By Frank D’Ascenzo
[Part I of this series was in the May 2000 issue of Connections Magazine.]
2. Adding Internet Unified Messaging Services.
A. Internet Unified Messaging. Internet unified messaging is a relatively new Net-service that directs voice, fax, and email messages to a single place for easy management–your email in-box. You can, for example, log on the Internet to check your voice, fax and email messages. Or you can call a toll-free number to receive and reply to your emails and voice mails, and to hear about the faxes waiting for you.
Several Net companies are offering unified messaging services. The more popular are: eFax.com, jfax.com, onebox.com, and uReach.com. These services are very similar in concept and features in that they: are all aimed at the individual client; all provide a telephone number for the client to use; and all deliver fax and voice messages to a client’s email address for free.
B. Use It to Your Advantage. You can use one of these Internet unified messaging service providers to offer email message delivery to any telephone answering service (TAS) client. This is something you can offer to current and prospective clients right now, without adding any special equipment or purchasing any special software. These are free-to-you services you can use for your income-producing advantage.
Making use of one of these services is relatively simple. It assumes that your TAS system is equipped either with an internal form of automatic fax message dispatch, or an external FMDS system. In either case, all you to do is:
- Have your customer subscribe to one of the Internet unified messaging services and obtain a “fax-to” telephone number. We recommend selecting the same service for all clients to use, so you are completely familiar with the features of that service. Depending on location, your client will either be given a local or long distance telephone number to use for their fax messages. If you wish to exercise more control over the subscription process, you can handle the sign-up process for the client. Just make sure you are familiar with the required information by going through the process yourself.
- Using your client’s assigned telephone number, program it into your TAS system’s fax message dispatch system.
- Then, when you “fax” messages to your client (to the programmed number), they will be converted into email messages by the Internet unified messaging service provider and deposited into the client’s email inbox.
NOTE: Remember, the client might be given a long-distance number, so make sure you either cover this cost in your pricing structure or limit the number of times each day you fax messages to the client. How you charge for this extra service is up to you. A one-time setup fee, plus an incremental charge on each delivered message, over and above your normal fax message delivery charge, is probably appropriate.
3. Adding Internet Telephony Services
A. Web Site Live-Answer. Providing live-answer service for websites is a new Internet revenue producing opportunity available to every TAS service center. It’s a service you can offer to your present customers that have a website, and to all prospective clients even though they are not regular messaging clients. Which means a whole range of new potential clients is open for your live answering service!
Providing live-answer service for a website involves the use of Internet telephony or voice over IP technology. An Internet telephony-enabled website means that a visitor to the website can “click on a button” and be connected, through the Internet and the public switched telephone network, to an agent at your TAS service.
B. Internet Telephony. In order for voice to be transmitted over the Internet, it must be properly configured for the journey. At the sending end, the voice message must be digitized and separated into packets. Each packet carries identification information that determines its destination and its order. The packets are carried over the Internet to their destination address and reassembled in the proper order for listening. It’s important to note that the final destination point might be another PC, or even a regular telephone. Which means that it’s possible to make a computer-to-computer call, or a computer-to-telephone call. For this two-way Internet voice connection to work, the website visitor’s PC must be equipped with a sound card, headset and microphone.
When a website visitor uses the service for the first time, they will be prompted to download a small software program. The program takes care of digitizing their voice and preparing it for Internet packet transmission–and reception, since we’re interested in two-way conversations.
While voice over IP quality isn’t quite equal to what we are accustomed to hearing over current direct line connections, it is good enough to enable intelligent communications. And, website visitors will be so pleased (or perhaps intrigued) with being able to reach a live person via their computers that any voice quality differences will be overlooked. In other words, they will make an allowance for the current state of the technology.
C. At Your End. Surprisingly–or perhaps amazingly–you do not need any special equipment or software to answer the VoIP call at your TAS end. All you need to do is: contact ConnixUP to arrange Internet telephony service for your Web-TAS account, provide a toll-free telephone number for the client’s website, and Set up the Web-TAS account on your system.
ConnixUP–ConnixUP is a Web services company that will arrange Internet telephony service for your Web-TAS client. ConnixUP interfaces with your client’s Web master to add the required HTML code and link to their website, or can perform the addition with their permission. Your client will be billed directly by ConnixUP for these services. The charge is $500 for one full year of Internet telephony service plus a $50 set-up charge.
Toll-free Number–You need to provide a toll-free number for the client’s Web-TAS account. This number is required to complete each Internet call, and must be available before ConnixUP can complete the Internet telephony service connection. In fact, this number becomes a part of the HTML code that will be inserted in the client’s website. A different toll-free number is required for each Web-TAS client.
Web-TAS Account Revenue–How much you charge for Web-TAS live-answer service is somewhat open. This is, after all, a relatively new service area. Incoming calls might be either short or long in duration, depending on the type of service requested by the client.
The number of calls you might expect to process will be directly related to the popularity of the client’s website. For most small businesses, the amount of Internet traffic to their website will be normally light–on the order of 100 to 500 visitors per month. If 10% of the website visitors opted to use the live answer feature, call volume would fall in the 10-to-50 calls per month range, which is certainly not a high-volume account.
Is this a cost-effective service for the client?
Let’s assume an average of 30 Web-TAS calls per month, or 360 per year. Further assume you charge $75 base per month plus $2 per call. That’s $1,620 for your services, plus $550 for one year of Internet telephony service (paid to ConnixUP), or a total of $2,170 per year. Divide that by the 360 calls for an average lead/prospect cost of only $6.03. Any business should be pleased to pay only $6 for a prospect lead.
4. Using Internet Business Assistance Services.
In addition to the previous revenue-producing potentials, there are a number of business assistance services now available on the Internet that you might want to consider for your own use or to suggest to your clients. Here are several examples you might find of value.
A. The United States Post Office Goes Net. At least three companies offer postage services on the Internet. They are: E-Stamp Corporation and their e-stamp.com service, Pitney Bowes’; ClickStamp Online clickstamp.pb.com service; and Neopost Corporation’s pcstamp.com service. These services simplify the task of purchasing and using postage by printing “stamps” and address labels complete with USPS delivery point barcode, return address, and even special graphics or promotional copy. All this happens in your office, right from your PC.
B. Business Support Services. DigitalWork and b2bNow are two dot-com business support sites on the Internet. The services they offer include marketing, direct mail, public relations, and sales assistance. They offer discounts from affiliates, free information, and access to numerous other business-oriented sites via links from their website. Can you make use of their services? You’ll never know unless you take a look. Where else can you get business assistance for little, or no cost? It’s available on the Internet, and well worth the look.
C. Internet Call Identification Services. Internet Call Manager is a caller ID service for your computer. It lets you see who’s calling on your PC modem line while you’re browsing the Web. You can respond with a “You call me back” or “I’ll call you back” message, route the caller to voice mail, or you can ignore the call; all for less than $5 per month including the voice mail service.
D. Ping Alerts. Here’s a reminder service for everyone. iPing Corporation is offering multi-reminder service products under the names: Mr. Wakeup, Ms. Reminder, Mr. Notify, Ms. Followup, Dr. Dose, and Mr. Dollar. Presently, these services are all free as iPing refines their technology. Eventually they may carry a fee structure of some kind. The important point is that these are reminder services that you might use to your business advantage wherever you travel.
E. Affiliate Programs. By the way, business assistance services, and other Internet companies, are a potential source of additional revenues. Many Internet companies offer revenue sharing opportunities through affiliate programs. The concept is as simple as including some promotional text on your website and a link leading to the Internet companies website. When a visitor on your site uses the link to visit “their” site, and then purchases a product or service from them, you can earn a fee or commission. There is a number of affiliation programs available, some of which will be appropriate for your website. But, you must have a website to participate.
[From Connection Magazine – July 2000]