Operations and Management: Saving on Directory Assistance

To contact customers who didn’t provide a phone number and to check on ship-to addresses that their order fulfillment systems flag as potentially fraudulent, catalogers have relied on directory assistance services such as 411 or 555-1212. But such calls can cost up to $1.25 each. What’s more, many directory assistance databases are updated only every 6-12 months, so the information is often outdated.

Web-based directories can provide a more cost-effective and accurate alternative. For instance, InfoUSA, a free online service, taps into 750 external sources monthly to create a household database that includes demographic, financial, and lifestyle data. The system covers 90 million households and 13 million businesses nationwide. Other free online directories include 411.com and Infospace.com, both of which contain White Pages and Yellow Pages listings and offer reverse lookups. Both the Berkeley, CA-based 411.com, operated by 911, and the Bellevue, WA-based InfoSpace are advertising supported and have links to assorted other free services, such as Peoplesearch.com, Winneronline.com, and Hq.com.

“We tried these as much as possible because they’re free,” says Ron Spath, director of customer relations for sporting goods cataloger/retailer Cabela’s, “but we found they’re not updated as frequently as we would have liked.” Sidney, NE-based Cabela’s, which checks 3%-4% of its orders for potential fraud, also used standard directory assistance phone services. But this past summer, the company integrated a Web-based directory information service called iQ411 into its operations system. Not only is iQ411 updated daily, but Spath says it costs 80% less than using telephone directory assistance.

The iQ411 database consists of addresses and phone numbers from regional phone companies nationwide, says Greg Keene, chief technology officer for Portland, OR-based Qsent, which provides iQ411. The system contains 140 million records of consumers and businesses, adding or changing 200,000-500,000 records daily. Catalogers pay a transaction fee of $0.13-$0.42 for every 30 listings they call up from iQ411, Keene says, depending on the size and length of the contract.

Upscale high-tech gifts and gadgets cataloger/retailer The Sharper Image also integrated the iQ411 database into its system this past summer. The San Francisco-based marketer, which checks 5%-10% of all its orders for potential fraud, used to pay $0.95 a call, says its senior manager of customer service and order processing, Paul Towey. The cataloger is saving $1,000 a month using the new service.

Towey says The Sharper Image also uses iQ411 for its reverse lookup ability, which enables users to plug in phone numbers and find names and addresses. “This allows us to see if the phone number that the customer has provided us is valid,” Towey explains. “And if it pops up with entirely different information, that might mean someone is trying to misuse a credit card to get an order processed and shipped.”

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