Your [0800] call is [not] important to us

I’m a bit of a Woody Allen fan. His later films are a bit tedious (although I liked “Vicki Cristina Barcelona”) but in the early works his genius shines through.

I remember one character (although I have no idea which film it was in) who would arrive in a scene and immediately ring his office to tell his secretary (no PAs back then) what number he’d be at and when he’d be leaving, and what number to call him on at his next location.

It neatly summed up a world where business leaders are required to be in touch but where technology simply hadn’t caught up with that need.

Thank the gods for mobile phones, I say. They’ve helped cut that tie, freed us to work from wherever we need to, whenever we need to.

I’m typing this on my iPad from Auckland’s water front looking at Team Prada take their catamaran out past the Harbour Bridge because I wanted to get out of the office for a bit. This is a good thing.

Mobility is one the key drivers of revenue growth for the mobile phone companies, it’s one of the great drivers of the overall telecommunications era in which we live and it’s a critical component of most of our lives these days.

All of which makes me wonder just why it is so many 0800 numbers tell me to hang up and call again from a landline.

Why is it that free phone 0800 numbers are off-limits to the very devices most callers use?

The answer, sadly, lies with termination rates. Or rather, in this case, origination rates.

The Commerce Commission decision on the price of calling a mobile was to regulate the termination rate down to a more reasonable number. Unfortunately, 0800 calls were left out of this determination, because they don’t attract a “termination” rate, but rather an “origination” rate. Users don’t pay to make the call, the recipient pays to receive that call and so the decision on termination rates doesn’t apply.

Which means there’s no incentive or requirement for 0800 providers to lower their prices at all, and so they haven’t.

If you have an 0800 number for your business a mobile call lasting one minute will cost you four times as much as a call from a landline and so many 0800 users simply block incoming calls from mobile phones. They can’t afford that level of cost in their business and so they deny their customers that ease of access.

Customers, as they always do, bear the cost of this. Instead of being able to call from their chosen device, they have to resort to other channels to communicate with these organisations. I resort to Twitter for the most part, but not all communications with corporates or other entities can be conducted by tweet.

In this day and age, is it appropriate that 0800 number providers can force different pricing on buyers of the service who in turn must decide whether to wear the costs or restrict their customers’ ability to make contact? Is it all about being customer friendly and obsessed as we’re told, or is it about money grubbing?

Have you had any experiences you’d like to share with regard to 0800 numbers? Please share below.

6 replies
  1. Adam
    Adam says:

    Here in Oz, calling a 1800 number from a mobile is not free. It costs the same as calling a landline number. What I am not sure about is if the receiver also pays for the call as well.

    Australia also has ’13’ and ‘1300’ local call numbers, which are similar to 1800 number but cost the same as a ‘local call’. With no equivalent to Kiwishare/TSO, many Australians pay for local calls, often at a fixed cost per call (untimed).

    I miss having the ability to call at least some free to call numbers from my mobile like I had in NZ.

  2. Simon
    Simon says:

    The exact opposite situation is playing out in the UK. At present 0800 at free to call from landlines, but not from mobiles where they can actually be very expensive. Ofcom is consulting on moving to the NZ model where all phone companies are forbidden from charging when their customers ring 0800 numbers ( One risk they’ve noted is the possibility that some mobile companies will no longer allow calls to 0800 numbers – a la NZ.

    Not an easy problem to solve. The key issue is that mobile phone companies have higher origination costs that landline companies. So only two options: companies using 0800 numbers (banks etc) stop being so cheap and pay a bit more to the mobile companies, or regulators somehow force mobile phone companies to carry all traffic regardless of how much of a loss they make (not such a great idea

  3. Paul W
    Paul W says:

    We have three toll free lines where I work. Two are block from cell fones and one for customer use is not. We blocked the other two because sales bunnies would ring on them and ask to be transfered to sales bunnies in our company (they didn’t want to pay the call costs) and talk for a very long time like they do and cost us a small fortune. If anyone of these people now call our customer line they get told polity to call our main number or the DID number of the person they want..

  4. David Mitchell
    David Mitchell says:

    I have free calling to landlines on my mobile, but most mobile blocked 0800 numbers wond even give me an alternate landline to call them on – very frustrating

  5. Paul Brislen
    Paul Brislen says:

    Hi Ed, thanks for that – that’s very interesting. I wonder whether a large call centre with huge volumes would be able to cope but it sounds like a major step in the right direction.

  6. Ed Linklater
    Ed Linklater says:

    Go800/2talk do a "Reverse Answer" system, where callers from mobiles are informed they’ll be called immediately back – their system then hangs up the call, immediately calls back, and connects the call as if it was an inbound one (to your IVR, queue etc). This allows the company with the 0800 number to benefit from cheap landline-to-mobile rates (9c/min) and not block mobile callers.


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