Betting on a Winner | Article

ASP Technology Lets The Internet Dial A Landline

Betting on outsourcing to winSinging gondoliers ply the canals. Elegant shops line St. Marks Square. Famous entertainers smile at Madame Thousand’s Wax Museum. The Venetian Resort-Hotel-Casino has become one of the most popular new destinations on the Las Vegas Strip.

Marketing the 140,000 hotel rooms in Las Vegas has changed considerably since the days when Bugsy Siegel held court at the Flamingo Hotel. Guests can still book a room by calling a toll free phone number. But The Venetian’s Web site also allows guests to reserve a room from the home page.

Some guests, however, are uncomfortable booking online. “We want to make sure our guests get all their questions answered and all their needs met,” says Chris Stacey, The Venetian’s Internet marketing manager.

Hedging its bets, The Venetian added a button to its home page to solve that problem. The button immediately connects the guest to a live customer service agent at the hotel using either the guest’s computer or an available phone. This service, called “Push to Talk,” is offered by ITXC, a Princeton, New Jersey application service provider.

It wasn’t much of a gamble for The Venetian since ITXC is the largest voice carrier on the Internet. It has moved more than 1.5 billion minutes of voice traffic. Using the Internet for phone traffic continues to grow exponentially. On Mother’s Day, ITXC carried over 5.7 million minutes of phone-to-phone traffic, a company record. This was a 250 percent increase over Mother’s Day 2000, according to ITXC Chairman Tom Evslin.

Solving an eCommerce Dilemma

But Internet-to-phone communication is a new twist. This new technology addresses a perennial problem with eCommerce: consumers have questions that the Web order form or a link to a FAQ can’t answer. In frustration (or maybe fear), buyers disappear into the ether. ITXC marketing vice president Jeff Gaus cites statistics from Jupiter Communications, a market research firm, that show 65 percent of purchasers abandon their Web shopping carts before spending a dime. Another survey reported 60 percent of the American population will not purchase anything online unless they speak with a real person.

A real person is available real time with the Push to Talk service. It allows companies to embed voice communications in emails, banner ads and Web sites. After consumers press the Push to Talk button on the Web, the telephone rings at the user’s desk. Or they can talk using their computer equipped with a microphone and PC speakers.

The Venetian has six Push to Talk buttons on its site, connecting to different areas of the resort. Gamblers interested in entering a blackjack tournament go straight to the Players’ Club. Guests seeking a soothing day at the spa end up at the Canyon Ranch reservation desk. “I can route the callers to the extension they need. They don’t have to go through the hotel switchboard,” says Stacey.

The service allows the Push to Talk button to disappear when the customer service representatives go home. If the office is closed from 8 p.m. until 8 a.m. the following morning, the button will vanish during those hours, only to reappear when the staffers don their telephone headsets for a new day’s work.

The ASP only charges for completed phone calls. The fee is 75 cents for a call that’s generated from an email button and 95 cents if it comes from the Web. There’s a $1,000 monthly minimum.

New Marketing Uses Are in the Cards

The Venetian hopes to end up with four aces using the technology for marketing. If the hotel is sponsoring a slots tournament, it will email guests who have informed the casino they want to be notified about such an event. “We will also send email blasts to past guests we haven’t heard from in awhile or to groups with the demographics we want to attract,” Stacey reports. The Venetian has joined hands with BMW and Macy’s to create email campaigns with special offers at the hotel. All these emails include a Push to Talk button.

Stacey says the hotel is experimenting with streaming video in email campaigns and will incorporate the ITXC technology. The hotel can use streaming video because the technology is remarkably fast. “Our connection time is three seconds,” he reports. “And the request has to go through a proxy server out to the Internet, then be routed to a land line.”

ITXC acquired the Push to Talk capability last year when it purchased eFusion, whose engineers invented the technology. “We were looking for value added services we could offer our customers,” explains Gaus.

ITXC can install Push to Talk software at a customer’s site, but the ASP model is a more pratical solution. Gaus says customers interested in a premises deployment would have to install a server and then integrate the software into the corporate local area network (LAN) and its enterprise resource planning (ERP) program. “That is a complex and expensive process,” says Gaus. He estimates the cost at more than $100,000.

Customers going the ASP route “simply have to paste three lines of Java script or a URL on a Web site and that’s it. We take care of the heavy lifting,” reports the ITXC executive. And installation is as fast as a throw of the dice. Gaus says 48 hours is the average turnaround time for ASP clients.

The provider is betting the ASP model will help it hit the jackpot by widening its market reach. Now, “anyone with a telephone and a Web site is a potential customer. Not everyone can afford $100,000 for a new approach to online marketing,” Gaus explains. ITXC has approximately 100 Push to Talk clients.

Lessons from the Outsourcing Primer:

  • A majority of customers abandon their Internet shopping carts. Push to Talk technology allows customers to use telephones to talk to customer service representatives while still at the Web site.
  • The ASP solution is faster, simpler and cheaper than a premises deployment.
  • Since the ASP solution is so much more affordable, the market for the technology is much broader.

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