Startup makes the right call with in­ter­net shop­ping idea

Wex­ford com­pany aims to do for busi­ness what What­sApp has done for con­sumers

The Irish Times - Business - - BUSINESS TECHNOLOGY - Olive Keogh

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.”

Jump-start

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.”

Im­pa­tient

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.

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