Around 300 websites were inspected over the course of the supervision campaign. On almost 200 of these websites, the cost of calling customer service numbers were not in compliance with the legislation, or were not displayed at all.
Since 13 June 2014, companies have been obliged to provide their customers with a so-called basic-price customer service number for situations where the matter is related to a customer’s previously made agreement. For instance, a customer must be able to terminate his or her agreement and make a complaint on a delay or flaw related to goods or services by calling this basic-price service. The price for calling the basic-price customer service number may not exceed the price determined in the consumer’s subscription agreement or the calculatory basic price determined by the Finnish Communications Regulatory Authority on an annual basis, which currently stands at EUR 0.088 per minute.
Businesses are not obliged to make a basic-price customer service number available for contacts concerning matters other than valid agreements such as new agreements or store opening hours. However, businesses must clearly inform their customers of the purpose for which each number is reserved and the cost of calling these numbers. Prices must be included every time a number is indicated in advertisements, directories, contractual terms and on websites.
The goal of introducing basic-price customer service numbers is to reduce the harmful effects caused to consumers by the expensive corporate numbers used by businesses. Reasonably priced customer service on the phone is particularly important to vulnerable consumer groups that do not necessarily have the ability or option of using electronic service channels.
The Consumer Ombudsman demands that inadequacies are corrected
During the autumn of 2014, the Consumer Ombudsman carried out a supervision campaign, the objective of which was to investigate the extent to which businesses are complying with the regulations pertaining to the basic-price customer service number. This campaign was part of a programme by the International Consumer Protection and Enforcement Network (ICPEN) that concentrated on the problems faced by vulnerable consumer groups.
The Consumer Ombudsman investigated almost 300 websites including online shops and those for department stores, furniture and electronics stores, car dealers, estate agents, clothing stores and opticians. Inadequacies were found on almost 70 per cent of these websites. Some of the businesses were using an excessively expensive customer service number, whereas some companies failed altogether to indicate the cost of calling their number, resulting in ambiguity as to whether the pricing of the number failed to comply with the legislation.
The Consumer Ombudsman has informed the businesses behind these inadequate websites of the need to change their customer service numbers in order to comply with the law. The companies must also ensure that all stores belonging to the same group or chain use a basic-price number in matters concerning previously made agreements. Furthermore, the Consumer Ombudsman reminds everyone that businesses must indicate the cost of calling a number in connection with this corporate number in a clear and easily observable manner.