally, make sure they are aware of information they should not give out over the telephone, how to report suspicious calls and what to do if they think they have accidentally given away sensitive information.

 

Where Can You Buy Phone Numbers?

You can buy phone numbers from a variety of providers. A simple Google search will bring up a range of providers for you to choose from. However, be warned that not all companies are reputable and some may not be able to provide everything you need from your number or you may end up overspending. Ensure you do your research to check that your can trust your provider and review all of their pricing and plans to find the best one for you. Choosing a provider, like Elite Group, who takes the time to get to know you and your business and have experts on hand to advise which form of number would be best for you is incredibly beneficial. Choosing a business telephone number can be a bit of a challenge, especially if you’re not sure which is best for you, so it can be easy to get sucked in to ‘too-good-to-be-true’ deals on online sites or picking an option that isn’t actually suitable for your business when you put it into practice. Having the chance to speak to an expert and gaining advice and insight on suitable products before making your decision can ensure you pick the best phone number and plan for you.

 

We’ll Help You Find The Magic Number – Choose Elite

At Elite we understand the importance of the trusty telephone within your business. We are an Ofcom registered telephone provider capable of providing a range of bespoke telephone numbers from local 01/02 numbers to 08 and international numbers. Our experts will work with you to discover the best number for your business and our established relationships with leading carriers will ensure you receive the best phone number for your business. Why not find all of your telephony solutions in one place? We have a comprehensive range of telephony and communication solutions, so you can purchase your complete business telephone system and any other communication solutions you require, as well as a bespoke telephone number all in one space!

 

Elite Group is one of the UK’s leading unified communication providers, supplying reliable and professional IT and telecoms services to organisations seeking Business Mobile, Cloud, Networking, Connectivity, and Telephony solutions. 

For more information on how Elite Group can power your unified communication solutions,  call us or request a quote today.