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Click-to-call Technology Targets Real Estate Market
More than just the facts, ma'am.
For the rest of the December 2001 issue of CRM magazine please click here
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Michael Markette, president and CEO of Callbutton of Richardson, Texas is ready to bet that your business will pay a token tribute for a technology that can convert a casual Web visitor into a hot sales lead for a disparate sales operation.

The company's namesake product (also marketed through sister firm Salesbutton) is an outsourced service that collects name and phone number details from an interested online customer. Using the routing rules specified by its business clients, Callbutton then makes an outgoing call to the designated sales representative to inform her of the inquiry. If the agent is available, Callbutton initiates a conference call to the prospect and links the two.

Although click-to-call technology is nothing new, Callbutton presents its call routing capabilities as an ideal solution for a business with a highly mobile, largely autonomous sales force and products that do not lend themselves to impulse online buys. Markette says that affiliate Salesbutton is actively pursuing the real estate market as the perfect prototype for his company's vision. "Typically in real estate, agents are responsible for their own [selling] tools," he says, which has limited their ability to take advantage of highly integrated CRM and e-commerce environments. "There's a long buying cycle and Realtors are almost never in the office, so we connect them instantly by handing off the [online] sales lead to field sales personnel."

In addition to attempting the conference bridge with the agent, Callbutton can bounce a customer to a secondary sales team (in case the primary contact is busy) and can feed the formatted customer profile data volunteered by the prospect into a client's CRM database.

Callbutton's hosted service for a lone sales representative starts at $15 per month with per-minute connection rates of 20 cents, plus setup and per-call fees. While the outsourced approach presents a very low barrier of entry for small firms with little or no sophisticated Web back end or call center integration, Forrester Reseach analyst James Crawford isn't convinced that ease of deployment will make click-to-call more viable. "It's never really provided anything compelling [for consumers] unless they're using two phone lines or broadband," he says. "A lot of people are just not able to use the system, so the solution is to look into Voice-over Internet Protocol and give people the ability to talk into the computer, and that's not going anywhere either."

Crawford cautions companies to consider carefully the real reasons they may need to move customers from Web to phone interactions. "The concept is often used by retailers as a cheap fix for a bad Web site. It covers up for more fundamental problems where the site is not providing the way customers are looking for information," he says.

Markette counters that in the targeted niches for his product, moving the customer off the Web channel is a necessity. "Nobody's going to buy a house online--the whole purpose [of the Web site] is to generate the lead." Crawford says that since the customer is not likely to make a purchase after a short phone chat with an agent either, the difference between a Web-to-phone link and a stand-alone toll-free number is minimized.

While technologies such as Callbutton can help ease the transition between Web commerce and traditional transaction modes (for both customers and employees), whiz-bang contact technology can't substitute for an appealing online experience. "The
reasons why people are going offline to buy don't always relate to a fear of technology that can be solved with a technological solution," Crawford says.

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