Phone Plus Prepaid: Moving Beyond Talk Time with Enhanced Services

Posted: 12/2002

Moving Beyond Talk Time with
Enhanced Services

By Bob Shinn

GREAT AMERICAN HUMORIST and cowboy philosopher Will Rogers once said, "Even
if you’re on the right track, you’ll get run over if you just sit there."
Although he wasn’t referring to the telecom industry, his words are particularly
relevant for many companies within our industry.

Today, telecom executives are
searching for ways to propel their businesses forward without requiring large
capital investments. The best way to ensure a future for your company is to
continually provide more value to your customers than your competitors. One way
to accomplish this without a large capital outlay is through enhanced services,
or calling programs that provide value beyond the included talk time.

Carriers, service providers and
resellers are using enhanced services to reduce churn, raise the average revenue
per user (ARPU), provide higher-margin revenue, collect valuable marketing
information, drive Web traffic and target new markets.

It’s in the (Voice) Mail.
Calling cards, once considered enhanced service offerings, have become so widely
accepted that they are now a commodity. Brand loyalty is almost unheard of. In
order to achieve a degree of loyalty, many calling card providers have added
recharge capability to their cards. Still, recharge rates have typically been
disappointing, at only several percent of the total card population. A simple,
yet effective, enhancement that does promote loyalty is the addition of voice
mail to a retail or promotional calling card program.

Recharge rates for voice mail
calling cards have grown tenfold, to nearly 30 percent of the card population.
About half of the cardholders that recharge do so multiple times. While
achieving brand loyalty in this market may be unlikely, it is possible to
achieve feature-loyalty by providing more value.

Voicemail calling cards appeal to
teens and customers who do not have bank accounts. For the last several summers,
they have been the primary communication vehicles for high school students
participating in pre-college enrichment programs across the United States.

Also, an interesting variation of
the voicemail calling card is being targeted at this year’s Christmas shoppers.
The program, "Tel Santa," uses a pair of calling cards tied to a
single voice mailbox, where children leave their Christmas wish list for
retrieval by their "Santa(s)."

IVR is the Next "New"
Old Thing.
Enhanced prepaid calling cards also are being used to collect
valuable marketing information, with the addition of interactive voice response
(IVR)-based survey functionality. These IVR survey cards are being used to gain
a better understanding of customers, gauge satisfaction with service delivery
and sales activities, and identify trouble spots.

program is set up with a customized graphic, greeting message, survey call
script and some number of free long-distance minutes. There is no limit to the
number of questions that can be asked and the questions can be nested to create
a dynamic call flow based upon the responses received. Valid responses include
binary choices like "Yes" and "No," dual tone
multi-frequency (DTMF) menu selections from one through nine, free-form voice
responses and transfers to live operators.

Participants are given the survey
cards, and then are rewarded with instant, free long distance in exchange for
answering the questions. As the survey is being conducted, the answers are
immediately posted to a secure Web site from which the sponsor organization can
obtain the results in real time.

The response rates for these
programs, which are driven largely by the number of free minutes awarded, is
typically higher than expected when other survey means are emplo-yed. For
example, 15-minute cards consistently provide a 20 percent to 25 percent
response rate, while 30-minute cards result in a response rate between 30
percent and 35 percent.

e-PINs that Really Deliver.
Internet-based companies are using prepaid services that have been enhanced with
electronic PIN generation and activation capabilities to drive Web traffic,
perform Web-based surveys and drive sales. These Web-based cards provide
customers free phone time for completing an online transaction. Transactions can
be almost anything that can be done via a Web browser. Examples include signing
up for a newsletter, completing a Web survey or making a purchase. Combined with
e-mail solicitations and e-mail PIN delivery, these programs have proven to be
very effective at driving online sales.

Bob Shinn is the CEO of Digital
VoiceXchange Inc., a supplier of managed voice services for prepaid providers,
distributors, carriers and business enterprises. Shinn can be reached at

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