Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Are All 08 Numbers Expensive ?

This is a question I was asked recently and it illustrates just how confusing the current 08 number range is, covering everything from free calls to premium rate.

Within the UK numbering plan, the 08 prefix was set aside for special rate calls, a tag that can cover a multitude of sins. Back in the day, when your choice was a BT landline or a BT landline, calls to 0800 numbers were free (with the number's owner picking up the tab) and 0845 were designated as "Lo Call" and were always charged at local call rates.

With the liberalisation of telecoms, many more operators started up and offered new services and tariffs, so that today we have a much more complicated picture. The standard for what you should be charged for a call is still the BT landline, but it can actually vary between operators, especially mobile operators and will also depend on what inclusive call packages you have.

A simplified view is:
080 numbers are free to the caller from a standard landline, but mobile operators, for example, may make a charge to cover what they perceive to be a reasonable cost for use the of the air channel. Vodafone sets this at 14 pence per minute. If an operator does levy a charge, they must include an "advice of charge" message before the call is routed and allow you to end the call before charging starts.

0843, 0844 numbers should be no more than 4.26p per minute or per call from a BT landline, but the charge made by other operators may be different.

0845 numbers should be charged at the BT local call rate, but the charge made by other operators may be different.

Surprisingly, perhaps, 0870 numbers, which have been the source of much controversy, should cost you no more than calling a normal geographic number (01, 02 prefix), and furthermore, if you have an inclusive call package, calls to 0870 numbers must count towards your inclusive call minutes.

0871,0872,0873 numbers are higher rate special services and will cost you up to 8.51p per minute from a BT landline and may be more from other operators.

If you have an inclusive call package, then except 0870 numbers, your calls to other 08 numbers are not likely to be included.

You may have heard that in June this year, a new regulation was introduced governing the use of higher rate numbers for customer support lines. If you need to contact your supplier in connection with a purchase you have made, you cannot be charged more than the normal geographic rate for your call, which has effectively ruled out most of the 08 number range for this purpose.

In June 2015 we will see a further development which is intended to make it clearer who is charging you what, with the connection service charges being separated out. This will be quite useful when you come to look at your bill, but it remains to be seen how much it helps you to anticipate before hand how much a call to a particular number will cost. The good news, though, is that as part of this change, calls to 080 numbers will become free to the caller wherever they call from, including mobiles.

See also Ofcom's page on telecoms numbering

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Business is Blooming

Location Based Routing Case Study

Location-based routing is the technique of deciding where to route calls based on where the call came from. For geographic numbers this can be determined from the caller's area code. The flexibility of the Technovox telephony application server allows us to provide this and other sophisticated call treatments.

Flora Direct supplies the freshest cut flowers and plants to retailers along the South Coast and in the West Midlands. Their close relationship with Dutch growers and daily deliveries from Holland means they can guarantee 9am next-day delivery for orders placed before 2pm.

Flora Direct wanted an 0800 freephone number to give their customers easy access for placing orders. One of their reasons for choosing Technovox was our ability to add location based routing as their business expands. Using a single 0800 number means Flora Direct can simplify their printed materials and know they won't go out of date as they add new centres. By adding location based routing, customers' calls are delivered to their nearest representatives, strengthening the relationships that are the key to sustaining and growing business.

Tom Le Mesurier of Flora Direct said: "We needed a way of easily connecting with our customers, but with the possibilities of growth in other areas, it had to be consistent. Technovox’s 0800 freephone number with location based routing was the perfect solution for us. The freephone 0800 number gave a nice professional image to the company while allowing people from all over the country to contact the correct person. It was so easy to set up and can be expanded to suit any area with a simple email or call. We now have 6 locations around the UK and anyone within that area will automatically get diverted to the right person from only one number. A huge thanks to Technovox for making this tricky problem so simple for us."

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

"Go" At Throttle-Up

Immediately after take off, the space shuttle was only able to operate at about two thirds of main engine power. Trying to accelerate any faster than this in the dense air at low altitudes risked damaging the structure of the vehicle. Not until 35,000 ft was the air thin enough to be able to apply full power at the "throttle-up" mission milestone.

In business, we are sometimes constrained by the processes we've adopted, perhaps by habit or accident, and the way things have always been done. This is the dense air in the space shuttle analogy. How can we get into the higher thinner air that allows us to throttle up an operate at full power ?

Using a call answering service is not just a way of getting your calls handled reliably; it can also be an opportunity to operate more efficiently. Perhaps it means you can have fewer people in the office and more out meeting clients and solving their problems. It could mean that your office-based people can concentrate on more demanding tasks without being interrupted by the phone.

If you're using your answering service to maximum effect, you'll get your calls answered consistently and efficiently, you will ensure you seize the business opportunity from every call and you'll benefit from being able to run your business at maximum power.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

7 Ways to Improve Your Cyber Security

You can't have missed the reports of data breaches that are occurring with increasing
frequency, like the one at Target that made a big splash recently. Its only the biggest stories that make the news, so don't let the size of a company like Target lull you into thinking that only the big players are at risk. Last year's Verizon Data Breach Investigation Report shows how small and medium sized companies, especially retailers are vulnerable, particularly through their Point of Sales systems.

But what, as a small business, can you do about it ? If you have the resources, a review of your systems and procedures against the CSIS Top 20 Critical Security Controls is thoroughly recommended, but there are some easy things you can do to help.

First, a couple of points that need to be stressed: whatever you do, you won't keep out a determined attacker unless your systems are turned off, disconnected and locked in the basement. Secondly, security controls require defense in depth: you can't rely on only one measure - you have to put multiple hurdles in the path of your assailants.

Use Firewalls
Your broadband router almost certainly has a built-in firewall. Look at the rules it's using. Make sure these are the bare minimum you need allow you to operate. Make sure its admin account is locked down with a strong password.

Make sure your PCs have their own firewalls enabled, and again pared down to the minimum you need. This helps to limit the damage if another machine inside your company is compromised.

Install and maintain anti-virus software
Not sufficient on its own, but helps to keep out a fair number of threats. If the AV software can also scan you emails, so much the better. To be any use, the subscription needs to be kept up to date.

Virus based attacks can be very sophisticated, some using code that is designed to hide itself from anti-virus software.

Keep security patches up to date
Make sure you check regularly for and install security patches in all the software you use. Enable automatic updates if possible. As soon as a vulnerability is discovered and publicised, criminals will start designing exploits for it and scanning for unpatched systems to attack.

Ensure Phishing Awareness
Outer defenses are useless if someone in your organization accidentally leaves the keys lying around. Phishing emails attempt to trick you into revealing passwords or downloading malware. If these purport to be from colleagues, customers or suppliers, you may find yourself opening a contaminated file before you realize it. Make sure you and your colleagues take awareness training regularly - a quick Google search will reveal lots of resources to assist.

Control Use of Portable Devices
When people attach portable devices to your network, it opens up a huge range of risks, as you can't be sure what other networks they been connected to and what they've been exposed to. There is a whole industry growing up around management of portable personal devices - you've probably heard of BYOD. The easiest solution is not to allow these to connect to your core network/domain if you can avoid it.

Isolate Sensitive Data
Not always easy to do, but if you can manage it, keep sensitive information such as customer records and accounting information on separate machines to the ones you use for e-mail and internet access.

Establish and monitor a robust password policy
Last but not least, your passwords need to be strong - 8 characters and preferably more, consisting of letters, numbers and punctuation characters. There are lists readily available of the most common passwords that people use, and an attacker will zip through these very quickly. If your password is too short or does not contain the full set of character classes, a brute-force attack (trying all possible combinations of characters) can be accomplished in a surprisingly short time.

It is a major headache, but your passwords need to be changed regularly too. Don't rely on people to remember to do this - if the systems you use support setting up a password policy, be sure to use it.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Is the era of the cheap PC over ?

Do you remember when PCs looked like this and cost £3,000 ? In those days, the PC was an office productivity device and, let's be honest, not much fun unless you were a nerd. PCs were going to remain specialist business tools until standards coalesced around the PC-compatible and volumes built until the cost fell to within the reach of the consumer. Since then, of course, the PC has enjoyed a meteoric rise until the advent of the tablet and smartphone.

Figures released this month by Gartner show the seventh consecutive quarter of PC sales decline. From it's peak in 2011 the number of PCs shipped per year has fallen more than 12%. Today's mobile devices are simply more convenient and more fun. Does this mean that the traditional PC is going to revert to being specialist equipment. High end desktops and laptops can cost four figures today. If the bottom end of the PC market gets eaten by mobile devices, perhaps the end is in sight for the cheap PC

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Are you looking after your customers ?

I've recently been talking to local businesses about our new 24 hour call answering service. Not surprisingly, I've heard a range of views on how useful such would be to different types of businesses.

One of the things that seems to sort out the leaders from the also-rans is their attitude to dealing with customer enquiries. Some businesses are using answering machines or voicemail to field calls when the phones aren't manned or out of hours. This is OK if you're good at picking up your messages and calling back, but it's well known that most people don't like talking to answering machines and as many as 8 out of 10 new callers will not leave a message. Missed opportunities ? Could be !

When I put this point to one company I spoke to, I was shocked by the response: "If they're serious, they'll call back". My bet is they won't - they'll go to one of the competitors who knows how to look after their customers better.

Are you looking after your customers ?
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