by Ian Roncoroni, Co-Founder and COO of Next Caller
I started Next Caller because “Roncoroni” is a real shitty name to spell over the phone. I’m serious.
A few years ago, on my way to San Francisco for a wedding, my flight was delayed. After nine hours of binging on terminal food and lapping the newsstand, I realized that I never changed my rental car reservation. So, I called Thrifty to let them know I would be late, but still wanted the car. What I thought would be a 5-minute conversation turned into the worst customer service experience of my life.
I called, waited on hold, and finally got an agent. When asked, I identified myself as “Ian Roncoroni.” She asked if I could repeat myself. “Sure, last name ‘Roncoroni,’ R-O-N-C-O-R-O-N-I.” She thanked me, and continued looking up my reservation. After stalling for a minute or two, she told me there was no reservation under that name. She asked me to spell it again, so I did. “R-O-N-C-O-R-O-N-I.” I could tell she was flustered, because she was stuttering and typing furiously in the background. After another minute or two, she apologized and passed me along to her manager, and I had already boarded the plane by the time she picked up. She was just as pleasant, but still could not find my reservation. “I’m sorry to ask you again, sir, but could you please spell your name for me?” she asked. A little frustrated, I recited again, “Last name, ‘Roncoroni,’ R-O-N-C-O-R-O-N-I.” She looked for another minute and started to laugh. “I’m sorry sir,” between giggles, “but we were looking for your reservation under the first name Ron, last name Coroni.” I would have started laughing, too, if the flight attendant hadn’t just come back, tapping his foot, demanding I turn off my phone. There I was, finally with my agent, recognized by their system, just in time to shut off my phone. “Oh well, it should be fine when I land,” I thought. Well, it wasn’t. When I got to the booth, neither Ian Roncoroni nor Ron Coroni had a reservation, and the agency was completely sold out.
After I had calmed down and gotten a car from a different company, I thought to myself, “Why was that so hard?” Was the phone connection that bad? Was my agent just inept? Didn’t she at least have caller ID? These companies get millions of calls a year, so they must have a way of identifying their callers, right? I was curious, so I did a little research and learned two really important things.
First, I learned that caller ID did not exist for cell phones. When carriers started offering mobile service, they never built the physical infrastructure to transmit the CNAM data, so caller ID via mobile network was always impossible. Sure, there were data providers in the market that tried to solve this problem, but their information was horribly inaccurate, to the point it rendered their services useless for a real time caller ID.
Second, I learned that businesses were spending BILLIONS of dollars every year identifying their customers: $14.9 billion, to be exact. After suffering through all 300 pages of the US Contact Center Decision Maker’s Guide* I learned that the average customer service call costs $7.76, and that collecting name information from callers accounted for about 52 cents of every call. That’s not a typo; every time you call to complain, get a refund, switch a reservation, or pay a bill over the phone, that business pays 52 cents just to identify you.
This seemed broken to me for one simple reason; my name is the same whether I’m calling my bank or my insurance company, so why are they each paying different people to ask me the same questions?
So I was led to one obvious conclusion: if someone builds a caller ID that works for mobile phones, they’ll save businesses billions of dollars a year. So that’s what I did. I quit my job, started Next Caller, and convinced the smartest, hardest working people I knew to quit their jobs and join me. And in just a few short years, we’ve done it. We’ve successfully built the market’s largest database linking telephone number to name, address, email, and other relevant pieces of personal data, and we’re sending it to agents in real time. We’ve already saved businesses millions of dollars, but we’re just getting started. Non-profits, banks, telecom, technology, and insurance companies alike are all using our product to save money and drive engagement. We’re thrilled with our progress, but we won’t rest until spelling is officially extinct.
*Sorry, ContactBabel. Your annual report is hands down the best in the industry, and for that, I applaud you! But, I’ve got to be the only person who has actually, honestly, read the whole thing. If I weren’t, someone else would have started Next Caller before me.