By Justin Hamilton-Martin, CEO, Ultra Communications

Calls to 0800 numbers will soon be free to call from a mobile. Clearly this is great news for consumers, but it will certainly incur additional costs to businesses. The current proposed date for the introduction of this Ofcom-led change is 1st July 2014, so businesses may only have a few months in which to prepare.

Though this move will definitely have an impact on any company with 0800 numbers, the exact scale of the impact is, at this early stage, hard to predict accurately. For instance, telecom operators may decide to add ‘access and service charges’ to business customer pricing.

However, perhaps the biggest question is how consumer behaviour will change: will people suddenly become far more likely to use their mobile phones for 0800 calls, once they no longer get that warning message about the price per minute?
The answer is probably yes, and insiders are anticipating that the volume of inbound calls from mobile users to 0800 users is going to rapidly escalate. For companies that rely on 0800 numbers to support both pre and post-sales activities, this could constitute a painful financial shock in 2015.

How businesses can prepare themselves

Businesses need to prepare for the change in good time, so that the increased costs and potential customer service impact can be managed as efficiently and with as little fall-out as possible. Here are three pieces of advice:

1. Start migrating to ‘03’ numbers as soon as possible
Ofcom have protected businesses’ rights to use the same 03 number string as their existing 08 numbers, and it is advisable that contact centres start the migration sooner rather than leave it to the last minute when many UK companies will be rushing to do the same.

2. Use features within your inbound/outbound telecom services to help mitigate the impact
For instance, give customers the option of requesting a call-back to avoid lengthy hold times (just make sure that the response time is acceptable to them).

3. Promote and incentivise consumers to use non-voice methods of communication
Live ‘chat’ via the computer screen, for example, can still be very customer-friendly while minimising financial impact to the company.

It was only a matter of time before free 0800 numbers for mobile calling was introduced and overall, this is good news for most of us. More people are dependent on their mobiles and these changes will perhaps make them more likely to act in real-time, for instance to ask about a special offer that they read about when on the train into work. The challenge for businesses is making sure that they are ready for what could be a pretty big shift in customer communications in 2015.