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I'm not sure if this is in scope here, but I suppose any system, even phone support, has relevant UX aspects.

I'm wondering if there's any situation where providing a premium rate phone number as the only means of contacting a business/department, doesn't imply "we don't want you to call us unless you really need to" to the user.

When is a premium rate phone number an acceptable option for a user to communicate with a business?

When I see a premium rate number I feel completely unwelcome, and actively search for a standard rate number, often to no avail. Why do businesses choose to do this when it's quite clearly not wanted?

Please avoid talking about the adult industry unless its very relevant to a point, this is about normal commercial businesses.

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From a purely business standpoint, someone has to be paid to answer the phone. Premium rate numbers cover that salary and the system mechanics. If it's a free phone number, those costs are usually rolled into the product/service cost. –  Perchik Jun 5 at 17:23
    
What is a "premium rate phone number"? Not familiar with the term. –  keshlam Jun 28 at 22:50
    
@keshlam one which costs more than the standard rate to call it, or because of its prefix, it isn't covered by a normal phone contract. –  DumbNic Jun 28 at 22:53
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@user: Ah. In that case, yes, I would consider this a warning sign that the business is badly managed at best. –  keshlam Jun 28 at 23:07

4 Answers 4

I completely agree with the sentiments in the original question: I also actively avoid calling businesses with premium numbers.

The problem is that it's typically not the sales line that is premium. In general, the premium number is on the customer support line - the number you call once you're already doing business with them; ie when it's too late to change you mind over it.

However, the reasoning behind putting a cost onto these lines is actually less customer-hostile than it appears at first glance.

In most cases, "premium" on these lines does not equate to "astronomically expensive". Premium rate lines here in the UK can potentially be up to £1.50 per minute; whereas this kind of line would normally be more like 3-5p/min.

The reason for the charge is to prevent "spam" calls. You want people to really need to call you before they pick up the phone; you don't want them calling at the first sign of trouble and having your support rep spend an hour talking them through the basics from the user manual.

The money earned from the call at these low rates is obviously never going to cover the cost of the support rep's time (not even if you spend ages on hold). But by cutting out the trash calls, they're dramatically reducing the amount of wasted time for their support staff, and thus cutting costs and giving the callers who do get through a better service.

The classic example of a free number that is abused by people making stupid calls is the emergency line (ie 911 in the US, 999 in the UK, 112 in the EU). The stats are scary of just how many emergency calls are either pranks, hoaxes or just plain stupid non-emergencies. The cost to society of all those calls is high, and the main reason for this is because it's free; people don't think about the consequences before they call because it doesn't cost them anything.

I'm not saying that your local PC repair shop's tech-team line is equivalent to the emergency services, but the same thing does happen on a smaller scale.

So don't just look and see "premium rate"; take a closer look, and consider what the rate is. If it's relatively low, the business probably isn't trying to pull one over you after all.

There are of course plenty of counter-examples, where bad businesses take advantage of captive audience and charge you excessively for calling them, but for most businesses it's not about that at all.

If you are worried about the costs, it's worth noting that in most cases there is a non-premium number you could call. In many cases it will be published as the number to use if calling from overseas. Or you could try their general office switchboard and ask to be put through, or at a push try their sales line.

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Providing a visible phone number which is cheap to call and answered rapidly is a great bit of UX - it can help a user work around all manner of interface UX failures.

Help agents which appear if you sit on one page too long have a similar function.

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Honestly, I agree. Premium rate phone numbers ARE a barrier to customer communication.

Of course, as @Perchik mentions, the service is not free, somebody has to answer the call and that person has to get paid to do so (ignoring all of the other operating costs associated with that service).

From my experience, most companies will just eat the cost of this as an operating cost. However it will ultimately end up included into the cost of the product or service.

It could be argued that the net benefit would be increased revenue to the business if the calls were free. We all know that happy customers are repeat customers.

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Support is definitely part of UX, and the availability and accessibility of that support is a UX consideration.

I would recommend looking into the product/service and its users.

  • How likely is it that they'll need support? How often?
  • How vital is this product/system to them?
  • What salary range are they in? Are they likely to find the call rate a significant barrier to calling?

If a premium rate is still what you want to do, I would consider the following:

  • Do we know the average call length? Can we set expectations on how much the call may cost?
  • Can we keep IVR menus as simple as possible to minimize the time spent before speaking to an agent?
  • Most call centres have downtime periods. Is it possible to introduce free, lower priority support by email to be handled when support agents are between calls?
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