Sense and nonsense of paying and free telephone numbers in a customer care environment

Text: Jasper Klootwijk

Everything in life has its merit, is a known saying. This is also true for the pricing that is used to reach the average customer service of a company. Over the past ten years there have been a couple of fluctuations in the offering of free and paying telephone numbers. At the start of the 21st century the number of free 0800 numbers that were used for non-commercial goals, like customer service of big companies, grew significantly. These companies discovered though that offering a free service also has a downside. Apart from the costs for installing a free number, there was also an overload of the lines. Lots of 0800 numbers were plagued by big groups of ‘pestering callers’. In order to diminish this burden, special applications were developed, amongst others by the SNT. Lots of companies chose to clean up the number of 0800 numbers, not in the least because also the value of the service is determined by what one pays for it. A small group of companies chose for local area codes to let customers call for a small fee and to point out the local connection (for instance XS4ALL and Centraal Beheer with ‘just calling Apeldoorn’). The majority of the companies has transferred to low paying 0900 numbers.

During the last couple of years a considerable resistance has risen in the Lower House about paying telephone numbers. Most important reason is that one already pays during the waiting period, thus before the call is answered. This can lead to high telephone bills, even without having spoken to an employee or without receiving a good answer or solution. There was also a growing suspicion about companies increasing the waiting time on purpose to generate earnings, to finance the helpdesk and even to make profit.

This has led to a bill about the decreasing of maximum telephone tariffs. The bill, that still needs to be approved, talks about a maximum fee of €0.15 per minute for helpdesks with whom there is also an invoicing relationship. The intended purpose is keeping the costs as low as possible for the customer. Right now it is not yet possible to introduce a differentiated tariff, where for instance the waiting period is free and the time where there is indeed contact is charged by a tariff. For other services it is possible to ask a higher tariff. These are often numbers where the caller is given advice and where the income of these 0900 numbers need to compensate the costs of the advice.

SNT believes that the customer needs to be helped fast, correct and during one contact. This creates positive reactions instead of a negative feeling, no matter what the price of the service is.

Jasper Klootwijk is Commercial Manager of SNT Nederland, www.snt.nl.

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