Better Call Routing for Better Results

Applying GIS technology to phone calls can improve your business

Running a company in which everyone reports to you is difficult enough. Running a franchise organization where stores throughout your regions are run as independent businesses is even more complex.

Sustained success and growth would be impossible without technology -- in particular, the advanced call georouting and reporting capabilities available at our fingertips today.   While the Internet receives most of the credit for generating leads and serving customers, the old reliable telephone is still how most people reach your franchisees.  The telephone itself is changing substantially as cellular phones replace landlines, and smartphones put greater functionality at our fingertips, but it all still starts with a phone call.  Phone vs. Internet is not an either/or proposition for building your business and connecting franchisees with current and prospective customers.

While the phone call itself may seem rather mundane in a discussion of technology, many new technologies can be applied to telecommunications to make each customer phone call more valuable to your organization.  Many franchisors are not taking full advantage of the available technology to improve operations, provide a better customer experience, or analyze results to make better decisions.  In fact, they may not even realize the potential they’re missing to improve their business processes and identify problems within their organization that can easily be solved.

For example, ask yourself these questions:

  • What kind of experience are you providing for current and prospective customers when they call?  Are customers’ calls routed properly?  Do they talk to an automated prompt, or are they automatically directed to a person based upon their location or other data you possess?  What percentage of calls are handled appropriately, and how many are dropped or lost due to busy signals or frustration on the part of the customer?
  • Are you applying process improvement techniques to your customer interface?   What kind of analysis do you do today on your prospective customers’ interface with franchisees?  Do you look at call data such as call length, repeat callers, unique callers, or first-time callers to determine what is working and what isn’t in converting prospective customers into actual customers?
  • What kind of return are you receiving from your advertising or marketing programs?  Many franchisees run local and regional advertising campaigns in various mediums.  How are they tracking response rates?  How closely are franchisor and franchisee actions linked and monitored?  How can you determine which areas and offers are generating the best responses?
  • What if you could view sales, demographic, and other data integrated visually on a map?  Would it be helpful to instantly see where your current or prospective customers are located, which areas may be ripe for additional franchise locations, or how franchise territories should be valued?

All of these things are possible with advanced call georouting and reporting.  Applying geospatial information systems (GIS) technology to telecommunications, supplemented with data mining and mapping/visualization tools, provides you with the ability to monitor and improve your business operations in ways that were inconceivable just a few years ago. 

GIS is a form of mapping technology that captures and displays information geographically.  It allows businesses to view and understand any information that is “geo-coded” with latitude and longitude markers, so that relationships, patterns, and trends can be quickly identified and acted upon.  It also provides a basis for measurement to support quality control and process improvement initiatives.

When this mapping technology is applied to telecommunications, all incoming calls on toll free lines or local lines can be routed according to customized geographic boundaries or almost any other criteria.  It also allows call data to be captured and integrated on a map with other data, such as demographic or sales information, so that trends (both good and bad) can be instantly spotted and acted upon.

For franchisors, this incredible combination makes a number of things possible:

Route calls by custom criteria.  Incoming customer calls can be directed to the appropriate franchise based on any geographic boundaries you create – even if they don’t match traditional zip codes, area codes, or other “standard” boundary definitions.  If you have hundreds of stores across the country, or even several stores within a small geographic area, chances are your franchise territories are fairly complicated, and call routing accuracy can greatly benefit from the application of GIS to some degree. 

This will give you the ability to route calls in real time based upon caller and franchise proximity, time of day and day of week, customer input, first-time callers vs. repeat customers, or any other criteria you define.  Respecting franchisee boundaries is vitally important to any marketing efforts initiated or controlled by the franchisor.

Improve customer service by tracking information about each call, including the customer’s phone number, name and address, the time and disposition of the call, number of rings or hold time, the length of conversation, and much more.  Efforts to improve the customer experience by better handling peak calling periods, rerouting unanswered or busy calls, and even returning missed calls can provide immediate results for the bottom line.    

Track results of advertising and marketing programs.  Franchisors often use this level of call tracking to measure and improve their return on marketing investments.  For example, a franchisor can establish a suite of toll-free numbers that are associated with specific promotions, even for multiple store locations.  As call data from each number is tracked, franchisors can immediately see what’s working and what’s not, so they can make any modifications to improve response rates – or stop spending money on promotions in areas that aren’t producing results.

Visually map and analyze information to make better decisions.  Once your call data is displayed visually on a map, you can layer it with other geographical data, such as results from advertising promotions, related marketing efforts (e.g. targeted mailings, mobile campaigns, etc.), demographic data, sales data, and franchise territories to see how these disparate, complex data sources interact and relate with each other.  

The old adage that a picture is worth a thousand words underestimates the value of the mapping and visualization tools that make it possible for franchisors and franchisees to instantly see opportunities for expansion, for measuring and modifying marketing expenditures for better results, for identifying operational problems to address, and much more.

For example, one IFA member franchise organization immediately saw where new franchises needed to be established in a certain market area based upon the distances that customers were traveling to reach current franchise locations.  This “Aha!” moment occurred when the organization plotted current locations and territories with incoming customer calls.  

These technologies and the benefits franchisors and franchisees can realize are available now, with no investment in hardware or software.  Almost everyone is familiar with GIS today in one form or another, and many franchisors are using GIS and data mining in some way today to help define and build their businesses.  Applying these technologies to something often taken for granted, such as phone calls, can help improve your bottom line quickly with clear, demonstrable results.

Charles Austin

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Published in Franchising World - August 2010