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yARN: Phone grumbles

yARN: Phone grumbles

How some phone set ups can be very annoying, indeed

There’s a shift going on with phone numbers, and curiously things are moving in opposite directions at the same time.

On one hand, people are increasingly using their mobiles as their primary phones. That’s fine, up to a point: apart from a few dinosaurs like me who resolutely leave their mobiles switched off when they’re in the office or at home, you know you can ring their mobile and they’ll answer if they can - unless they’re avoiding you!

This trend has seen some households dispense completely with their landlines. I can see the reasoning - if everyone has their own mobiles and they all make enough outgoing calls to justify being on something like Amaysim’s $39 per month ‘unlimited’ plan, the notionally lower per-minute cost of a fixed line for local, 13/1300 and 1800 calls is no longer a consideration as the marginal cost of outgoing mobile calls is zero.

A similar change is happening with non-storefront small businesses (consultants, freelancers of various types, tradespeople and so on), where a growing number seem to be cancelling their landlines and going mobile-only.

This works fine if you always want to speak to a specific person: “what time will you be home tonight?” or “sorry, but I must postpone our appointment.” One problem is that if the caller is using a fixed line, it’s usually more expensive to ring a mobile than another fixed line - but hey, that’s their problem, not yours.

Cost issues aside, the other problem is that there are often times when you need to speak to someone at a particular location but don’t really care who it is: “I’ve been held up at work, start cooking dinner and I’ll be home in 20 minutes” or “I need you to put my order on a taxi truck within the hour.” In those situations, you can do without ringing everyone in the family or at the company to find someone that’s actually on the spot. One call to a fixed line can take care of the matter.

The opposite side of this is the way organisations are increasingly using 13/1300 and 1800 numbers. Yes, it’s very convenient to have fewer numbers to remember (but who memorises phone numbers any more except when they see or hear an advert?), and it makes it easier for larger organisations to implement automated phone systems and queues.

Again, there’s a financial downside for the caller, but this time it’s those using mobiles that suffer most. There are plans afoot to mobile calls to 13.1300 and 1800 numbers on the same financial basis as those from fixed lines, even if it won’t happen until 2015. Until then, calling one of these numbers from a mobile can prove expensive, especially if you’re kept on hold for a lengthy period.

The practical problem is that you sometimes need to talk to someone at a particular location, and some organisations treat the phone numbers for individual premises as top secret. The person taking your call may or may not be able to transfer you to the location you need, which can be a particular problem if the calls are being distributed geographically and you don’t want to talk to the closest branch.

Another issue in both domestic and business situations is that sometimes you learn everything you need if your call is unanswered. If you ring a business late in the afternoon and there’s no answer, it’s a fair bet they’ve finished for the day. An unanswered call costs you nothing. But if your call is redirected to a branch in Perth where they’re still working, you’re paying for the call and you’re no better off if you needed to talk to a specific person or only your local branch could deal with the matter.

Similarly, you probably don’t really need an answering machine or voicemail at home, especially if you have an unlisted number. If someone rings and there’s no answer, they haven’t wasted their money (and, to return to the earlier example, they know nobody is in to start cooking dinner), and Caller ID lets you return calls from people you really want to talk to.

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