For Whom The Bell Never Tolls

The Bell Never Tolls

Dial800’s success is founded in memorable numbers and remarkable response By Ian P. Murphy. Dial800 launched in 1989 as a service bureau to provide businesses with toll-free numbers after industry observers saw how vital the 1-800-FLOWERS number was in building the leader in the flower-delivery field. Today, Dial800 has the largest commercially available bank of what it calls RapidRecall 800 numbers available—either “repeater” numbers like (800) 444-1313 or (800) 323-3233, or hybrid numbers such as (800) 585-CASH that produce improved consumer response.

Scott Richards became CEO of Dial800 in 1996, and James Diorio joined the company as chief operating officer in 2008. In 2011, the company was named to the Inc. 5,000 list of fastest-growing private companies after posting an average three-year growth rate of 68 percent. In addition to its original core competency—memorable 800 numbers—Dial800 offers optimization tools for media campaigns, including call-routing and call-tracking software. Richards and Diorio recently had a virtual sit-down with Electronic Retailer to talk about the company’s past, present, and future, and explain a few of the reasons that 800 numbers continue to be just as vital to marketing and sales as any response medium, even in the Internet age.

ER: What was Dial800 established to address?

RICHARDS: We identified a clear need for direct marketers to increase inbound call volume and until Dial800 was created, there were really only three ways to do that: through better offers, creative, or media buying. We pioneered a fourth way: by getting more people to pick up the phone by using memorable 800 numbers.

DIORIO: Our legacy was in vanity toll-free numbers like 1-800-COLLECT, but direct marketers wanted dedicated numbers they could use to track the effectiveness of their media. Scott has spent the last 16 years studying and perfecting the most effective way to utilize 800 numbers to generate maximum response.

RICHARDS: Simply by virtue of an easy-to-recall number, advertisers can increase their calls by 20, 30, 50 percent or more. We then created additional tools such as call routing and call tracking to help optimize campaigns. Other companies can route calls, but we’re the only ones who can increase the numbers of calls you route—and then help you route them to create the most profitable ROI.

DIORIO: Getting involved with ERA has been critical in terms of our ability to gain traction with direct marketers. That’s why we’re Diamond-level supporters and continue to remain very involved.

ER: What is Dial800’s purpose in the DR marketplace, and what are its goals?

RICHARDS: Our raison d’être is to generate more profits for marketers. We do this in three ways: (1) We generate more calls with memorable 800 numbers, (2) We reduce abandoned calls by routing calls to multiple call centers, and (3) We increase sales by sending more calls to the centers closing more deals.

DIORIO: Our approach to business is that everyone in the channel wins, from the marketer, to the agency, to the call center and fulfillment house—everybody. Look, the industry faces some serious challenges. The high failure rate of campaigns and the fact that agencies are struggling to attribute response to specific media are but two examples. What Dial800 is designed to do is to produce more inbound response at the front end so that everyone gains. Let me give you a real example: Direct response TV ads can create huge spikes of calls, and a call center’s agent availability can vary at any given time. Now we know that every call center would like to take all of the calls, but the truth is they can perform at a higher quality level if the number of calls they receive aligns with their agent availability. If they perform well, they are far more likely to get rewarded with a marketer’s ongoing business. With Dial800’s ability to generate more calls with better-built toll-free numbers and route them to call centers on the fly, it creates a situation where everyone can perform at their highest potential. The marketer sells more, the call center takes more calls, the agency gets a better media efficiency ratio (MER), and the fulfillment house ships more packages. Everybody wins.

ER: What does Dial800 do differently, and how does this assist client companies?

DIORIO: We’ve created a customer service group unique to the industry we call Concierge. Simply put, we work with marketers and their supply-chain partners at all levels to maximize their success. Call routing has gotten a bad name because some of our predecessors have not been able to deliver as promised, and this failure has been hugely disruptive. In contrast, what we’ve repeatedly heard from marketers, agency executives, CEOs of call centers, and the like is that Dial800 makes it extremely easy to set up and integrate our services. We work out any wrinkles in the testing phase, not when the campaign is under way. Our approach is to partner, not be adversarial. We’re not here to call anybody’s abilities out; rather, we exist to align with our fellow suppliers so that advertisers succeed and we all reap the benefits.

ER: What’s in a telephone number? Are certain types of numbers better for certain products or sectors? What do companies need to know when they request a new number?

RICHARDS: The first thing every direct marketer should know is that they should only be using 800-prefix toll-free numbers. We maintain more than 50,000 memorable toll-free numbers in our Rapid Recall bank, and believe me, we see tens of thousands of misdials every single month. Why? One reason is because marketers are advertising 888, 877, 866, and 855 prefixes; 800 was the original toll-free prefix and had a 20-year head start on the others. When consumers hear the term “toll-free,” they go on autopilot and assume it’s an 800 number. Secondly, if you understand how a consumer’s short-term memory works, you can see that numbers that you are able to separate into two or three chunks have a huge advantage for advertisers. For example, a number like 800-930-0000 is a two-chunk number (“930” and “0000”), so it’s easy for your audience to recall. These chunkable numbers have their greatest impact in short-form TV and radio campaigns; we’ve done head-to-head tests against random number sequences, and the result is that the memorable numbers consistently deliver 20 percent to nearly 70 percent more response.

ER: What capabilities has Dial800 launched recently, and what specific customer needs do they address?

DIORIO: Our latest innovation is RoundTrip. It normalizes the data from multiple call centers so that marketers and their agencies can evaluate results on a level playing field. The data is presented in an easy-to-digest format that allows you to see how well your campaign is performing in terms of both calls and sales.

RICHARDS: We’re also preparing for the launch of CallView 360° 2.0, the next generation of our call-tracking software. Based on feedback from our clients, we’ve simplified it and made it a more elegant user experience. It is in beta testing now, with a full rollout scheduled for the first quarter.

ER: How much can Dial800 tell customers about who’s calling, what they want, and how they spend? Why are these things important?

RICHARDS: That’s the perfect segue to discuss some of the incredibly powerful things that CallView 360° can do. I’ll give just a couple of examples. First of all, you can take inbound telephone calls and do a reverse append so that you can glean key demographic information on the household calling such as age, income, the presence of children in the household, and home ownership. Why is this important? Well, marketers make assumptions about who comprises their target market, but are they validating these assumptions on an ongoing basis? Knowing your target market is critical, because you can then buy media [to go] after more of that target. Second, you can listen to any call with one click. It’s like maintaining a dynamic, virtual focus group, except these aren’t just people who would hypothetically buy your product, these are people who were either inspired enough to call or are buying your product. You can discover what the objections of nonbuyers are, what kinds of questions are being asked, and so forth. Then, armed with this knowledge, you can tweak your offer and creative based upon genuine consumer insight, versus someone’s random opinion.

ER: What effect do various routing choices have on the overall customer experience?

RICHARDS: For the consumer, the benefit is huge: They get their call answered more quickly and how that works is completely transparent to the caller. ER: How does the RoundTrip product aid in analysis? What benefit is realized by putting these tools on customer desktops? DIORIO: RoundTrip provides an easy-to-digest executive dashboard so you can see instantly see how well a campaign is doing. We’ve developed key performance indicators (KPIs) so that instead of poring over hundreds of pieces of data, busy executives can get an instant snapshot to help guide their decisions. Some examples of KPIs are total call count, unique callers, [and] total revenue and average revenue per call. These KPIs can help a marketer and their agency identify where there are breakdowns so that they can course-correct and ensure their campaign is being optimized.

ER: With the Internet call-to-action increasing in popularity, what does the future hold for the 800 number in DRTV?

RICHARDS: Toll-free 800 numbers remain a vital part of a marketer’s arsenal. While practitioners of online marketing like to tout that e-commerce is cheaper and preferred by consumers, the reality is that some folks prefer to talk to someone on the phone. In fact, an online marketer who doesn’t employ an 800 number is probably missing out on a big chunk of their business. I’ll use two real-world illustrations to prove it: In an October 2011 article in Business Week, Bill Chase, the director of online marketing for Nutrisystem, reported that just 2 percent or 3 percent of those who click on an online ad end up buying, while 20 percent of prospects that pick up the telephone and speak to a representative result in a sale. He was quoted as saying, “It goes against my principles as an Internet guy, but we can close a sale more often by having people call.” We had another client with a similar bias in the cash-advance business. This advertiser had no toll free number on their site. When they began employing one of our hybrid numbers, they saw their campaign results improve by 40 percent.

ER: What does the future hold for Dial800, the company?

RICHARDS: At Dial800, we have three things that drive us: How we can increase calls, how we can decrease abandons, and how we can help our clients increase conversion and sales. Our passion to accomplish this is what has led us to be named to the prestigious Inc. 5,000 list of the fastest-growing privately held companies for the past two years.

DIORIO: That’s a trend we’d like to see continue. Therefore, we will continue to evolve our core products, and devise new ways to extend our level of service to ensure that more campaigns are successes and not failures.

ER: If there is one issue left for Dial800 to solve on behalf of DR marketers, what would it be?

DIORIO: What we have repeatedly learned is that once we get a client over their skepticism and they truly embrace the tools that we have to offer, those tools play a vital role in their ongoing success.

RICHARDS: We provide tools that optimize what direct marketers are already doing, only we empower them to do it smarter for mere pennies on the dollar in terms of ROI. We view our value proposition as that of a service provider that uses technology that, when combined with human intellect, makes campaigns better — and everybody wins in the process.