A new Internet phone service that uses ordinary phone lines is routing about 1,000 inbound calls per week to Computer Support Technologies (CST), a computer software and technical-support company based in Ann Arbor, MI.
The system, created by NetCall Telecom Inc., Denver, mimics an 800 number by allowing Internet users to click a call-me button on Web-page ads-in what amounts to a new form of direct response advertising.
CST sells software for managing telephone technical-support help lines for businesses with Web pages.
NetCall’s call-server is activated when someone clicks a call-me button on an interactive ad on its Web site. NetCall phones whoever clicks, while simultaneously making a second outbound call to the advertiser.
“NetCall converts two outbound calls in a flash hook (like a conference call) to connect to one inbound call,” says CST president John White.
Anyone who clicks a call-me button immediately sees a screen pop up on their computer asking them to enter a phone number, where they can be reached if they want to be connected to a live phone rep. The screen prompts persons to specify if they wish to be called immediately, within five, 10, 15 minutes or an hour later.
Although CST uses new media to advertise on the Internet, the company relies heavily on direct mail promotions to generate traffic for its Web site. Additional information about CST’s product and services is available to online inquirers who click its call-me button.
For CST, direct mail is the most targeted way to generate Website traffic because there are only 5,000 companies in the marketplace that White wants to target, whereas anyone in 250 nations is capable of accessing its Web site and requesting information.
Banners add value No banner ad publisher currently offer targeting capability as precise as direct mail, but banner ads are still valuable because they increase the number of advertising impressions a potential customer may see, White says.
CST uses seminar and trade publication lists for mailings and outbound telemarketing. “We use the old-fashioned way to generate call-me button response, direct mail followed by an outbound call, followed by more direct mail, followed by another outbound call,” White says.
CST also generates Web site traffic with print ads in computer industry trade magazines, as well as advertising in online trade publications such as Real Market and the daily online version of the San Jose Mercury News.
The company’s Web site promotes its “Rescue” software by offering an online demonstration of how call-me buttons work, essentially routing inquiries to its own phone reps. “We have a rather unique situation because our technical support people can actually sell our product,” White says.
Data is easily tracked White says all kinds of demographic information and Internet use data can automatically be tracked by requiring callers to fill out electronic forms or questionnaires to activate call-me buttons. As the data is e-mailed back to advertisers, electronic “cookies” can be planted inside the customer’s computer memories to continuously track whatever they do, he says.
For the time being, two phone lines are necessary to activate call-me buttons on advertising, one for a modem transmitting data and one for speaking with a phone rep.
Within two years, more advanced telephony will make it possible to respond to interactive ads using a single line connected to a computer with a speaker phone, according to Michael Henderson, national reseller manager at NetCall.
Internet long-distance calls represent a rapidly growing, yet largely untapped market for direct marketing. Consumers and businesses already spend 50 million to 60 million minutes per month making long-distance Internet telephone calls, Henderson says.
Each call-me button link can process 999 concurrent calls for as many as nine separate phone numbers. NetCall phone calls cost about 18 cents per minute, slightly more than what it costs to receive an 800 number call, he says.
If NetCall receives a busy signal when calling the person who requested a call, an e-mail is automatically generated and forwarded to the advertiser with whatever information was gathered online when the initial request was made, including the person’s e-mail address and phone number.