What’s in a telephone number

What’s in a number? In the past we have written about the importance of choosing your business telephone number wisely; promoting local numbers for local businesses, whilst suggesting that those who look to trade over a wider geographic area may wish to opt for national or even international telephone numbers. Now all that may be about to change; or at least it might, depending on your customer base.

A survey by the telephone regulator, Ofcom, has revealed a wide divergence between the way in which older and younger people view geographic numbers. Apparently older people surveyed for the report both understood and liked the certainty of local numbers, otherwise referred to as regional numbers, area codes, or geographic numbers. They commented that they felt reassured by the use of local numbers, particularly when looking for local businesses.

Younger people surveyed, however, didn’t feel the same constraints. So much so that Ofcom reports that many didn’t even realise that area codes have geographic significance. For younger people therefore the potential benefits of having a portable phone number outweigh any notional tie between a telephone number and a region of the country.

Partly this changing viewpoint comes from the increasing use of online telephony, either via smart phones or via broadband lines. In fact the impact of internet telephony on our phone habits was highlighted in the same Ofcom report. In the five years from 2012 to 2017 our use of landlines has just about halved from 103 billion minutes of calls in a year to 54 billion. In the same period mobile call minutes have risen from 132.1 billion minutes to 148.6 billion minutes.

Add those statistics together and one other conclusion from the survey is that we are talking less than before. Ofcom again indicates that this can be attributed to an increase in the use of online messaging portals such as WhatsApp and web chat rooms.

Does this change in our perception of local numbers mean that businesses should ditch the idea of locality and simply opt for national numbers? Well, not necessarily. As we have discussed in the past, the choice of telephone number should be seen as an intrinsic element of the overall marketing mix. And as with any other element of marketing that means choosing your telephone number type based on an understanding of your customer base.

Equally importantly, whatever number you choose should be underpinned by a telephony system which best meets the needs of your business and its customers. You want to inform people, you want them to get in touch and you want that contact to be as seamless as possible. So adding options such as SMS text messaging or company information lines to your business communication platform could make a difference to how your business is perceived. Equally importantly, making sure that your company switchboard is geared up to smoothly transfer calls to the right area in as short a time as possible can help to build the perception of the business as one which is open to communication.

What’s in a number? Well, our perceptions may be changing but choosing the right telephony mix is still as important as ever.

Written by Alison