• January 1, 2007
  • By Coreen Bailor, (former) Associate Editor, CRM Magazine

The Contact Center Ads Up

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Several savvy companies in the multibillion-dollar directory assistance market have recently turned it on its ear by applying online advertising methods. Similar to the way ads are generated by Google's free search engine, some directory assistance companies provide callers with free 411 services after they listen to vendor advertisements. For example, a caller who phones a free 411 service to get the number for a local movie theater may hear a seconds-long ad for a nearby restaurant before the phone number is stated. Callers can simply follow the prompts to connect to the advertiser to hear more information about the advertised service or product. The move to ad-supported directory assistance services comes at the behest of marketers struggling to deliver their messages to consumers over traditional channels. "Now that the 30-second spot is being challenged by...technology allowing you to skip commercials, what do you do?" asks Maribel Lopez, a vice president and principal analyst at Forester Research. "[The question form marketers] is, which channels am I going to have a chance of reaching the consumer with and can I make it more relevant?" Some consumers are clearly willing to listen to the ads if it means retrieving a number for free. For instance, Jingle Networks, which introduced its free 411 services in September 2005, processed 85 million calls in its first 12 months and processes about 3 percent of U.S. directory assistance calls. Despite the success of free 411 services like Jingle's 1-800-FREE411, 1-800-411-SAVE, and inFreeDA's 1-800-411-METRO, there are caveats to consider. Some of these services face criticism about search-result accuracy and ad relevancy. "It's not just the speech technology, it's the speech technology being able to access the data in enterprise applications better than it has before," says Sheila McGee-Smith, president and principal analyst at McGee-Smith Analytics. What's more, these service providers don't offer a way to skip ads--they can make their services free largely because of the advertising dollars they generate. But enterprises "need to allow the customer to opt out, because you're going to lose the customer and that's worse than making an extra quarter or 50 cents" on a call, says Randy Haldeman, vice president of marketing at mobile advertising, search, and commerce technologies provider Apptera. Voice ads work best "when you can do it where it fits in with what the consumer is looking for--when it doesn't hinder the call, doesn't upset users, and it offers something that they're likely to be interested in." There is a huge market opportunity for enterprises to implement voice ads into their call centers, not only to advertise, cross-, and upsell their own products, but also to realize ROI from outside advertisers. Firms looking to bring this service into their contact centers may want to look into two of McGee-Smith's suggestions: Companies can tailor the experience using caller ID functionality to target the offer based on geography, and can test this approach using contact center technology customers may already have in place, such as survey applications or modules. "Do the testing, because there's a high probability of upsetting a customer if it's not done well."
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