UIA, the insurance arm of trade union Unison, has become one of the first users to abandon BT and port its freephone number to a rival operator under new Oftel regulations.
From 16 June, UK businesses with call centres offering BT freephone, local rate and national rate calls are able to transfer the same numbers to Energis, AT&T or Scottish Telecom services. By July, it is expected that freephone numbers originating from non-BT operators will also be portable. For instance Mercury customers will be able to keep their 0500 numbers if they decide to move to Energis.<
Quentin Barker, networks and systems administrator at UIA, said porting its freephone number to be managed by AT&T will save the company around seven per cent in costs. This is already on top of the 15 per cent it saved by using AT&T to route its calls.
?The benefits of porting to AT&T will be the savings and the flexibility this will give us,? he said. Another potential benefit could be the generation of one bill for all services UIA buys from AT&T, which could increase its volume discount rate, rather than receiving smaller discounts on separate bills.
Ian Cracknell, UIA marketing manager, said: ?We envisage substantial growth in the number of calls to our call centre, which so far receives 3,000 sales enquiries each month.? UIA has moved two numbers to AT&T, a freephone 0800 telephone sales and quotation hotline, and a local rate 0345 marketing campaign response number.
Its call centre, based in Stevenage, is staffed by 12 agents. It has around 100,000 policy holders and markets to a potential market of 1.3 million Unison members.
It originally outsourced the management of its call centre to a firm called The Decisions Group, but decided to bring this back inhouse because of flexibility and cost issues, explained Barker.
BT?s rival telcos are hoping for a flood of freephone businesses wanting to port. AT&T says it has many more customers in the pipeline, while Energis claims it has ?hundreds? waiting. Freephones are big business. There are around 60,000 freephone numbers in use in the UK, with the market expected to explode to be worth #560 million in 2001, according to figures from Dataquest. In the US, 40 per cent of calls are made to freephone numbers.
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