Although more customers are now coming to a retail business through mobile than any other channel, brands are failing to update their customers service strategies to reflect not only the growth in mobile use but also the diversity of the mobile user, according to Tony Couch, head of communications for MakeMobileCalls4Less.com. This article is copyright 2014 The Best Customer Guide.

In today's 'mobile first' economy, companies are working hard to deliver a seamless online experience for the mobile consumer. But what happens when these same consumers have to call customer services? When UK consumers are faced with calling 0800, 0808, 0870, 0845, 0844, or 03 (i.e. non-geographical) numbers, the majority of mobile customers think twice - because most mobile contracts charge upwards of £0.40 per minute for premium rated calls, and most consumers simply cannot differentiate between all the different types of non-geographic number. Phoning a business using a non-graphical number is therefore a confusing minefield that's simply not worth the risk for most consumers.

And the result? More than one third (38%) of consumers said they have delayed calling a bank or utility company from a mobile, preferring to wait until they could use a landline; as a result of this delay, nearly half (49%) have not been able to get through to a company during opening hours.

The impact on brand perception is significant: 66% of mobile phone users think business numbers are just a way for companies to raise extra money. So much for engaging the mobile consumer.

Mobile First
More customers now come to a retail business through mobile than any other channel. Businesses accept that mobile is the primary touch point and a bad mobile experience will cause long term damage to brand perception. As a result, organisations have invested heavily in improving the mobile experience for customers; they have created Apps and invested in responsive design to reflect the fact that not all mobile customers are the same: different devices and different attitudes require a different mobile commerce experience.

It is a surprise, therefore, that these same organisations have failed to update their customer services strategies to reflect not only the growth in mobile use but also the diversity of the mobile user. Why, for example, are companies still offering customers a 'freephone' 0800 number to call when these numbers are anything but free from a mobile at the moment?

When growing numbers of households no longer even have a landline, the mobile is the only communication device available - so why are companies providing an amazing online experience for the mobile customer yet failing to provide a suitable customer services alternative?

A number of UK organisations have moved to 01, 02 or 03 numbers which are, in some cases, included within a mobile contract bundle. Companies are promoting 03 numbers for example as the solution to the 'high cost from mobile' associated with the 0800 number. But this is not completely accurate - it may surprise many companies to know that over 50% of the mobile consumer base still has to pay quite a lot for 03, 02 and 01 calls.

Getting a clearer picture
According to UK communications watchdog, Ofcom, more than half of all mobile phone users now take a Pay As You Go (PAYG) approach and hence pay up to £0.40 per minute for calls to say, 03 numbers. Indeed, even those with contracts are less than confident about whether calls to an 03 number are included. Even those companies that have considered the need to support the mobile consumer are inadvertently penalising over 50% of their customer base.

Confusion regarding the cost of calling these numbers from a mobile is rife: according to research undertaken on behalf of MakeMobileCalls4Less.com, two thirds (66%) of consumers admit to ending a call to one of these business numbers from a mobile after hearing a message stating that the call would cost 'considerably more'. Consumers clearly don't understand these numbers and they are increasingly frustrated by the cost of calling.

The business impact should not be underestimated - two thirds of consumers (66%) think that business numbers are just a way for companies to raise extra money. The painful reality is that companies are spending money on offering customers a freephone 0800 number - yet the strategy is backfiring badly.

Almost half (46%) think these numbers are frustrating for mobile use - and many will delay calling one of these numbers from a mobile, even when the issue is urgent, preferring to find a landline to avoid the risk of incurring a high cost. When many individuals don't have their own landline, this increasingly means, using a phone at work or camping out with friends and family simply to call customer services - hardly a model to inspire brand loyalty!

Improving the mobile user's experience
When a company is spending so much on creating a slick mobile commerce experience, this disconnect with mobile customer service is clearly undermining the value of that investment and damaging brand value.

So what are the options? Certainly this is an issue that is widely accepted within the mobile communications industry. Indeed, Ofcom is seeking to improve the transparency of call charging to the consumer: in 2015, in theory, calls to 0800 numbers will be free from all mobiles (this remains to be seen). Indeed, the date for this change continues to shift and, from a brand perspective, the cost model associated with this change has yet to become clear.

Yet by the simple act of dialling a voice short code before the non-geographic number e.g. 84800, a consumer can cut the cost of one of these calls to no more than £0.10 per minute, saving up to 70% per call. So why are more companies not promoting these cheaper options? These mobile voice short codes have been around for years and used primarily by the media to reduce the cost of voting on various competitions, such as X Factor, from a mobile.

"Extending the use of voice short codes to support consumers calling customer services is compelling: those organisations that advise customers to dial the voice short code before the existing freephone number can address issues of cost, transparency and trust in one stroke," said Couch. "From promoting a voice short code on their website, bills and promotional literature to including it on advertising material, companies can change both customer experience and perception."