The days of premium rate numbers are numbered — it’s time to prepare for the inevitable

What has happened?

On 13th June 2014, it became illegal for many UK-based companies to provide premium rate numbers (including 0845, 0870 and 09xx) for customer service lines. Businesses which fall under the EU Directive on Consumer Rights were required to switch to ‘basic rate’ prefixes, i.e. 01, 02 or 03, for customer service lines.

Does it affect me?

The Directive currently applies to airlines, train operators and retailers, both high street and online. It doesn’t yet apply to gambling, estate agencies, government or financial services. However, the Cabinet Office has published guidelines encouraging public sector call centres to drop premium rate numbers or explain themselves to ministers. Barclays, Barclaycard, RBS and Natwest have already announced a switch to freephone and 03 numbers for customer phone lines. What’s more, from June 2015, Ofcom regulations will mean that 0800 and 0808 numbers will be free to call from mobile phones. Firms that persist in using premium rate numbers for customer service will increasingly attract attention for all the wrong reasons and risk significant reputational damage.

What does it mean for my contact centre?

Obviously you can expect rises in call volumes and longer calls; customers are no longer dissuaded from calling via premium rate charges. You can say goodbye to revenue previously gained from premium rate calls. In short, unless you take action, your contact centre will be working harder for less money. Either Service Level will suffer, you will need to hire additional staff, or both.

What should I do about it?

1. Upskill your agents

Call centre workload is a function of call volume, service level goal and average handle time (AHT). The number of offered calls is beyond your control; you reduce service level at your peril, but if you can handle the calls in less time and still satisfy customers you’re on to a winner. Scripting can be used to impose the use of concise language and thus reduce call length, however scripting has its limitations. AHT can be reduced by up-skilling and multi-skilling the workforce to increase first call resolution. It’s also vital to ensure that all agents are trained to provide service to the best of their ability. E-learning is the ideal learning medium, enabling agents to receive education in a timely and inexpensive manner. Have a look at what The Call Center School has to offer.

2. Use all channels

Many of today’s consumers actually prefer web self-service as an alternative to using the phone. Take a look at your website from the customer’s perspective. If you had a problem, could you resolve it without needing to make a call? Do you have a multi-channel strategy that lets you engage with customers via email, live chat and social media? Are you able to efficiently plan your staff in a multi-skill, multi-channel environment?

3. Do more with less

One of the biggest challenges is making sure you always have the right number of agents with the right skills on duty at the right time. That’s what Workforce Management (WFM) is all about. Check out Master the challenge and you’ll be able to consistently handle calls within SL goals, while minimising periods of understaffing and overstaffing. Big efficiency gains are possible. Check out this case study for example.

More good news

Keeping existing customers satisfied is considerably less expensive than trying to build new customer relations. Increased call volumes provide a prime opportunity for you to engage with customers, build trust and increase sales and profitability. Do it right and you’ll wish you had stopped using expensive, premium rate numbers sooner!

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