Phone Numbers In Depth » Business phone numbers

Business phone numbers

There's a real variety of business phone numbers available these days, allowing all sorts of different options for receiving phone calls. From numbers that let customers call you for free, to ones that will let you redirect calls as and when you choose, there are lots of choices.

Getting a business phone number

Any normal business phone line or mobile phone will normally have its own number, of course. That's often enough for a small, local business.

If you want a different number for incoming calls, there are dozens of companes who can supply these as an add-on - often referred to as a 'virtual number'. There's no need to use the same company as that which supplies your phone service, and your existing numbers will continue to work as normal alongside the new one.

Extra services

When you buy a business phone number, you will often benefit from extra services and flexibility. This could include:

  • Easy redirection of incoming calls to a new location if you move
  • Forwarding of calls to different phones depending on time of day or the caller's location
  • Automated answering services, call queuing and voice menus without any need to purchase special equipment
  • The option to ring multiple phones at once or distribute incoming calls between different phones

Types of business number

Local area landline numbers

You can buy a 'virtual number' from your own area code - such as 01792 Swansea or 0114 Sheffield - if you want to retain a local appearance but gain extra flexibility in handling incoming calls or use some of the extra services explained above.

It's even possible to have a local landline number without actually having a landline - many suppliers will let you buy a landline number that connects calls to your mobile phone or to a VOIP service like Skype.

Possible advantages:

  • Retains a local image and allows people in the area to call from landlines using just the shorter, local number instead
  • Exactly the same cost to callers as a regular phone call
  • Widely diallable from outside the UK as well as within the country

Landline numbers from other areas

Most suppliers will let you buy a landline number from any area you wish - so you can appear to have a local presence somewhere even if you are not based there. Add a local number from a neighbouring town if you're expanding your business into the area, for example, or give the impression of being based in London by adopting an 020 number.

Possible advantages:

  • Conveys a local image and allows people in the area to call from landlines using just the shorter, local number instead
  • Exactly the same cost to callers as a regular phone call
  • Widely diallable from outside the UK as well as within the country

03 numbers

These are a good option for businesses with multiple sites around the country, or just don't want a number that's associated with a single geographic location. 03 numbers are location-neutral, but benefit the caller by costing exactly the same to call as a regular local or national landline beginning '01' or '02'.

Possible advantages:

  • A national or regional image, instead of being linked to a specific town or city
  • Huge choice of available numbers
  • Exactly the same cost to callers as a regular phone call

Possible disadvantages:

  • Business may have to pay a small amount to receive incoming calls
  • Publicity will need to reassure callers of call costs, as 03 numbers are still unfamiliar to many

0800 and 0808 numbers

These are 'freephone' numbers and are designed to boost sales by giving customers the opportunity to call a business for free.

Possible advantages:

  • Lets customers call for free
  • Good choice of available numbers
  • National image, rather than a local presence

Possible disadvantages:

  • Business has to pay to receive incoming calls
  • Increased call volumes as callers do not have to pay for the call

084 and 087 numbers

There is a whole range of service numbers using the prefixes 0843, 0844, 0845, 0870, 0871 and 0872. Callers pay a surcharge or 'service charge' of up to 13p per minute, which is either passed on to the business being called or used to subsidise the cost of any advanced call management services offered by their telecoms supplier.

As well as the service charge, callers pay their phone company a per-minute access charge for calling these numbers. As the major mobile networks have set relatively high rates, the total cost of a call is often fairly expensive at around 45p to 58p per minute.

Businesses must clearly state the service charge that applies everywhere they publicise such numbers.

Possible advantages:

  • Good choice of available numbers
  • Revenue-generating, or very low running costs
  • Charges can help deter unnecessary enquiry calls
  • National image, rather than a local presence

Possible disadvantages:

  • Use of 084 and 087 numbers for most customer service and aftersales lines is now prohibited
  • Requirement to incorporate relatively lengthy call charge information in all advertisments, stationery and similar items that feature the number in question
  • Consumers reluctant to dial such numbers due to high costs of calling from mobiles, and negative perceptions of paying a surcharge for such calls.
  • Often cannot be dialled from outside the UK

Caller display and 1471

On a simple business phone or mobile, making an outgoing call will still show the original, 'real' number of that phone in Caller ID displays or when a call recipient dials 1471 after an incoming call, rather than any special number purchased as an add-on. There are two ways to avoid this, if desired:

  • Ordering a 'presentation number' from the company that supplies the phone line. This allows you to display your chosen number on outgoing calls instead of the 'real' number.
  • Witholding the number on outgoing calls either permanently or on a call-by-call basis. This is not a good solution as many people hesitate to answer calls from witheld numbers, although it is a very cheap and easy option.

Memorable and prestige numbers

Often referred to as gold, silver and bronze numbers (or even platinum or diamond), highly memorable numbers often cost extra to buy. It can be a worthwhile investment for companies who want customers to remember their number long-term, or quickly take it in from advertising.

A typical 'memorable' number will include repeating digits or a clear pattern. For example, 01632 333333 or 0845 100 1000 would be easy to remember.

It's worth being aware that some business phone number suppliers manipulate numbers to make them look more memorable or valuable than they really are. For example, a Cardiff number sold as '02920 180180' may look good on paper at first glance as it appears to give a local number of simply 180-180 within the '02920' area. However, the Cardiff area code is actually just '029' and the number dialled locally would actually be the rather less memorable 2018 0180.

Some companies try to charge a large premium for supposedly desirable '0207' numbers due to their historical association with Central London. While such numbers are in short supply, they are in all other respects no different to any other number in the 020 area code and there is no reason to pay extra for them.

Publicising phone numbers

It's well worth making sure you know how to correctly write your phone number if you want to project a professional image. Check the rules on formatting UK phone numbers.

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