What’s the 411? Directory Assistance Costs Companies More Than They Think


With the advent of Google and mobile devices that are able to answer just about any question, anywhere, you’d think the 411 Information call would be a thing of the past. Think again. The average company pays 29 cents per cell phone line per month in 411 charges, according to new data from Visage Mobile. Add together all the lines a company supports, and that could spell thousands of dollars in seemingly unnecessary costs.

Of the hundreds of thousands of company mobile phones line surveyed by Visage, 4.2% used directory assistance at least once in September. The highest abuser  — a BlackBerry user in Florida — racked up $101.49 in 411 calls that month. The average charge per 411 user was $5.26.

To be sure, average monthly 411 charges per line have been on a steady decline for businesses. At the start of 2011, the average cost was close to 50 cents per line; in September 2012 that figure was cut by almost half.

Those in the service sector tend to rack up more charges — shipping, agriculture and chemicals businesses had the most expensive 411 users, with monthly costs for chemicals companies coming in at an average 77 cents per line. Public sector employees, on the other hand, are apparently the most 411 cost-conscious: Government agencies only racked up an average 10 cents per line a month.

Surprisingly, employees with smartphones (and presumably Internet access) are not exempt from placing 411 calls on company devices. The data suggests that an equal percentage of 411 calls were placed by both feature phones and smart phones. 
The base rate charged by major mobile carriers for a 411 directory assistance call is around $1.99, a number that has been steadily rising over the years, according to a Los Angeles Times 
report. These incurring costs can happen when users allow an automatic dial — for example, asking for movie times. Often times little information is offered about if and how the user will be charged.

How can companies curb these costs? Educating employees on 411 prices — and formulating policies surrounding the use of the feature (and similar costs) — is a start. Laptop Magazine, which cites avoiding 411 calls as a main way to lower mobile bills, points to Google Maps or Google SMS as free alternatives. WhitePage’s 411.com and its corresponding apps also offer free directory service.

But London Business School professor Celia Moore suggests that the real reason employees abuse company services may be rooted deeper than a basic lack of knowledge.

“It’s very hard for individuals to consistently act in ways that they believe are unethical,” Moore says. “So they go to great lengths to distort or reframe the truth in their own mind … it’s no big deal, everybody does it, I’m not harming anyone. And those kinds of statements are evidence of moral disengagement.”

Ethical mobile behavior at work may start by informing employees, but good practice must be exhibited by company leadership at the top, Moore says.