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Palm Beach Post Clicks With Online Classifieds Features

To illustrate its value to subscribers and advertisers, The Palm Beach Post has expanded its use of click-to-call technology by connecting online classifieds buyers with sellers.

The daily newspaper, which reaches nearly 700,000 readers weekly in Florida's Palm Beach, Martin and South St. Lucie counties, began work with click-to-call technology provider eStara, Reston, VA, two years ago to create a function for www.palmbeachpost.com that lets customers click an icon to connect immediately with a service representative via e-mail or telephone.

Last summer, the West Palm Beach, FL, newspaper quietly began the second phase of its customer service initiative with its “Talk to Seller” feature. It helps buyers reach sellers and gives credit for the sales lead to The Palm Beach Post. When customers click on the Talk to Seller icon that appears in nearly 28,000 ads, a pop-up box appears in which the individual can enter his telephone number and be connected to the seller when convenient, such as immediately or in five minutes.

“It's that instant gratification that people want today that really excites folks,” said Dan Shorter, general manager of PalmBeachPost.com.

Adding Talk to Seller to its online ad program involved integrating the system into four publications, two languages and vendors across all its classifieds categories (from jobs to real estate to autos). The feature is available in The Palm Beach Post, Palm Beach Daily News, Florida Pennysaver and its Spanish-language newspaper, La Palma. In the jobs section, it's branded as Talk to Recruiter.

While it helps begin a relationship between a buyer and a seller, Talk to Seller also has strengthened the bond between the newspaper and its advertisers.

“When the seller picks up the phone, it will say 'Another lead from The Palm Beach Post' or 'A lead from the Florida Pennysaver,'” Shorter said. “Newspapers are always struggling to get our [advertising] customers to understand the leads we send them and how important we are to their business.”

Talk to Seller demonstrates this return on investment to The Palm Beach Post's advertisers.

“Just being able to create connectivity between the buyer and the seller — that's worth it,” Shorter said. “But to nail it with some branding and some validation of our part in the sales process — that really puts it over the top.”

Advertisers have no extra work to include a Talk to Seller icon in their ad. However, “you do need consistency in the way phone numbers are displayed,” Shorter said. Advertisers are urged to put traditional hyphens in their phone numbers instead of more creative graphic images.

The Talk to Seller feature carries no additional charge to an ad, and no plans exist to make it a paid service.

“We think we need to invest in our business,” Shorter said. “We make a nice margin, especially in our online business. And we've got people like craigslist and eBay and Google trying to steal our business. They have a lot of cool tools, and we think of eStara as just one example of tools we need to add. We thought we needed a few services to show [advertisers] that their local newspaper had some nice functionality, too.”

Customers appear to appreciate the functionality as well. Shorter said site visitors increasingly have used Talk to Seller since it launched even though the newspaper hasn't actively promoted the service. Shorter said he could not attribute an increase in online ad revenue directly to the feature, though revenue rose 50 percent last year and exceeded budget by $4.3 million. An increase of $6 million to $8 million is projected for this year.

“I know [Talk to Seller] has helped some sales close, but there's no definitive way to know,” he said. “We're in the media business. We put people together, but we have no idea how many of them consummate the deal.”

Regardless, the newspaper realizes the importance of providing such technological offerings.

“[Customers] expect these services,” Shorter said. “We look like dinosaurs if we don't offer the kinds of services our competitors do. On the Web, they want instant gratification. It's all about saving time and money — or making money.”

The next phase in PalmBeachPost.com's customer service initiative will include adding a chat feature, which also will use eStara's technology. The chat option is to launch in a few months.

“It's one more layer of connectivity,” he said. “It's one thing to say you'll answer a phone call or get back to a message left for you. If you say you're going to chat, you had better be available.”

Marji McClure covers CRM and analytics for DM News and DMNews.com. To keep up with the latest developments in these areas, subscribe to our daily and weekly e-mail newsletters by visiting www.dmnews.com/newsletters

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