Last Updated Jun 19, 2007 7:22 PM EDT
When the need strikes, customers must be able to contact your company quickly and easily. With the support of the right telecommunication services, you can maximize every opportunity to meet and exceed your customers' expectations. There are a variety of service options available—from toll-free numbers to local, national, and premium rate services. It's important to weigh these options against your company objectives and customer needs.
Start by considering your marketing and customer service objectives and identifying your priorities. Then you can match the appropriate telecom service option to the objective. To encourage more customer contact, a toll-free number service would be most appropriate. To generate revenue from high-value services, choose a premium rate service.
The information on your telephone bills provides a useful starting point. Your telephone service provider may be able to supply reports detailing the locations from which the calls to your lines originate. If, for instance, you receive a high number of calls from a region where you ran advertisements featuring a toll-free number, you can conclude that this was an effective campaign. Detailed analysis will enable you to evaluate different strategies.
Loyal or high-spending customers might be rewarded with privileged telecom options not available to others, such as a toll-free order or inquiry line. Some companies, such as passenger airlines, offer top-tier customers a separate call-in line that promises faster response. An alternative to using many different toll-free numbers is to issue a call charge card. The customer enters a code before or after the main number and the cost of the call is billed back to your company.
When customers want to learn more about your products, place orders, request support, or respond to marketing campaigns, they must be able to quickly and easily contact your company. If they are unsuccessful in reaching you, they may call your competitor instead. By implementing the appropriate telecom services, you can maximize every customer contact opportunity, meeting and exceeding your customers' expectations.
There are a variety of telecom service options, from toll-free numbers to local, national, and premium rate services. The best choice depends on your objective. Toll-free calls invite customer contact, while subsidized calls encourage a more selective response. Alternatively, some businesses earn revenue from customers' calls. See the considerations for these various options below:
- Toll-free numbers: a more costly option for the company, appropriate for attracting customers and building business.
- Local rate: low-cost access for customers, company operating costs are reduced.
- National rate: customers pay the cost of the calls, appropriate for a more valuable service.
- Premium rate: for a service which is highly valued, customers pay a premium rate and the company earns revenue from each call.
While toll-free telephone numbers are a more costly telecom service option for companies, they can bring a number of important benefits. Toll-free numbers encourage a high level of customer contact and provide an instant national presence—helpful when trying to build business quickly. A toll-free number also offers customers reassurance that they are dealing with a reputable organization that values their business. Mobile and remote staff can also use toll-free numbers to call your offices, reducing reimbursable employee expenses.
International toll-free numbers extend these benefits to international customers or staff. They can help to build a presence and generate sales in overseas markets without the expense of setting up local operations. Additionally, traveling staff can avoid the high costs of international calls from hotel or mobile telephones.
An electronics components company has 13 regional offices across the country, with a centralized warehouse. Originally, customers called a local number to place orders and the regional office redirected the call to the central warehouse for fulfillment. This process was both time-consuming and costly. Using a new toll-free number that terminates at a centralized call center, the company now advertises a single number nationwide. Wherever they are located, customers now call directly into the centralized call center, saving both time and money. Customer materials and advertising campaigns no longer need to be localized with regional contact information. A single national number also gives the company greater credibility, clearly positioning it as a nationwide operation. Calls have increased and customers are happy with the new system.
Before implementing toll-free numbers, consider your objectives and evaluate the cost-benefit trade-offs. Potential uses of toll-free numbers may include:
- generating sales leads at low cost by including a response mechanism in marketing communications;
- building a national or international presence in your market;
- establishing new channels by selling products and services to callers over the phone;
- providing key customers easy access to services and support;
- reducing the telecom costs for field, remote, and traveling employees.
A local rate number makes it inexpensive for customers to use your services, but deters casual callers who cost you money. In this case, the company essentially subsidizes customer calls. National rate calls save the company more money. If a service is valuable, customers will pay normal national rates. This approach creates a national presence, giving customers a single number to call your business nationwide. You pay nothing for customer calls.
A major retailer set up a loyalty card scheme. With the objective of building a customer base, the company established toll-free numbers for promotional response mechanisms. However, it established a local rate number for the membership helpline. This approach discouraged casual callers and allowed the company to offer a high standard of customer service while reducing running costs.
In many industries, customers expect to be able to contact customer support toll-free. In some cases, however, companies can get by with local or national rate service for customer support. These approaches help reduce the costs of providing customer service, and are helpful when support resources are limited. A chargeable service filters out casual callers and improves service quality and productivity. It can be appropriate for low-value or low-margin products which necessitate minimized support costs. Local rate calls are ideal for services such as 24-hour customer care, advice hotlines and subscription payments. National rate calls may be suitable for services with a strong demand, such as bookings, entertainment, travel, or information services.
Some telecom services are so highly valued, customers are willing to pay a premium for them. In this case, establishing a premium rate line for accessing the service is a profitable choice. With a premium rate line, expertise and information can be sold over the phone, with national reach. In this model, the company receives a percentage payback of the cost of the call, which hopefully covers operating costs and generates revenue. Call income might be reinvested in quality of service, creating an opportunity to generate additional revenue and profit.
A television company operates a number of information lines for viewers at a premium rate. To maximize revenue, the company adjusts the call rate that customers pay to reflect the value of the service, the forecast call volume, and the time of day. Telephone applicants to a popular game show pay the highest rate, while calls to a chat line based on a daytime show are charged at a lower rate. The calls result in a substantial revenue stream for the company, which helps to cover operating costs and also funds the prize money for the game show.
Premium rate services are not a viable option for every company in every market. This approach can be successful when there is strong demand for a valuable information service which is differentiated by quality or content. Obviously, customers must be willing to pay a premium for direct access to the service or information. Premium rates are particularly suitable for high-value services such as advice lines, telephone voting, competitions, and other entertainment and information lines.
When using a premium rate line, you must clearly communicate call charges to customers. Include, for example, a message at the beginning of the call that states the cost per minute, the average call duration, and/or the current hold time. Numerous examples of abuse exist, where customers are charged substantial per-minute fees for lengthy recorded messages. Clarifying your call charges and quickly delivering the information or service will help to enhance your reputation for customer service.
Typically, customers will pay for information they deem valuable, but the quality and value of the service must be maintained. With the availability of information on the Internet, often at no cost, your service must be differentiated. Customers will not pay a premium rate for a low-value service. Check other information sources and see how your service compares.
Toll-free numbers are ideal for attracting new business or generating sales leads in response to advertisements. However, continuously evaluate which services your company should offer toll-free, and which should carry normal or premium rate charges. Sales inquiries and support or service requests, for example, might remain as toll-free calls, while calls for other information might eventually move to a charged service. Consider offering toll-free numbers to selected customers, as a reward for their continued loyalty.
The Call Center Learning Center: www.call-center.net