Billy, Don’t You Lose My Number

In the past, if you wanted to call Directory Enquiries (Information) from any British telephone, you would dial 192 and you’d get the service that your operator provided. Until 18 months ago, that is, when the system was opened up to competition, requiring users to dial a 6-digit number instead of three in exchange for being able to choose the information service they preferred. (Or in the majority of cases, I rather suspect, the one with the most memorable phone number).

Normally I’m in favour of such market-based selection, but I think it was clear from day one that this wasn’t really going to work in practice. This Telegraph article suggests that might be the case.

I wonder how much in the way of user studies was done beforehand. I mean, the last thing you want to have to do is remember the number to dial when you can’t remember the number to dial. What they should have done, I think, is to have left the 192 number in place but given users the opportunity to redirect it to the service of their choice if they didn’t like the default provided by their service operator.

One wonders how far this might go…
“Got a fire in your kitchen? Don’t panic! Just dial 999-3232 for Fires ‘R’ Us. 80% of customers reported improved response times over other emergency services. Switch to Fires ‘R’ Us today!”

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