April 1, 2006
By Khali Henderson
TOLL-FREE NUMBERS COULD be described as lifelines vital links between companies and their customers, between organizations and their members, government agencies and their constituents. Order takers, help desks, crisis hotlines and more depend on these inbound lines for their very existence.
Controlling them, then, can be paramount. Resellers have long sold end users and their agents on multicarrier solutions for inbound calling as a means of ensuring 100 percent uptime. They also tout the idea of flexible routing of calls to different destinations and different times of day or in the event of an emergency. But most rely on their underlying carriers for number assignments and routing.
Now, several resellers are putting themselves and their agents and customers in the drivers seat by becoming responsible organizations or RespOrgs. This designation gives them access to the 800 Service Management System (SMS/800) to reserve and set up routing information for toll-free numbers.
AireSpring Inc. is one of the companies that decided to take the step; it announced its RespOrg status last fall. Daniel Lonstein, AireSprings senior vice president, says it took the company about six months to secure the certification and bring on trained staff to manage the system, but he expects the investment will pay off. There are a lot of cool things you can do within the SMS database to route traffic, says Lonstein. You can do percentage allocation. You can do geographical routing amongst multiple carriers.
As an example, he says, AireSpring may put in T1s from three separate carriers and route interstate and instate calls on separate providers based on the lowest rates. That least-cost routes to some degree the toll-free traffic, he says.
Lonstein adds another perk of being an RespOrg is AireSprings ability to respond to clients disasterrecovery requirements. A lot of companies, after Sept. 11, want to have disaster-recovery options available. They dont necessarily want to sign contracts with two or three or five carriers. They can just sign one with us, he says, noting AireSpring can use multiple underlying carriers either at diverse locations or at a single location to ensure redundancy.
If a carrier goes down, we can go into the SMS database, and it updates every 15 minutes, so we can re-route the traffic so there is no loss of service experienced, he adds.
Lonstein says becoming an RespOrg is one of the ways AireSpring is trying to differentiate itself from other service providers. Its the value add we can offer over and above just price multiple networks, RespOrg, the ability to have carrier diversity and one bill, one point of contact, he says.
While AireSpring has low prices available, Lonstein says, By having these advanced feature sets, the agent doesnt have to offer the lowest price out there. There is a feature set and an advantage. It allows them to raise their commissions as well.
Commissions for toll-free services go up to 45 percent; rates for inbound start at 1.588 cents per minute.
AireSpring is not the only reseller that has seized this opportunity. TMC Communications also has become a licensed RespOrg. Susan Davidson, vice president of sales and business development for TMC, says one advantage of having such control is that changes can be made immediately instead of in hours or days that sometimes are required when changes are submitted directly to the carrier.
Even streamlining and speeding up number availability lookup and assignments while not mission-critical can improve customer satisfaction. Where its more important is when routing changes are required when a circuit goes down, she says, noting that being a RespOrg eliminates several layers of people and associated delays even in an emergency situation.
Understanding these time-sensitive requirements, TMC has gone another step and offers a product it calls Be Your Own RespOrg to its end-user customers. These customers access the database as registered users of TMCs license. Once logged in, end users can perform such functions as requesting vanity numbers, rerouting calls to other call centers, and allocating traffic by geography and time of day.
TMC charges end users a nominal, undisclosed fee for setup and training on the system and an ongoing maintenance fee every month. Customers are required to use TMC as their long-distance provider to take advantage of the service; TMC represents five IXCs.
The service was beta-tested in November 2005 and is generally available now. Davidson says several large call centers already have taken advantage of the program. It is ideal for users spending about $5,000 per month on toll-free calling, but she says they need not have a lot of numbers, only critical numbers that need to be working 24/7.
The service can be sold by TMCs indirect partners. While there is no extra compensation to the agent, Davidson says it provides them with new opportunities to gain and keep inbound calling customers. We have had a number of agents that werent doing business with us and wanted to get their end users on board, she says. And, agents that wanted to get more circuits with a customer were able to get them. Its a unique selling point.
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