So, it’s not just us (2)

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GoGoGrandparent's webpage

Fuss Free Phones uses humans as the killer app. Our friendly telephonists bridge the technology gap by helping callers out on the phone.

It seems that we are not the only company to have thought of this. The California based  GoGoGrandparent lets people without smartphones use on-demand services like Uber.  Much like the Fuss Free Phones telephonist the company uses real people to answer the phone and provide a service.

The difference however is that while Fuss Free phones makes using a mobile phone simple, GoGoGrandparent makes Uber easy.

When the customer calls GoGoGrandparent the telephonist books an Uber for the customer. For regular journeys there is an automated system, and while this goes against Fuss Free phones philosphy (we don’t have any automated systems) we can appreciate that it’s right for plenty of people as they can have an Uber by just pressing 1 and the GoGoGrandparent system knows where they live or where they have just traveled to.

While Fuss Free Phones is for people who find all mobile phones too, well, fussy, GoGoGrandparent is more for people who find smartphones overly complex.

But there is a lot of similarity between the motivations of the two companies.


Simon Rockman


So, it’s not just us

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This sign on a bus stop vents anger at nuisance calls

Fuss Free Phones created it’s No Nuisance Call service to help customers feel more confident using a mobile phone.

We knew that the big button mobile phones we sell are easy to use, easy to see and easy to hear, but we also know that many people find nuisance calls intimidating. And if we want customers us use their Fuss Free Phone regularly they need to keep it on and keep it with them.

Solving the nuisance call problem was part of our overall package of mobile phones for seniors. But it is clear nuisance calls have become  a plague, and this is demonstrated by a leaflet sellotaped to a bus stop not far from the Fuss Free Phones office in Old Street. Maybe a little more punctuation would have helped and learning how to spell “bane” would have given it more credibility but the low production values and extensive use of capital letters add a certain dynamic which chimes well with the message. At least we’ve been saved the over-use of exclamation marks.

We hate nuisance calls but it’s good to know that it’s not just us.

Simon Rockman

The Fuss Free Phones Guide Dog

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Meet Nick. The Fuss Free Phones Guide Dog.  Through the work Fuss Free Phones has been doing with the RNIB we’ve got to meet a lot of guide dogs and they are great to be around.

Our work with blind people as Fuss Free Phones customers has taught me that while an easy to use phone with a personal service and telephonists can be a massive aid to independence there are other aspects of life that even a simple phone can’t solve.

The people who work with guide dogs describe them as a “mobility aid”.

At the recent Vision Strategy event I met someone from The Guide Dogs Association who explained that when dogs are not in school they live with a family. To Nick is not a sponsored dog but a boarder.Guide Dog Nick

The best known way this is done is Puppy Walking, and that’s what Emily, the telephonist you see on the right of this page with the caption “A Personal Touch”. She puppy walked a dog called Harley.

Nick is a bit older than a puppy walked dog. He’s been through ten weeks of training at The Guide Dogs association and is now in advanced training at its centre in Euston.  I drop him off for school in the morning and then come to work at Fuss Free Phones which is ten minutes away. Then at the end of the day I pick him up and take him back to my home.

It means that I get to enjoy having a dog when I’m not at work and don’t have to worry about leaving him during the day.  It does however mean that I’ll only be with him for a few months before he goes off to work with a client.

I’ve also got to realise that Nick can’t be treated the way I would a pet dog. He’s not allowed treats at the table, to scavenge for food, upstairs at home or to sit on the furniture.  The blind client he goes to live with later may make different decisions but I’ve got to re-enforce the training the Guide dogs association gives him and that’s my little way of “putting something back”.

One of the advantages of having a guide dog in training is that I will be able to take him into places like shopping centres which usually band dogs. While they have to take guide dogs, a trainee, without a harness, is only allowed in under goodwill but who would turn down a cute Labrador?


Simon Rockman

London Tube leaves blind users in the dark

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And it’s the fault of technology

A Tfl help point with the caption "not working"Thanks to training I’ve had with the Guide Dogs Association I was able to help a blind user on the tube last night. I’m planning to become a guide dog boarder, looking after a dog in training when it’s not at school The training day at Euston was wonderful and uplifting.

The Association had a lot of praise for Transport for London. But my experience last night shows a combination of station staff cuts and failure to understand technology has left the service wanting for visually impaired people.

I got off a train at Finchley Central station last night and saw a man with a white stick, I felt  excited for the opportunity to put my guide dog training into real live use. When I greeted him in the way I’d been taught he said: “are you station staff”, which I took to mean I’d got things right. I explained that I was a Guide Dogs Volunteer and took him to his platform.

That’s where it all started to go wrong. We’d been taught that a member of staff at the departing platform could radio ahead to have someone meet a blind person at the other end and greet them. So I took my new friend to the information button and pressed Emergency. This was a mistake. I should have pressed the Information button! A loud alarm went off. “Well” said my friend, “At least they will get here faster.”

Cute guide dog puppyThey didn’t.

We waited, and kept waiting. Eventually I went off to look for someone – letting my charge know what I was doing.

The only person working at the station was struggling to cope with customers who couldn’t use the machines, and other things requiring her attention. She’d not heard the alarm and when she finally agreed to come help the blind customer, he had gone.

This has wider implications. Not just that Transport For London was letting down blind customers, and there would be no one to help at the other end, but that anyone could have had an emergency and pressed the button. A passenger on the track, heart attack, or a rare Abra Pokemon in the waiting room!  And no one would have come.

So this morning I spoke to the station staff as a kind of post mortem. I explained that I worked for Fuss Free Phones, which has a service which makes mobile phones easy to use, with big button phones, and that I had been to The Guide Dogs Association for training.

The staff were sympathetic and explained that when someone presses the alarm button it first rings in the station office. When it’s been ringing for two minutes the call goes through to a central control room. Unfortunately the staff are prohibited from going into the office so they will never hear it. In this case the central control room didn’t respond either. Perhaps they looked on the CCTV and saw no one there, perhaps they didn’t. Whatever the case they left the alarm ringing.

Lady with white stick on tube escalatorI can understand that the move to oyster cards and contactless credit cards has meant the demise of ticket offices. And I can understand the customer service benefits of insisting that staff are always out and about, not sitting in the office.

What I can’t understand is why Transport for London has let the emergency link fall in a hole. Transport for London has a network-wide communications system called Connect. It’s old and creaking – having been conceived in 1999 – but it works. There is no, technical reason why  the emergency button on the platform could not be linked to it. Connect uses the same TETRA  technology as is used by the emergency services. It’s got all kinds of elegant systems to instantly call one person or a group of people. There is no reason why the button on the station platform could not be in multiple groups which signaled all the people who were on-duty at Finchley Central, all the people on nearby platforms and a central emergency center all at the same time.

This might be over the top for just one blind person needing to get off at right place at their destination stop, but then I’d pressed the Emergency button, not the information one. That could be linked to fewer, more relevant users, maybe just the people at that station or a central information person looking after the whole network.

As the founder of Fuss Free Phones I have 20 years experience in the mobile industry and in the past few years have been tailoring my product to meet the needs of blind people as well. Fuss Free Phones is working closely with the RNIB to provide its easy to use mobile phone service to blind users. Blind users are often not able to use the latest smartphones and require a more tactile and more intelligent solution. AI is not quite there yet.Guide dog user on the underground

I have been researching the needs of the older users for more than 15 years, but our work with the visually impaired is new ground.  I do have a little insight however; one day I woke up  without vision in my left eye. Thanks to the team at Moorfields Eye Hospital, my retina was reattached within the day. However, this experience was invaluable as it save me a taste of how frightening it might be to lose my sight. With Fuss Free Phones blind people can use a mobile phone and by pressing a big button be connected with a human telephonist around the clock. The telephonist manages a directory, screens inbound calls, connects outbound calls, and sends and receives texts. This person can look up any information on the internet and provide real help if needed.

Our blind and visually impaired customers love the service. We regularly receive phone calls telling us how liberating the service is, providing freedom and peace of mind. We’ve even had forms back with smiley faces drawn on them. I bet the other networks don’t get that.

Simon Rockman

Note: If you want to get involved, Guide Dogs For The Blind, in addition to running the dogs department, also teaches sighted people how to lead the visually impaired. It’s worth watching their videos so that you know what to do to help a blind person.


Nuisance Calls

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Nuisance calls are the bane of eveyday lifeHow many times have you rushed to the phone only to be greeted by someone trying to sell you something you didn’t want? Or opened a text from a stranger claiming to know about your recent car accident?

Almost all of us have received nuisance calls and texts at some point and a recent study reveals the extent of the problem. New findings from Which? reveal that thousands receive 26 nuisance calls per month and one in ten receive more than 60.  And unfortunately, it’s the elderly who often bear the brunt of nuisance calls, receiving an average of 39 per month – with a worrying one in five receiving over 60.

While for most people nuisance calls are merely an annoyance, for the elderly and vulnerable they can harmful and dangerous. Just last month it was revealed that hundreds of mobile phone owners had been hit by a new 0845 scam in which people, many of them elderly, return premium rate missed calls and are defrauded out of hundreds of pounds.  And in a particularly disturbing recent case, a conman tricked a 75-year old woman out of £200,000 by posing as a bank fraud investigator.

So what can be done to help protect yourself and loved ones from nuisance calls? Here are five tips to help make them a thing of the past:

  1. Don’t call back missed calls from unknown numbers or click links sent to you in text messages or emails from unknown senders. If someone wants to speak to you, they will leave you a message!
  2. If someone calls requesting personal or banking details, look up the number on your bank’s website or your credit card and call back
  3. Register the callers with Ofcom’s Nuisance Call tool:
  4. Register your number with the Telephone Preference Service (TPS)
  5. If you’re worried about older relatives and friends who might get confused by these scams, consider using a phone service that screens inbound communication. Fuss Free Phones’ live telephonists screen inbound calls and texts and only connect legitimate callers

In summary, the safest bet is not to engage when it comes to sharing personal details with unknown callers. If they really need your information for a legitimate transaction, they will send a letter or inform you via appropriate channels of communication.

Call the Fuss Free Phones team to learn more about how its call centre staff are trained to mitigate nuisance calls and scammers.

Nicola Ennis

Fuss Free Phones invents texting for the blind

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RNIB web pageFuss Free Phones has become the first mobile phone service to be recommended by the RNIB. The service is now available through the RNIB website and by calling the RNIB.

Every day, 100 people in the UK start to lose their sight.  It’s a scary statistic, but it’s even more frightening for the people involved. The RNIB does an amazing job of supporting people with sight lost and looks to particularly help and reassure those who are newly blind.

The support the RNIB offers comes in the form of not just help and advice for the visually impaired and their carers, it also sells a wide range of products. Fuss Free Phones is the first service the organisation has offered to the people it helps.

The RNIB and Fuss Free Phones have been working together for the past year to make sure the service is right for visually impaired customers. This has included providing audio instructions and braille copies of the documentation. One of the major innovations Fuss Free Phones has introduced is it’s “Text messaging for the blind”.  Customers can send a text message by pressing the button on the back of the phone, speaking to a friendly telephonist and asking them to send a text. This has long been a Fuss Free Phones service, however the technology Fuss Free Phones has developed especially for RNIB customers is the ability to receive incoming texts by having them read out by a telephonist.

The customer can opt to have incoming messages sent to the handset in the normal manner, or to a telephonist, or both. If the incoming text is received by the Fuss Free Phones call centre a telephonist will phone the customer and read out the text. The customer can then ask the telephonist to type a reply and wait for a response.

The service is free as part of the £20 Fuss Free Phones monthly package. Customers get unlimited texts and 600 minutes of call time. The new service is available now, to all Fuss Free Phones customers, not just those who have bought the service through the RNIB.

Along with No-nuisance calls, the Texting for the blind, is one of an on-going programme of worlds’ firsts being developed by Fuss Free Phones with its technology partners.

You can find out more about the Fuss Free Phones Service from the RNIB here.

Will the new Nokia show maturity?

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Microsoft has announced that it is parting company with its Nokia feature phone division, licencing it back to Finland. Fuss Free Phones hopes that the new company HMD global Oy will understand the value the Nokia brand has to the older generation.

Nokia needs to embrace the older generation


HMD global Oy is formed of Nokia veterans, and they will take on the mantle of making mass market phones and tablets. Both feature phones – that is basic bar and flip phones – and smartphones using Android.

The feature phone market is traditionally seen as basic communication for emerging countries. Phones engineered to a price, often selling for under £5. Adding the Nokia name adds huge credibility. In India the word “Nokia” is a colloquialism for mobile phone, much like Hoover, Tannoy or Kleenex might be used for all vacuum cleaners, loudspeakers or tissues.

It would be a shame however if Nokia failed to grasp the opportunity to make phones for older people. The reputation for making mobiles easy to use, lingers. It’s something which dates back to the work Christian Lindholm  did in the 1990s. He pioneered Nokia’s Series 30 and Navi-key software. Internally it was castigated as being so easy to use it was called the “Bimbo phone”.

But Easy To Use is A Good Thing.

What Fuss Free Phones would like to see is a new Nokia take this spirit and build phones for people who struggle with technology. There are some experts in the field, chief among them Doro, but there is also Emporia and the Samsung phones built for the US company Jitterbug.  And there are lessons a new Nokia could take from all of them. To build on the mantra “Easy to see, easy to hear, easy to use”, would in the principals of inclusive design mean that phones which were optimised for older people would be better for everyone.

When Microsoft acquired big chunks of Nokia, it was always a bit strange that the deal included Feature phones, and not the HERE mapping division. Nokia in Finland subsequently sold HERE to a consortium of car companies. This new deal helps put things back to where they should have been.

Naturally Fuss Free Phones would want to see a big button on the back of the phone but there are a lot of much more subtle things which would make a phone even simpler. A clam with deeply dished buttons which stood proud when the clam was open, good use of colour and extra large speakers and microphones would all help.

Previously Nokia has shied away from the oldsters market: scared that a fuddy duddy impression would tarnish the cool youth image which brought us such hits as the Nokia N-gage.

Hopefully an older and wiser Nokia will understand that there is a huge market for older and wiser customers and we’ll see a Fuss Free Nokia in the future.

Ofcom issues advice on Nuisance calls

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Even stopping nuisance calls can be a nuisance. In a new video Ofcom advises four courses of action. The UK’s telco regulator says that if you want to reduce your nuisance calls you should check the opt-in clauses from any marketing you are subject to be they online or people in the street. You should also register for the Telephone Preference Service, speak to your telco about blocking options and then when this fails complain about the callers to ICO and Ofcom.

We followed Ofcom’s advice and spoke to Three about its services for blocking nuisance calls. Three’s advice was to use a smartphone feature to block individual numbers, to report individual numbers to them and if they were premium rate they would investigate (but not block them) and to register with the telephone preference  service. Ultimately Three won’t block nuisance calls and told us that no telephone company will do that. Well, Fuss Free Phones will.

The problem with Ofcom and Three recommending the Telephone Preference Service is that there are too many loopholes. Companies are only prohibited from calling you if they are trying to sell you something directly. So a company can “survey” you, and ask something like “do you think you are paying too much for Gas and Electricity”. When you say “Yes”, that is counted as expressing an interest. The call centre can then sell your details as an opt-in customer to another company which sells gas and electricity services. So you get not one nuisance call but two.

And even without this loophole, the Telephone Preference Service only has jurisdiction in the UK. So overseas companies, using cheap internet telephony, can call as much as they like, impervious to the UK regulations.

Naturally the best solution is Fuss Free Phones’ no-nuisance call service. Ofcom warns that telcos may charge for their call blocking service but with Fuss Free Phones, “free” is our middle name and we don’t charge for our No Nuisance Calls.

We did however hear of one, now sadly defunct, idea which we rather liked. A friend of Fuss Free Phones used to have a premium rate 07050 number. Given the mess that surrounds UK numbering this looks to the un-initiated like a mobile number. So the friend would court nuisance callers give them his “mobile” number and then earn money from the nuisance calls.

As much fun as it might be to scam the scammers, Fuss Free Phones has a simpler course of action than Ofcoms’ plan to reduce nuisance calls. Just press the button on the back of the phone, speak to a friendly telephonist and say “I don’t want any nuisance calls”. And that’s it. No TPS, no complicated settings on your phone, no call blockers or having to complain. And unlike any other service you can be sure that the people who you do need to speak to can always get through.

Technology can ease care home burdens

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Research rollerskating-grannyby the BBC’s You and Yours programme has revealed that over a quarter of care homes in the UK have crippling debt. They are in danger of going bust in the next three years. This is the result of an increase in the living wage, greater demands on care homes and reduced payments from local councils.


It’s a problem which is only going to get worse. Every year the population of people over 85 increases by 90,000. In many respects this is good thing. Not only are people living longer they are healthier and happier at older ages. The idea of “four score years and ten” being a full lifetime has gone the way of men wearing top hats.


People in their seventies and eighties are now much more active than the stereotypical picture of the old couple in bath chairs. A quick google of “granny” and “zipwire” produces some impressive results. But age brings with it a decline in eyesight. Your acuity is greatest at the age of 12, from then on it’s downhill. And your hearing and dexterity also start to wane. In time age catches up with everyone.


We are happiest living in our own homes so what happens when we can’t cope? The move into assisted living and or a care home is a big step. It’s one which everyone is loath to take, not only is it an admission of not being able to support ourselves it’s crushingly expensive. That’s why, as the You & Yours investigation has found, care homes are finding it hard to make ends meet. Care home prices are going to rise and it’s a scary cost both for the state and for individuals who will see all their savings rapidly eaten away. The cost of care is means-tested which sees those who have been careful with their finances feeling punished for their prudence.


It’s far better for older people to live in their own homes for longer. A little help coming in regularly can be both a relief and a source of company, but it’s technology which can allow people to live in their own homes for longer in the most cost-effective way.


Technology is a scary word for many people. If you were born before television was common, the new models of tapping, swiping and clicking are completely alien. It’s hard for those of us brought up with computers and internet to understand how much we take for granted.


For instance look at a shirt next time you do laundry. You may see a triangle on it. What does that mean? It’s actually a symbol which means it’s okay to use bleach. But how is anyone to be expected to know that? Now extrapolate that to a technology world. Why should a circle with a line through it mean on or off? Why should an arrow to the right mean play in an age where there is no tape going round. Most children today have never seen a floppy disk yet Microsoft Word retains that as the save icon.


Technology is just becoming more confusing. So seeing it as the panacea for the crisis in the care community is, on the face of it a mistake.


But dig deeper and properly understand how older people relate to technology and it can be made to fit. This is of course the tack Fuss Free Phones takes, making mobile easy for people who don’t want the hassle of learning how to use technology. But we are not alone. The company Alcove looks at how to put smart technology in homes in a caring way. The department of engineering at the University of Cambridge is also doing a lot of work on making technology less scary and frustrating.


Technology might help reduce costs in care homes, but it has a much more relevant application in allowing people to live independent lives for longer and Fuss Free Phones is very proud to be part of that.


Vodafone follows Fuss Free with 30 Day guarantee

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Vodafone has today announced that it will allow customers to cancel a new contract within 30 days and receive a full refund. Here at Fuss Free Phones we are a little surprised that they think this is so special. We’ve been doing exactly the same thing since we started.


Fuss Free Phones understands that sometimes people need a little more time. Customers might want a friend or relative to come round and help them with their new phone. Indeed research at Loughborough University  found that having someone over for tea, biscuits and to get a new phone going is a fun thing to do.


We also feel that our pride has been a little dented.  Vodafone says “We’re the only network that lets you try us out – our Vodafone 30-Day Network Guarantee gives you the freedom to experience the strength and quality of our network before you commit.”.

Hey! What about us, we are a mobile network too. And there is another thing missing: service isn’t just about mobile network coverage. It’s about how well the whole service works. Fuss Free Phones uses the O2 network which has 95% coverage of the UK population and while the mobile networks all give statistics from surveys measured in different ways to show that they are the best, the truth is that in some places one network will be better than others and in others they share tower sites so they are all exactly the same. No network is uniformly better than another but that doesn’t matter. What matters is how well it works for you. Both Fuss Free Phones and Vodafone offering 30 days is a good way to test this. But it’s also important to understand that the handset plays a big part in how well the service works.


Fuss Free Phones uses Doro phones which because they are not smartphones have more space inside for the antenna, power amplifier and other radio parts. This means that even if the signal isn’t as strong a Doro phone might well out-perform an Apple or Android phone. The Vodafone Guarantee doesn’t explain this.


And even beyond the coverage there is an aspect of service which is completely missing: what it’s like when you have a problem and call for help. Vodafone will greet you with a message saying “please enter your mobile number so that we can direct you to the right department”. Fuss Free Phones puts you straight through to a person who sees your number on the screen of their phone. We answer 80% of calls within 20 seconds. Most calls are answered immediately. There were more complaints to Ofcom about Vodafone in last three months of 2015 than TOTAL for all other major mobile providers combined.

So yes, matching Fuss Free Phones’ 30 Days is a nice try but you will have to go some to beat our service.