Startup makes the right call with internet shopping idea
Wexford company aims to do for business what WhatsApp has done for consumers
One of the downsides of internet shopping is the tedious process of trying to get an answer to a query. There are three main ways to ask a question: by email, via webchat or by phone. None of them are particularly satisfactory. But a new product from Wexford-based telecoms startup Voinext cuts straight to the chase. It allows consumers to talk directly to a business from its web page.
Voinext chief executive and cofounder Jim Tracey got the idea for the service from watching his kids use free voice apps. He thought there had to be a way of providing a similar “talk” service to businesses that would allow consumers to get their queries answered quickly and make it more likely they would complete a purchase.
“The idea was to provide a seamless service that any online customer could use to connect with a business for free from anywhere in the world with a simple click,” Tracey says. The solution has been three years in the making and the business-to-business (B2B) product, Voinext Free Call, will be officially launched this month.
“The solution [which works via a widget on a company’s website] will be of interest to any business large or small that wants to increase online sales and boost customer service,” says Tracey.
“It is cloud-based and there are no software, hardware or installation costs. The company only pays per call received. In other words, if our service doesn’t deliver the customer, there is no cost to the business. We do for business what WhatsApp has done for consumers and are bringing back the personal touch that the internet took away. Yes, you can have an online chat, but it can be very slow and cumbersome, and if you don’t have a phone available to call the number on the site then it’s back to email, which again can be slow.”
Voinext is not Jim Tracey’s first invention. A car mechanic by training, he opened a motor repairs business in his early 20s and went on to develop a heavy-duty jump-start product for professional use, which is sold worldwide.
More recently he launched an EV Rescue kit, which is a portable charger for electric vehicles.
Tracey, who left school at 14 having struggled with dyslexia, also designs renewable energy systems for off-grid use and is managing director of JTM Power Products, which specialises in emergency reserve power and energy storage and generation systems.
Tracey’s latest venture will make its money by charging companies for the calls it receives, and Voinext’s margin will be the difference between what it pays its service provider and what it charges its users. The charge per call will vary depending on whether it is linked to a landline or mobile, but will typically be between one and five cent per minute.
“Do the maths,” Tracey says. “A hundred potential customer calls within Ireland or from anywhere in the world would cost up to €5 in total. The return on investment is potentially staggering.”
As an illustration of how the service can work, Tracey cites the example of a car dealership. “Let’s say a customer is browsing online and sees a vehicle they like. When they click to phone the dealership, the call can be routed to a salesperson or indeed to two or three salespeople, and their phones will ring simultaneously. So the customer gets directly connected to someone with the knowledge to answer their queries.”
Voinext’s service can be added to email marketing campaigns or online advertisements, and calls can be routed to landlines, mobiles and to call or support centres.
“Consumers do not need to sign up to anything or install any software and – unlike traditional telco free phone services – there is no geographical restriction,” he says. “Our service can be used on any web-enabled device from anywhere. For example, I was in Europe recently and lost my smartphone. However, with wifi access I was able to use my Kindle to call my company’s support area through the free-call button on our site without having to download any software.”
Tracey points out that today’s online consumers are increasingly impatient and that companies offering an instant free call at a time when someone is poised to buy will maximise the conversion of searches and visits into sales. “Existing systems are clunky, slow and expensive as they rely mostly on the customer’s telco or software provider,” he says. “Our model with no contract or monthly fees, minimal call costs and ease of use is attractive for even the smallest SME or sole trader, as well as professional services organisations and enterprise clients.”
Voinext Free Call has been designed in-house and is part of a wider communications platform that will ultimately offer a suite of integrated products such as data collection. Development costs to date have been in the order of €250,000 and self-funded by the promoters.
“The free call service is the first in a suite of products we plan to introduce using our bespoke customer engagement platform based on WebRTC [real-time communication] technology,” Tracey says.
“The evolving customer engagement market is currently valued at circa $5 billion and is set to grow rapidly in the next few years to reach €13 billion by 2021. That’s a phenomenal opportunity and we intend to be at the forefront of this change and growth. Our customer engagement platform is disruptive within this exciting sector and we believe it to be the most sophisticated of its type in the world.”
A hundred potential customer calls within Ireland or from anywhere in the world would cost up to €5 in total. The return on investment is potentially staggering
Jim Tracey says companies offering an instant free call at a time when someone is poised to buy will maximise the conversion of searches and visits into sales.