The 0870 scam: time to rebel
Those of us who have cursed at the waste of time and (our own) money involved in trying to telephone a UK company with an 0870 number, and finding ourselves listening to Vivaldi for half an hour while we wait for a human to answer us, will have been cheered to read an article in the Financial Times of 8/9 October 2005 [subscription needed for full text] by David Baker, who rightly likens this sly practice to "Sainsbury’s charging an entry fee". Not only is it impudent to make us pay to contact a company with whom we want to do business or to which we want to make a complaint: the system actually provides the company with a financial incentive to keep us waiting as long as possible before connecting us to a human, since the longer we are on the line to them, the greater the share of our money they receive. In my view the offence is hugely aggravated by the interruptions to that tinny Vivaldi every 30 seconds for recorded assurances that our custom is important to them, that our patience [what patience?] is appreciated, that the company is full of remorse for keeping us waiting, and that we shall ‘shortly’ be answered by one of their operatives. These meaningless messages are even more insulting than the initial routine involving seven, eight or nine rounds of instructions: press one if we want to tell the company chairman that he’s an incompetent jerk, press two if we want our money back, press three to complain about the length of time we have been kept waiting, and press four if we want to hear the list of options all over again. (It’s sometimes possible to short-circuit this exasperating minuet by simply refraining from pressing any numbers at all after being connected, pretending not to have a tone-dialling telephone: often this produces a human quite quickly.)
Mr Baker makes two excellent suggestions.
First, most of these rip-off merchants actually have an ordinary telephone number (costing no more than national rates, i.e. a good deal less than an 0870 number) for use by customers outside the UK, and if you can find out what it is, you can use it — and the human who eventually answers won’t know that you aren’t using the 0870 (or other rip-off) number. You won’t save a huge amount of money, but at least you’ll have the satisfaction of knowing that a slab of the cost of your call isn’t going to the company that you’re calling, so you are beating a nasty, avaricious system. Best of all, you can probably save prolonged research in multiple websites to find out an alternative national number by visiting just one invaluable website, "Say No to 0870", run by Daniel Blamire, where you can rapidly find alternative national numbers for a wide range of UK companies, and very often a free 0800 number too. There’s also provision on the website for those who have tracked them down themselves to add new cheaper or free alternative numbers to the database where they haven’t already been included.
Secondly, Mr Baker suggests that if you can’t get a cheaper or free number from www.saynoto0870.com, and if you can’t unearth one yourself, e.g. from the company’s website, —
…why not use some consumer power and find an alternative supplier instead?
Another irritant is the now widespread habit on the part of the more inefficient companies of keeping their e-mail addresses a closely guarded secret, so that the only way to contact them after a fruitless hour or two on the telephone is to navigate your way through interminable pages of the company’s website to a page from which you can send them a message — but only after you have filled in every personal detail about yourself from the colour of your eyes to your grandmother’s maiden name; and even after you have done all that and typed in your message, you’ll probably find that when you hit ‘submit’, all you’ll get is a message saying that this service — service! — is currently unavailable. Even if you do manage to transmit your message, you’re as likely as not to get an automated e-mail in reply saying that it’s not possible to reply to individual messages, but the company will certainly give its undivided attention to what you have said . And you’ll be warned not to attempt to reply to the e-mail. The company is to all intents and purposes incommunicado. Not hard to guess why, either.
It’s depressing that so many of our household name private sector companies are not only hopelessly incompetent, but so greedy and so contemptuous of their customers into the bargain. So it’s good to know that Mr Blamire’s ‘No to 0870’ website permits us all occasionally to make a tiny, largely futile, but enjoyable gesture of defiance. Other bloggers, please copy!