USATalks' Campaign Promotes Low-Cost Intranet Phone Service
"It's the way telecom companies have traditionally sold their wares," said Allen J. Portnoy, USATalks' chairman/CEO, of telemarketing. "It's the most effective cents-per-minute sales tool. We don't have a problem with their method, we just have a different product"
The company's phone service involves voice transmission over an Intranet - a private Internet - built by USATalks. Because an Intranet-based network involves compressing and decompressing speech, it is substantially cheaper than phone networks using regular switches, Portnoy said.
While other companies have tried to build phone service that runs over the regular Internet, the quality has suffered because of the volume of data their services compete with. USATalk's private Intranet-based network uses technology geared more toward voice compression than data compression, and, as a private network, it is expected to face less congestion hampering its quality, according to Portnoy.
The service launched in 200 cities, representing more than half of the United States population, at the end of July. It had been beta tested in California prior to launch. The company expects to launch in 300 to 350 cities by October, representing 60 to 65 percent of the population.
Customers using the Intranet-based network can only initiate calls in cities where USATalks has launched, but customers in those cities can place calls to anywhere in the country -- including locations where the service is not offered.
Outbound telemarketing programs promoting the service have begun in 30 to 40 of the largest markets that USATalks serves. Inbound telemarketing will begin in a few weeks in support of upcoming advertising campaigns.
Telemarketers must explain to prospective customers the nature of the service, as well as the fact that to access it, a seven-digit phone number must be dialed prior to making the call.
Neither quality concerns nor concerns over the inconvenience of dialing a seven-digit number have been voiced by prospective customers using the service, according to the company. Instead, the feature that has been most challenging to communicate has been the pricing, a flat monthly fee ranging from $25 to $90, depending on the type of service.
"There has been no resistance to the idea of dialing a seven-digit access number. The biggest thing they have trouble grasping is the idea of a flat rate per month. They keep saying 'flat rate per minute?'" said Portnoy. "We have to explain, 'No, it's per month.' It's so new, as far as we know there isn't anyone else doing it. It's a different way of paying for calls."
Most customers are not aware of the history of VOIP, Voice Over Internet Protocol, and therefore do not have to be convinced that quality problems have been resolved, Portnoy said.
Outbound and inbound telemarketing companies such as Gage Marketing Group, Minneapolis, MN, and Telemarketing Concepts, Yorktown Heights, NY, as well as national affinity groups such as Ameriplan, Dallas, have entered into agreements with the company, and additional contracts with other teleservices providers are pending.
The company expects to soon have upward of 300 agents at three or four call centers working on launches around the country.
The marketing campaign is initially targeting consumers, but will eventually target business-to-business customers as well. Agents will be trained to work with consumer and business prospects. The company is targeting people who spend more than $20 a month, because those are the consumers for whom the service would be most beneficial.
The company's flat monthly fee was created based on market research conducted about a year ago in which consumers indicated this was one of the features they most wanted.
"The phone bill is the one bill where you don't know what's in it until you open it. In one month it could be $20 and another it could be $120," said Portnoy. "Customers overwhelmingly said they want to know what their bill would be every month in advance."