Common Telecoms Mistakes Made By Business Start-Ups

Around 500,000 new businesses are started each year. (Source: Startup Britain).  However, far too many of those businesses make mistakes with their telecoms. Telecoms mistakes that can cost money and result in a loss of business. 

Here are nine of the most common, easily avoidable, mistakes new business owners make with their telecoms:

Only having a mobile number.

Research shows over 30% of people do not trust and therefore will not contact mobile numbers.  Plus, you’ll only have a single voicemail for personal and business calls.  A mobile number can create the wrong impression.

Using your home number

How will you know if it’s your mother calling or an important new customer?  Also, you can’t turn your business off in the evening and weekends, there is limited functionality for handling a second call and personalising voicemails, and you might not be able to take the number with you if you move.

Long term contracts

It’s tempting to accept offers of free installation if you sign three or five year contracts, but if you expand and / or move the business you could face penalties for cancelling the contract, and you are locking yourself into prices in an environment where prices are generally going down.

084 numbers

Using inbound numbers such as 0800, 0844 or 0845 creates two problems. First, the rules on using 0845 for post sales service change on June 14th 2014 when they become illegal. See: https://www.equinox.uat.3mil.co.ukdo-you-use-0800-0844-0845-or-0870-numbers-if-so-you-may-need-to-change-them/  Second, if most of your customers call you from their mobile then, until next year, they’ll get a warning telling them it will cost a lot of money, at which point 40% hang up. From next year the calls will be free for the caller but more expensive for the owner of the number.

Not reading the small print

Check contract lengths, notice periods and penalty clauses, and ensure your supplier is signed up to the Telecoms Ombudsman.  A list of participating companies can be found at http://www.ombudsman-services.org/memberlists/communications/

Planning for the future

How might the business develop in the first two to three years? Are the telecoms in place on day one flexible and scalable should you expand? If you are working from home is the number portable should you move into offices?

Using numbers provided by your serviced office

This can be very expensive compared to organising your own telecoms and they may not release the number should you move out. Some business centres offer to forward calls but this can be costly. Always ask if you can bring your own and if not are the numbers portable if you leave.

Skype

Skype certainly offers some useful features but not everyone in business uses Skype, particularly larger businesses.  Also, Skype phone numbers are not portable, so when you have outgrown Skype you’ll lose the use of that number.

Call Answering Services

The key question is; what do you want them to do? If it is just to take a message you need to ask yourself what value is that adding.  However, if they can handle certain queries, then that can enhance your offering.

So what are the options?  For micro businesses, a simple inbound geographic number can be set up for circa £7 a month. For a little extra it can have a voicemail and a whisper facility to tell you that it is a business call.  This can help you utilise a single device for business and leisure. For those worried about presenting a mobile number when dialling out then it’s possible to have a landline on your mobile as an app.

Beyond that, businesses wanting a little more sophistication, or for larger start-ups, the choice is VOIP or traditional telecoms solutions. Generally, as a guide, the more sites and the greater the likelihood of growth in numbers of users then the more likely it is that VOIP, with its flexibility and scalability, is the best solution.   If you are looking for more sophisticated features and are communications intensive then a PBX may be a better solution. The guides here may help: https://www.equinox.uat.3mil.co.ukis-the-pbx-making-a-comeback-or-have-hosted-companies-lost-the-marketing-plot/ and https://www.equinox.uat.3mil.co.ukthings-to-consider-before-choosing-a-voip-supplier/

Overall our advice to any new business owner is to be careful. Think about your business, not just now, but in the future too.  Look at the points above and ask the relevant questions of your potential providers, and ensure your telecoms align with your plans for the business.  If in doubt, we are happy to advise for free

Charities Being Ripped Off

All industries unfortunately attract suppliers that shall we say are less than scrupulous.  The telecoms industry is no different, it is especially frustrating when there is plenty of money to be made without resorting to dubious practices or taking advantage of the lack of knowledge most people have.

We have seen a number examples within the charities and voluntary sectors where all those practicing deception are using a similar strategy.  It is particularly upsetting as they taking money away from a deserving cause.   We recently helped one charity to the extent that the chief executive said the following :

“Don’t even think about doing anything with your phone systems without talking to Dave first. He’s saved our telecoms bacon twice now – sees through the sales bluster of the cowboys, understands the small print that the rest of us don’t and knows the market and the contexts (legal, ethical etc,) Highly recommended.”

So what led to this situation.  The standard approach is we can give you a free new system or there is EU/Government money available.  There is then a cost comparison which has no real details of actual costs or details of what is actually being supplied.

We have attached the proposal YoungActors and follow up information Young Actors Job Costings that was sent to the customer.  So in this instance you can make your own minds up.  It could be a rogue salesperson or the standard company approach.   In either case in our view it was full of inaccuracies.  Below we have also included the text of the email we drafted for the charity when the supplier asked for £3,000 just to cancel the deal even though no services had been provided.  Since our email almost two months was sent there has been no word from the supplier.   So was the cancellation fee a try on or did they realise they had been found out.  If you go the end of the blog we name the supplier.   We would love to hear of more examples so we can try and clean up the industry a bit.

Dear xxx

 Thank your for the breakdown of the costs and additional information. It confirms the fact that we were mislead in the sales process which I will detail below.

Call Savings

You have stated that your call rates are 0.9p UK national and 6.9p UK mobile. Your proposal document states that the bill for calls with you versus our existing supplier would be £69.75 instead of £120 ie a saving of 41%. Our current call rates are 0.95p and 6.9p respectively, so you could not be delivering that amount of savings

Line Rentals

You have stated your pricing of £172.50 per quarter is for 4 ISDN 2 channels and 1 analogue line. We currently have 6 ISDN 2 channels and 2 analogue lines. So you have not compared like with like. Whilst your prices are slightly lower than we currently pay it would only save us £22.25 per quarter and not £127.50 you claim in your proposal.

Adjusting your proposal with these figures it actually means rather than saving £13.41 it would cost us approximately £135 per quarter more. The proposal forms part of the contractual process and the inducement was to save us money which obviously this will not. Our advice is that the contract is therefore null and void as it was based on misleading and incorrect information.

In addition

Outstanding payments

You indicate you have included 2,000 to pay off our existing lease and penalty clauses. We currently still owe £2,400 and would incur £550 pounds in cancellation fees. We would therefore have to pay £950 of our own money when your proposition was we would have nothing to pay. This further increases our losses on your deals.

Equipment Prices

It is obvious that you have vastly inflated the equipment prices which is actually a false representation to the leasing company as the amount advanced is not covered by the value of the assets.

In a couple minutes we found the following comparable prices for the handsets .

http://www.exteradirect.co.uk/product/siemens/openstage-15-hfa-telephone/2391/?utm_source=google&utm_medium=products&utm_campaign=froogle&gclid=CPqNlNiO9bYCFYJV3god_S4Asw Here they cost £87 each versus the £201.61 you quoted. This is an excessive markup

Also the advice we have been given is that the Siemens 3550 is aimed at 20 – 50 users and we should have been recommended the Siemens 3350 which is more appropriate for the size of company we are. This is also illustrated on an alternative suppliers website http://www.mfcomm.co.uk/products/siemens/hipath-3500-3300/?gclid=CLeeroGM9bYCFQm33godgUYAzQ. So in effect your advice was also negligent. Additionally Your pricing again only has capacity for 4 ISDNs when we have 6, this would further inflate your costs by £327.48 at your prices to give us a solution comparable to what we currently have.

Also we understand that some of the products you are suggesting supplying are already end of life http://www.mfcomm.co.uk/products/siemens/hipath-3550-3350/387/stls2/ and http://www.mfcomm.co.uk/products/siemens/hipath-3550-3350/386/slu8/ So effectively you were proposing an obsolete system rather than a new one.

Recorded Announcements

At no time during any meeting was recorded announcements discussed. As an actors theatre we have own access to professional recording artists and would be able to source this ourselves. It has been added to the contract unrequested. Also we know that also £1,000 is probably 3 – 4 times the marketprice for a simple recording. You have also included this in lease presumably yet it has no value to anyone else should we shut down and the leasing company sort to recover the assests

Line Transfer Costs

Nowhere in the proposal was it highlighted that this was a chargeable activity and having spoken to our existing supplier they have indicated that it is very unusual within the industry to make this charge. My suspicion is that you are trying to bolster the numbers. But in any event you have only transferred 4 channels when we have 6. You are indicating that these and the install costs are also included in the lease

In summary even ignoring the inflated prices. Correcting your proposal to accurately reflect what we currently have and the falsified call savings over 5 years your proposal would cost us an extra £3,975 over the 5 years.

We signed the contract on the basis of the proposal which is incorrect and therefore it is invalid.  Also your contract may state what the penalties but they do not comply with ofcom guidelines. As part of the credit legislation you are obliged to start the rate of interest on any paperwork which your have failed to do so. Your interest rate calculation is simply taking the interest amount and spreading it over five years. We will infact be repaying the capital throughout the five year term and interest should only be charged on the outstanding balance. By my rough calculation the actual interest rate is 7.4% on this basis.

We consider this the end of the matter. Should you continue to pursue the matter we shall report you to Trading Standards who have successfully prosecuted companies undertaking similar approaches as yours. We will also advise Ofcom and the Telecoms Ombudsman and finally we will ask the Charities commission to circulate details to all other charities.

 

Well as said that seemed to work.  There was no further attempt to ask for the £3,000 nor even a reply to challenge the email.

The supplier was Supply Communications in Romsey Hampshire and the emails on which we based our response were from their sales manager.  Everything in this blog is taken from emails between them and the charity.  You make up your own minds.

 

What does Your Phone Number Say about Your Business?

What does Your Phone Number Say about Your Business?
Many companies underestimate the importance of having the right phone number for their business and don’t consider what this says about their company and their brand.  Here is a simple guide to the options.

Many start-ups think they can save money by just using a mobile number on business cards and websites.   Yet research shows that 30% of people will not call a company that does not have a landline. The perception is that a landline number offers a guarantee of permanence and trust.

To get round this some people running their business from home start using the home phone line for business.  This can cause problems in determining who is calling – what might be an important business call is actually mum calling for a chat.  Equally, as most people move house regularly it can mean having to change the company phone number when you do so.

A simple way round both the situations is to have a virtual landline number, which can point at any number, you wish. It can even whisper an announcement so you know which number was actually called. Alternatively you can use a VOIP app on your mobile to make calls and present that number.

A second area of debate is whether to use 0800, 0845 , 030 or Geographic numbers to front your business.   A lot depends on where your clients are calling from and what type of phone they are using.  If they are calling from mobiles then the cost of making calls to 08 numbers can be very expensive. Also most networks warn callers of the cost, at which point a lot hang up.  08 numbers can be an advantage if you want to hide a location or want people calling from landlines to get through for free.  But note that a call to an 0845 number usually costs more than a call to a normal landline number. The rules around calls from mobiles to 0800 numbers change next year and it will be more expensive for companies using them as the cost of the call will shift from the caller to them.

It is easy to achieve a virtual presence both in the UK and overseas. The advance of technologies such as SIP mean it can look as if you have many offices around the country.  International, city and freephone numbers can be ordered over the web.

Finally, using 0844 and 0871 numbers sends a very bad message particularly when used for customer service and sales lines.   These numbers are expensive to call, especially from mobiles.  Also when people are calling to place orders it creates a bad impression if they can see that you are trying to make a few pence a minute on their call.  The law changed in 2014 preventing companies using these number for post sales support to residential suppliers.   http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-23590778

For more information on inbound numbers go to https://www.equinox.uat.3mil.co.ukservice-solutions/tester/

Contact us on 020 8912 0845 for advice on what is the best number for your organisation.