2010 July: Hold On


For many pizzerias, call-in orders are a substantial part of their business. Whether it’s families or college co-eds, customers are used to picking up the phone to order their favorite pie. You can capitalize on those calls by ensuring that every caller has the opportunity to hear your promotions by using a customized hold system. Make the right offer, and you can raise your average ticket by as much as $2 (or more) per order. It’s a smart investment for any restaurant.

Mike Ulrey, vice president of marketing for Flyers Pizza in central Ohio, says hold systems are a no-brainer because it’s something that impacts your customers before you even get the chance to talk to them. “I did an analysis of a particular month with a couple of products that we had on our message on hold specials, and we found that we’re doing anywhere from a 30- to 45-percent increase on those particular products that we use for the special during that month,” he says. Hold systems are a unique marketing tool for up-selling products to call-in customers; you’ve already sold the customer on your restaurant whether through a promotional fl yer or television ad –– so why not sweeten the deal? “You’ve got the customer to call into the store, and once they call in you have to capitalize on that call and up-sell,” says Rick Stanbridge, president of Fidelity Communications, a phone service company that services the quick service industry.

There are two options for hold systems: a standard hold feature and a sequencer. Both can be effective, and which one you choose for your restaurant will depend on your budget and sales goals. Standard hold features are only used if your CSRs are too busy to take a new call and usually cost from $300 to $600. A live person answers the phone and tells the customer to hold. While waiting, the customer hears recorded promotions or music. “Sequencing is where an on-hold device actually answers the phone and automatically up-sells the customer with a short upfront special and then puts the customer on hold until an available CSR can take the call,” says Stanbridge.

What’s the difference? “If you’re looking at a strictly on-hold feature, the advantage obviously is that you can continually promote your restaurant and specials,” says Stanbridge. “The other thing is, particularly on a Friday night, a customer can be put on hold for an exorbitant amount of time and the time will go by faster, no matter what you put on your message –– even if you only put music on there –– the time to the customer will go by considerably faster. We have completed studies where the perception of the time on hold is about a third of the actual time when they’re listening to either a message or music.”

Another difference is the price of a sequencer with an initial outlay between $1,500 and $2,400. However, the advantages of a sequencer quickly add up: every customer will hear the message — and once they reach a live CSR, they will not be put on hold again for the duration of the call.

At Flyers Pizza, call-in customers are presented with the option to hear the specials by a call sequencer (they can also choose to opt-out and go directly to a CSR). “Our focus is on the family; that’s our target market,” says Ulrey. “What we’ll do is package a pizza, an appetizer and a soft drink together. We like to set price points that we think families will find very appealing (such as $19.95). The only way customers hear about the dinner special is by listening to the promo hold message.”

Pizza Inn, headquartered in The Colony, Texas, also utilizes a sequencing system for call-ins. Madison Jobe, vice president of development, says that their franchisees swear by the messaging system. “It reduces your hang-ups and call backs, because at least customers know that they are waiting in a queue; so it’s not just a ring or busy signal. Our franchisees feel that their hang-ups have reduced, at a minimum, by half, and probably more than that at most stores. Early on, we tracked results more closely than now, but tickets increased anywhere from $1 to $2 per order after the system was put into place several years ago.”

There are several options for the production of your hold messages. Some pizzeria owners choose to record their own messages, while others hire a professional service to handle the production. “Message on hold providers will tell you that it’s better to use the professional greetings,” says Stanbridge. “However, depending on how savvy you are or if you have someone with a good voice working for you, you can do it yourself.” Ulrey says their hold messages are always top performers in terms of ROI. “The dinner special from message on hold is always in the top five when analyzing our different promotions.” ?

Win ’em Over While They Wait

Investing resources and time into your on-hold messaging system is a worthwhile investment. Up-sell your customers on every call with these tips:

? Keep it short and sweet. “We like to keep messages a minute or under,” says Mike Ulrey, vice president of marketing for Flyers Pizza. “It’s extremely important because people want to get off the phone. People have less time now than ever, and to have a lengthy on-hold message … people will turn it off very quickly. The most we’ve offered on one message is two specials, and we keep messages very brief so we don’t get the customer ticked off.”
? Bundle up. Always create a package deal for your on-hold promotions by combining pizzas with appetizers and/or soda combos. Ulrey advises coordinating your specials with your soda and appetizer manufacturers. “We’ll get them to help defer some of the food cost, and basically we do a package deal,” he says.
? Rotate promotions regularly. Pizza Inn likes to switch their promotional messages on their system at least once a month. “We feature offers that are only available to those on hold, and we track them with a special code,” says Madison Jobe, vice president of development.
? Shop around. Googling “on hold marketing” yielded more than 18 million results. Find the one that best suits your needs –– and your budget.

Denene Brox is a freelance writer specializing in food and business topics. She lives in Kansas City, Kansas.