Manage Customer Calls: Save Time, Make $$

By Christopher Saunders
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Customers — you can't make a living without them, but sometimes handling all the calls they generate makes it hard to find time for the countless other tasks a small business owner needs to attend to. Fortunately, thinkingVOICE has a solution to speed up the process and make phone support economical for online small businesses.

The company's hosted CallActivator service lets the shoppers that visit your Web site click a link to initiate a text chat or a phone call with you, the storeowner (or your customer service rep). You can customize the link and then embed it on your site, on an eBay listing, in a Google ad or in an HTML e-mail.

How it Works
Once a shopper clicks the "click to call" link, thinkingVOICE's service presents the customer with a branded pop-up form in which they enter their name, topic of inquiry and other data. CallActivator then alerts you with a pop-up message on your PC, displaying this information and allowing you to take the call, send it to chat or defer it altogether. If you defer it — or if you're away from your computer — your customer can leave an e-mail message. If you accept, then CallActivator calls you, and then dials the customer.

ThinkingVOICE Chief Executive DC Cullinane says he got the idea of a service that intelligently connects buyers and sellers after several lengthy phone conversations with merchants while shopping on eBay.

"I spent anywhere from eight to 12 minutes on the phone with these sellers," Cullinane says. "It's a very dysfunctional customer service experience. I felt there was a better way to facilitate the communication between a small and medium business that sells a product, and a customer who is looking for information."

Telephone Triage
Cullinane says CallActivator is primarily designed to save time by helping merchants field calls faster using the service than they can use the phone. For one thing, SMB owners who miss calls no longer need to spend precious minutes listening to voice-mails, and potentially then initiating a second phone call to address a customer's question. Instead, missed customer inquiries get sent to the merchant via e-mail, complete with the custoemr's e-mail address and other information.

"When we were piloting the program, we heard from people who were spending up to an hour responding to voice-mail — that's an hour of wasted time listening to voice-mail messages," Cullinane says. "Automating that whole daily ritual related to selling online — that's the goal."

CallActivator also helps merchants prioritize incoming inquiries — letting a time-pressed owner decide whether to take a quick call from a potentially important customer or whether to defer a potentially lengthy question by sending it to e-mail.

Additionally, knowing the nature of a seller's request before taking a call can help merchants provide an answer — and get off the phone sooner.

"We found folks were spending anywhere from nine to 12 minutes on the phone with customers," Cullinane says. "Using our technology, they compressed it down to less than three minutes to a call. It facilitates a more rapid interaction between customers and sellers."

"These are the kinds of services that have been available to larger call centers and retailers and merchants who have been selling online — and obviously they come with a very large price tag and very large technical integration," he adds. "We've tried to bring this service to the mainstream."

Cullinane also says that future versions of CallActivator will add additional features that further simplify communication between buyers and sellers — such as page-push, a feature that directs shoppers' browsers to particular products during chat sessions and co-browsing.

ThinkingVOICE's CallActivator costs $4.95 per month (or $49.50 annually) in addition to a 10 cents-per-minute usage fee during calls. The service is available with a free, two-month trial, with 50 minutes of call time — which does not ship with the pop-up application, however, so calls are initiated without delivering incoming callers' information.

Adapted from ECommerce-Guide.com, part of internet.com's Small Business Channel.

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This article was originally published on May 24, 2004
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