Fitocracy, a New York-based online fitness platform, had to solve a tough business problem: how to provide “more human” customer support when its community of 1.5 million users were interested in working with one of its roughly 100 personal fitness trainers.
Aiming to drive participation and growth, co-founder and CEO Brian Wang initially tried to meet this challenge via email and social media. “But about a year ago, we realized there was a large gap in what we were offering,” he says. “We needed to start reaching out directly over the phone to engage our customers. And we certainly were not going to outsource something like this to an offshore call center.”
Wang set out to find an affordable phone system that could sync with Fitocracy’s web-oriented product and culture. Of the several systems he considered, most were too complex, required expensive equipment or did not have the right mix of features. “I wanted something really simple,” he says.
In 2014, Wang’s eight-person firm began experimenting with Cloud Phone, a web-based technology created by San Diego-based Voxox. The system offers a single dial-in line that can route incoming calls to specific staffers (e.g., “Press 1 to speak to billing.”).
However, what truly appealed to Wang was Cloud Phone’s ability to route calls directly to his employees’ own phones—and the fact that he could manage the system himself through an online dashboard. Each phone connection costs him $15 a month, and he can add or delete lines as needed (no dedicated phone hardware, wiring or computers required). “I liked how I only had to fill out a basic online form to start using it immediately,” he says. “And the price was right.”
Wang estimates that Cloud Phone is roughly 30 percent cheaper than comparable systems he considered. And the dashboard offers the ability to set up messaging for each line and to control dial-in times (putting customer calls through only during business hours).
To his surprise, the system’s biggest plus has been its power to drive sales. “Particularly when personal fitness and health are involved, phone support has become a revenue generator for us,” he says, without providing details. “We’ve learned that there is a lot of power in talking directly to human beings.”
A second opinion
Online phone tools like Cloud Phone can offer attractive price points and features, says Carol Wilson, editor-at-large for Light Reading, a site that covers telecom companies and their services. But Wilson warns that small shops must be vigilant in assessing their phone needs—and risks—before committing entirely to cloud-based options, and that the responsibility for damages or outages can fall squarely on a small company’s shoulders.
“The real question is, What’s the phone provider’s level of support when things go wrong?” she says. “For any SMB that has invested in its own success, to put all its communications eggs in one basket is a major leap of faith.”