You asked us to name and shame the big companies that use expensive phone numbers and praise the ones that don’t. So we’ve done just that for banks, insurers and energy providers.
Being loyal to a company can be an expensive business. For example, we see our savings rates dwindle if we’re not prepared to switch banks regularly.
To make matters worse, our latest investigation found that many banks, insurers and energy companies are charging existing customers a premium to call them, while reserving 0800 numbers – free to call from landlines – for potential new customers.
I shouldn’t be surprised. My colleague Cathy Neal identified the same issue when she looked at bank phone numbers last July. In fact, we expanded our investigation into other areas thanks to your suggestions on Which? Conversation. Topher asked:
‘How about a Which? article which names and shames the bad organisations, and praises the good ones with free or geographic numbers?’
So, in response to your suggestions, we looked specifically at the numbers provided for new customers, existing customers and for making complaints for 34 energy providers, banks and insurers. And here’s what we found (click on the gallery images to enlarge – we’ve also included a table for landline vs mobile call costs):
It’s not so straightforward…
Commenter Topher also suggested a colour code – red for bad, green for good. Unfortunately, the situation isn’t as black and white (or red and green) as we might like.
For instance, we found that the Bank of Scotland and Direct Line use 0844 and 0845 numbers across the board. But is this better or worse than Churchill, HSBC, Natwest/RBS and Scottish Power and the like, which use 0800 for new customers and 0845 for existing ones? We asked the latter group the reasons for these discrepancies, but received no satisfactory answers.
I also wonder, is an 0800 number better than an 01 or 02 number, considering that 0800 numbers can be expensive from mobiles while many landline packages tend to include free calls to 01 and 02 numbers?
Just to throw another spanner in the works, those much-hated 0845 numbers are at least as cheap to call (sometimes cheaper) than 01 or 02 numbers from a BT landline at peak times. So it’s no small wonder that 86% of Which? Convo readers professed to being confused by the cost of 08 numbers.
Fair and square
A couple of companies in our investigation stood out as worthy of particular praise. For example, energy companies Npower and Ovo Energy offer many of their customers a choice of 0800 and 01 or 03 numbers; a win-win for landline and mobile users alike.
If a company insists on using 0844 or 0845 numbers, in terms of fairness I prefer the non-discriminatory approach – it just seems unfair to make loyal customers pay more than new ones. I’d like to see more companies treating all their customers well by adopting freephone or lower-cost numbers across the board.