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When it comes to customer service business owners always think in terms of cost – i.e. how much will it cost for staff to take telephone calls verses emails, what's the cost of using an 0800 (freephone in the UK) telephone number for customer services and sales? Not enough thought is put into how profitable good customer service can be for any business.

For most companies I have to say that the practice in the US of using 'toll free' numbers is a winner, followed closly by geographic (local) contact numbers. The last thing you want to do as a customer is pay for your problems to be resolved; and providing a 'free' number for your customers to call makes good business sense, it not only pleases the customer but also acts as an encouragement to the business to resolve problems quickly and with the minimum amount of 'call time' as in this instance time (i.e. the call time) really does mean money.

Many ISP's (and I'm including Hosting companies and other Internet Service businesses when I use the term 'ISP') and a lot of retailers in the UK insist on trying to make money from premium rate support lines (including 10p a minute 0871 support numbers), as a consumer I can see how this is off putting and after having worked in a number of industries I understand why this happens.

Too many businesses aim to compete on 'ticket' price, that being the 'one off' or recurring payment for the product or service that is provided to the customer. Customer's don't tend to think about the price they're going to pay to phone their chosen supplier until the time comes and that time is when many business' score an own goal.

To charge or not to charge?

Sports metaphors aside, some businesses may make a bit of money from incoming call revenues through 0871 and 090 premium rate calls but this will, in nine out of ten cases not cover the cost of lost business and negative 'PR' the business will receive for making the customer pay for the privileged of having their problem resolved.

When you think of it in those terms, the cost of having a free contact number for your customers starts to make sense.

If you already use 0844 or 0871 numbers for your incoming calls then you can quite easily quantify the cost of introducing a 'freephone' contact number. If you assume the same number and duration of calls all you need to do is check your most recent bill and multiply the 'total duration' of your calls received by the cost of receiving calls on an 0800, which in some cases can be as low as 1p or 2p per minute.

In reality you'll find that your call duration will drop with the introduction of a freephone number as there's in incentive for you to resist the urge to put the caller on hold for 5 minutes while you check something. Instead you can promise a callback in 10 minutes and give the customer a pleasant surprise when you call back in under 10 minutes! And that's a surprise they will tell friends about when they recommend your business.

Better Procedures and Happier Customers

You'll find that introducing a freephone or geographic contact number will immediately bring in positive comments from your customers – both existing and new – and, if you've come up with some basic support call handling procedures, that the time you spend on the phone to customers will decrease while your repeat sales and referrals from existing customers go through the roof.

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