The strategy that brought the bakery, the butcher shop and the vegetable market under the umbrella of the supermarket is hard at work in telecommunications. WorldCom Inc. this month unleashed an integrated online marketplace called D Street, where small businesses can order and manage their telecom services, from digital subscriber lines to local telephony to paging.
For Cheryl Widman at Advanced Air Technology Inc., in Arlington Heights, Ill., the one-stop shop is saving her business time and money. "Ive completely eliminated my long-distance charges because theyre included in my local package. I would have to say Im saving 25 percent," said Widman, chairman and chief financial officer of the small air pollution control system designer and manufacturer. "Theres an efficiency to be gained by having one-stop shopping—as long as I know that the provider is competing with others."
Through D Street, small businesses can buy local and long-distance telephony, paging and messaging, audio conferencing, and broadband services ranging from dial-up to T-1 speeds. The service also includes "consultative" customer service representatives slated to simplify telecommunications, particularly for businesses too small to house IT departments.
"As a small company, we usually get lost in the shuffle," Widman said. "[But] when I call up [WorldCom], someone answers on the first ring, and they dont switch me to 40 different people. Even though were a tiny little company, they always make us feel like were their most important customer."
One-stop shopping does not appeal to all small businesses. "The issue of how to address the needs of small business has been one that companies have been looking at for a long, long time. People in general have not all been successful," said Carolina Junqueira, vice president at Booz Allen Hamilton Inc., in New York.
Recent surveys by Booz Allen Hamilton suggest that increasingly business users view voice telephony as a single service and are interested in procuring all voice access through a single provider, Junqueira said. However, users are less interested in bundling broadband services into the same package, she said. "Broadband is a little bit of a separate question," she said. "When they talk about broadband, theyre talking about [reliable] access. When they talk about voice, they say they want a cheap service."
Later this year, WorldCom, of Clinton, Miss., plans to add more services to the D Street marketplace, including Internet connectivity based on very small aperture terminal technology, expanded wireless offerings, and IP-based integrated voice and data services, according to Bruce Walt, senior manager for the carriers Small Business Marketing division.
AT&T Corp. also offers an online business center designed for small businesses to order, manage and pay for services. The Basking Ridge, N.J., companys All in One package includes local, long-distance and toll-free telephony in addition to calling card services. Internet, data and teleconferencing services can be bundled in as well.
Sprint Corp., too, is encouraging small offices to handle communications services electronically. Through next month, the Westwood, Kan., carrier will offer a bundled packaged of long-distance, voice mail and local service with calling features such as call forwarding, three-way calling and caller identification at a flat rate.