As Pittsburgh-based Vocelli Pizza expands throughout the country, customers from Pennsylvania to Washington, D.C., to Florida only have one number to remember. The company's call center handles more than 40,000 calls a week via its 1-800 number, and serves 140 Vocelli locations.
 
Vocelli's call center is staffed with more than 120 agents and operates using software that integrates Internet and telephone technology.
 
"Other pizza chains have different numbers for different locations," said Jim Powers, Vocelli's director of marketing. "We're the only national pizza company focusing on an 800-number call center system."
   
Operators are increasingly eyeing call centers as a way to maximize their business, and technology providers are working to meet the challenge.
 
"Today, pizza operators have a range of options available to them," said Jennifer Wiebe, marketing manager for Lynden, Wash.-based SpeedLine Solutions. "Restaurant companies can choose from traditional call centers or more cost-effective automated or distributed call center solutions."
 
Solutions abound
 
Many third-party call center operators still provide the traditional solution, with rooms full of agents answering phones and entering orders. According to Call Center Magazine, there are more than 100,000 call centers in the United States, employing nearly 4 percent of the American work force.
 
Few pizza chains have made use of call centers in the past, primarily due to high setup costs; however, call-center costs are declining dramatically.
 
Some operators are attempting to create their own call-center solution using their existing online ordering sites, Wiebe said, by simply having call center staff enter customers' orders via the restaurant's Web site. The difficulty with that, she said, is that there may be no way for call center staff to make changes to an order that has already been sent to the POS if the customer calls back.
 
For small multiunit chains, a software solution like SpeedLine Call Center may be a better choice, she said. The product integrates into SpeedLine's POS software and provides an ordering interface at the call center location, with automatic order routing to the restaurants.
 
But for larger restaurant groups, the specialized services of a third-party call center company are typically a better fit, Wiebe said. Restaurant companies can choose from traditional call centers or more cost-effective automated or distributed call center solutions. For example, an automated call-center solution developed by Carmel, Ind.-based iPie Solutions uses voice recognition technology to take orders, eliminating busy signals during peak ordering times.
 
The iPie system has an unlimited capacity to receive orders, eliminating missed calls, and can be programmed to upsell, depending on the operator's wishes.
 
Other solutions operate in a distributed fashion.
 
Ontario, Canada-based LiveXChange Corp. uses a network of independent home-based agents to handle customer calls. LiveXChange's agents can be scheduled in 30-minute increments and are paid by the transaction.
 
Additionally, Ontario, Canada-based Priszm Income fund, which operates KFC, Taco Bell and Pizza Hut restaurants in Canada, uses LiveXChange agents to handle more than 6 million customer orders each year.
 
"The restaurants are really about preparing the food and executing the food with excellence," said Katy Cook, Priszm's director of call center operations. "What we want to do is take away some of the administrative things that have to happen to get food to the customer. Having the contract agents is one way to do that."

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