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Guide to business phone numbers for your company

What kind of number would best suit your business?

When starting up your own business, there are many different things to take into account: funding, goods, services, suppliers, office / shop space, a website, advertising, staff, technology, accounts and sales…the list is endless. It’s no wonder that simple things like telephone numbers can often be overlooked.

Many companies don’t realise that telephone numbers can be a really effective marketing tool in terms of generating revenues and increasing customer bases. By using a marketing telephone number, your company could gain more than extra custom.

What are they?

Origninally devised in the US, marketing numbers are special phone numbers that don’t pin you to a geographical area but can help gain customers and or extra revenue, and make marketing your company easier.

BT introduced the freephone number into the UK in 1985 and since telecoms deregulation, other operators are also able to offer marketing numbers to businesses.

Most of us recognise and understand the concept of an 0800 number, but the extent of its use, and that of other market numbers, is still nothing like in the US.

However, the UK is the largest freephone market in Europe, so if you haven’t considered getting a marketing number for your business, it’s time to start now.

Marketing numbers are split into three different categories, and each has its own specific benefits:

Freephone numbers

Freephone numbers have an 0800 prefix and are free of charge to the caller. This means that your business pays the cost of all the calls.

An 0800 number gives your company a national image and can increase incoming calls by up to 300% more than a standard number. Research shows that 61% of UK consumers are more likely to call a company with a freephone number in preference to a comparable competitor without one.

If paying for your customers to call you means that you can develop a substantial number of sales leads and drive up your profits, then a freephone number is definitely worth the investment.

Offering a free call also inspires trust in your customers and offers an incentive to call more often, meaning that you can build a lasting relationship. It can also work well to establish your company as having caring after-sales services and can even save you money by replacing personal sales visits.

Lo-call numbers

Lo-call, local rate or 0845 numbers enable the customer to pay a local rate charge, no matter where they are in the country, and you pay the difference.

As with freephone numbers, 0845 numbers are proven to generate three times the response from customers and enable you to attract customers from beyond your local area.

It also promotes a certain amount of professionalism and distinguishes you from your competitors. Most Internet service providers (ISPs) use 0845 numbers, as it allows them to offer lo-call costs to subscribers nationwide.

National rate numbers

National rate numbers (0870) can generate income for your company. Each minute can earn you extra income that can be off-set against other telephone costs.

Customers that call you are billed at a national rate, regardless of their location within the UK. Your business receives a payment for every call minute.

National rate numbers convey a professional, national image, although the cost can often act as a barrier to calling. They are used for a variety of different activities e.g. providing technical support or helplines, information services, weather and traffic reports, or even film times at cinemas.

0871 and 0844 numbers

Just to confuse matters, there are two marketing numbers - 0871 and 0844.

0844 numbers (similar to local) cost the caller between 1 and 5p per minute, at all times, whereas 0871 (similar to national rate) numbers cost the caller between 6 and 10p a minute.

The advantage of adopting one of these marketing numbers is that if, for example, your company receives a substantial proportion of customer calls out of normal office hours or at the weekend, you can generate a larger revenue from them than a national rate number. National rate calls cost much less out of office hours, because they are not fixed-rate, this means the profit margins are smaller.

Marketing numbers are split into three different categories, and each has its own specific benefits:

Premium rate numbers

Premium rate numbers(090), although not strictly marketing numbers, are also worth a mention, as the premium rate industry is worth well over £2 billion in the UK alone.

They are generally used for technical support, chatlines, phone-ins and competitions. Calls are charged at a higher rate to callers, some tariffs are 25p per minute, others are as high as £1.50 per minute.

The caller pays for the entire phone charge, and the revenue generated from it is split between the telephone operator and the business receiving the calls. If, for example, your company set up a premium rate phone line charging £1 a minute, typically you could expect to earn as much as 56p per minute on each call.

Premium rate numbers do, however, have strict user guidelines, so make sure you enquire about these, when considering your options. The guidelines can be viewed at the PhonepayPlus website – www.phonepayplus.org.uk – which regulates the content and promotion of the UK’s phone-paid services.

Alphanumeric numbers

An alphanumeric number is where a word is dialled in place of a number. For example, ‘Freephone Flowers’ would be 0800 356 9377 (freephone=0800 and then f=3, l=5, 0=6, w=9, e=3, r=7, s=7}.

Alphanumeric numbers can be freephone, local rate or national rate numbers and, the more memorable they are, the more expensive they are to purchase.

A large number of companies feel that the novelty value and high memorability of alphanumeric numbers draws customers to use them. Not all handsets have numbers etched on to the keys so always make sure you print the full number, and you’re also fixed to a minimum of six characters.

Personal numbering

Sometimes known as One number or Follow me numbers, Personal Numbering services start with 070 and replace up to three different numbers by routing one number to a selection of numbers specified by you.

The service gives you control to forward all incoming calls to a phone of your choice such as your office, mobile, home or another temporary number.

The user may change the forwarding instructions instantly at any time, from any location in the world by simply dialling their 070 number and entering a six-digit pin code.

The user can also provide a list of up to three numbers that they can be contacted on and set a series of priorities in terms of what telephone line they are most likely to be contacted on at specified dates and times.

For example, between 9am and 1pm, the highest priority number for a user might be their office line, from 1pm to 2pm a mobile number, from 2pm to 5pm the office again and from 6pm to 10pm their home line.

The network you choose then processes each incoming call to the 070 number and routes it against the priority table, in addition secondary priorities can be set so that if the highest priority number is busy or unanswered the call will route to another number.

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