Virtual locations and non-geographic telephone numbers

by Crucible Multimedia

What can you do to avoid the dislocation of communications with customers and suppliers when your business relocates and/or your telephone number changes? How can your customers contact you wherever you or they are at whatever time?

One of the least expensive but most powerful ways of generating repeat and referral sales is to create a clearly recognisable brand and place it prominently on all your products and literature – anything and everything that goes out of your organisation – and include a memorable (or at least consistent) point of contact.

Domain names

One way of doing this is to use a memorable domain names, for example telecomsadvice.org.uk, but you can also use some of the new telephony services to provide consistent and memorable contact numbers.

An Internet domain name is unique, and is used for your website address (www.yourdomainname.com or .co.uk etc) and your e-mail addresses (@yourdomainname.com or .co.uk etc). It can point at, and refer browsers and e-mail to, any host computer identified by its Internet Protocol (IP) address, so you can change provider without changing your domain name.

Your website should of course contain full, up to date telephone, e-mail and surface mail contact details, as well as information about the products and services you provide.

Non-geographic telephone numbers

A more complex and constantly changing issue is that of telephone numbers, in particular their portability and forwarding, and the use of messaging services. In this market the emergence and integration of new technologies combined with the business opportunities opened up by privatisation and deregulation has led to a bewildering proliferation of business applications and charges – some incurred by the commissioning business and some by the caller.

Number portability between telcos is now insisted upon by Ofcom (formerly Oftel)  where technically possible, however there are circumstances where the telcos are not breaking their necks to make it happen, and call forwarding from one STD code to another can be an expensive long term option.

You must be clear what you want to achieve when you consider commissioning a non-geographic number, and consider the consequences for your business and the caller of its inappropriate promotion and use.

Do you want

You can commission an 0800 number (free for the caller, costly for the commissioning business) or an 0845 type (supposedly local call rate for the caller but may cost them more as it won't be included in their package deals, and may involve a cost for the business unless you can generate high revenue for the telco). Many businesses use an 0870 type number, which charges callers at the national call rate and is cost effective to operate, but bear in mind that this may put off real local customers who want a truly local service centre they can visit.

Some personal number services are initially free to the commissioning individual or organisation, but charge you each time you redirect to a new number (which may be several times a day - mobile, office, mobile, another office…). But they tend to charge the caller at a higher rate – sometimes much higher than they expect. This could antagonise regular customers – always read the small print and consider the implications.

Some telcos also offer call-forwarding services, maybe for a monthly charge, where the caller pays the normal call charge and you pay for the diverted leg. You can also set up this facility yourself on your telephone system, but bear in mind that a diverted incoming call will take up two external lines.

If you generate a lot of business for the telco which terminates your calls, by running an ISP or national helpline service for example, then you can negotiate a non-geographic local rate or fixed rate number with the telco, who will share the revenue with you.

Sources of further information

Ofcom (formerly Oftel) provides a guide to numbering information, and premium-rate services are covered by PhonepayPlus formerly ICSTIS. BT's electronic price list gives details of call charges and exchange line services.

Reviewed January 2011

last updated : 21/01/2011



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