Declining long distance rates have been a boon to businesses that do a lot of business on the telephone with customers outside of the local calling area. But keeping up with which company is currently offering the best rates is not only time consuming, but a task that can never be considered “done.”
Rates continue to change rapidly, and yet who wants to talk to yet another telemarketer about changing long distance companies and options for local service? Service providers seem to be getting the message that some folks would rather fight than switch-just because of the annoyance of frequent telemarketing calls.
With that in mind, some telecom providers are sending potential customers to their Web site where they can shop for different options and services at their own convenience.
“We have launched a process by which small businesses can buy services directly through us,” said Bruce Walt, WorldCom’s senior manager for small business marketing. “You can go to the Web site, www.dstreet.com, put in your address and phone number, and we will come back with a list of services that are available. For example, in Jackson we have local service available plus a number of different high-speed Internet options including DSL and dedicated access.
“Typically the smaller business telecom purchase experience is someone calling you on the phone or a sales rep coming to see you. With d street, you don’t have to deal with phone calls and pitches. And we are able to pass on some of the savings of doing businesses on line. We can offer small businesses a rate of 4.9 cents per minute for state-to-state long distance, which is probably the best offer you will find from a major carrier out there.”
Walt said there are three telecom services a small business absolutely couldn’t be without: local phone service, long distance service and some form of Internet access.
“And more and more you need high-speed Internet access,” Walt said. “The applications for the Internet continue to grow. It really is a productivity issue. Because more and more people are using the Internet, dial connections are becoming slower and slower. The difference between high-speed access and direct dial is night and day. Web sites that take 20 to 25 seconds to open on a dial connection can open in the blink of an eye with direct access. If you do a lot of work on the Internet every day, that 20 to 25 seconds you wait while waiting for each page to load is a lot of lost productivity.”
And that is only one application where slower Internet speeds waste time. Even more time is lost if a computer user sits waiting for long attachments including photographs to download. Walt recalls customers with a small print shop telling him that they would dial up, start downloading, and then go to lunch. Hopefully, the file would be downloaded when they returned from lunch.
A trend that is becoming increasingly popular from telecommunications companies is bundling different services together. For example, WorldCom now offers in Jackson and 59 other markets across the country local service plus 500 minutes of long distance free for a flat fee of $39 per month. Local Service Plus could result in savings of up to 40% over what it would cost to have local service and long distance from other providers.
“One of the great things for small businesses is the telephone becomes a fixed cost instead of a variable charge,” Walt said. “It saves more than money. It saves you from dealing with different vendors and writing different checks for telecom services.”
BellSouth has a package that is comparable to WorldCom’s new service. The Complete Choice for Business is a package of similar services, just without the interstate long distance. The package offers bundled services from which the customer can choose voice and data options that best fit their needs. These packages offer a multitude of services. One option many businesses are finding attractive is flat-rate prices where customers select the options they need for one price.
BellSouth spokesman Patsy Tolleson said that BellSouth is currently prohibited from offering a package that includes interstate long distance, but the company has a petition before the FCC now to gain approval to enter this market in Georgia and Louisiana. BellSouth in Mississippi expects to file its petition later this year.
“In addition to the packages we now offer, customers can expect to see many new and exciting packages from BellSouth once we get into the interstate long distance business,” said Tolleson.
BellSouth also uses Web-based marketing to let customers know what options are available. Look for the Small Business Services page on the Website at www.bellsouth.com.
“We know how valuable the small business person’s time is, so we give them several options to interact with us and let them choose the one that will give them the best return,” Tolleson said. “Customers can research and even order services online.”
Tolleson also said that BellSouth invests heavily in training its small business service representatives, who are taught how to analyze a business’s usage data, interface with the customer about their needs and suggest the best options for service. The reps look at the type of business and consider facts such as whether the business is stationary with on-site customers who come to them, such as a hardware or clothing store, or a mobile business such as a landscaping service.
“While both types of business could use a service like BellSouth VoiceMail, the hardware store might find our Web hosting or FastAccess Internet Service beneficial, while the landscaper could probably use our 2-Way Wireless Messaging service,” Tolleson said.
BellSouth also offers a small business call center with a simplified call screener and virtual hold technology. During peak call times, rather than waiting for an available representative, customers can input their phone number and “save their place in line.” A BellSouth representative will call back when their number comes up.
Contact MBJ staff writer Becky Gillette at email@example.com or (228) 872-3457.