Succeeding in business would be easy if it weren't for those darn customers. It's hard enough just figuring out who and where they are, and what's the best way to reach them. Once you have customers, taking care of them is a full-time job. It's not just the time you spend answering calls and formulating responses, but it's also the time you spend finding out what it is a customer wants and who on your team can best deal with it.
You need a way to effectively manage those interactions, as well as the marketing and advertising promotions that bring those customers in the door.
A modern call center, with interactive voice response systems to classify and route calls, is the ideal answer, but it's too expensive for most entrepreneurial small businesses. Where can you find an alternative? In the clouds, of course.
Ifbyphone, based in Skokie, Ill., recognized that for the call-center model to work for small business, it needed to be yanked out of the costly physical realm and moved to a more virtual realm as a cloud service. The company is a VoIP service provider that's really more of a virtual call-center enabler.
"We automate telephony to manage outgoing and incoming customer calls," says Ifbyphone CEO Irv Shapiro. "And we provide applications that work over any phone."
Among Ifbyphone's apps: Hosted IVR can route calls based on customer responses to queries, but businesses can also construct the menus to help qualify new sales leads. Call Distributor creates virtual call-center transfers allowing employees to answer customer calls from any phone. Call Tracking enables businesses to track the success of specific ad campaigns through dynamically deployed phone numbers allocated to each campaign. The tracking feature also integrates with Google Analytics.
There are numerous other offerings, all software based and in use by companies such as ClickFuel, an Internet marketing firm in Boston that uses Call Tracking.
"Small businesses spend a lot of money on advertising, but the majority of them don't know where their leads come from," Shapiro says. "ClickFuel uses virtual phone numbers in customer promotions so you can track how an ad performed."
Most existing IVR systems don't have that flexibility, Shapiro adds. "The majority of traditional IVR systems are expensive and not self-serve--you can't change anything. You can't integrate with Google. We're making call-center telephony web-based, like everything else."
Dan O'Shea is a Chicago-based writer who has been covering telecom, mobile and other high-tech topics for nearly 20 years.