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fongenie_logo_320x100_blackIf you run a brick-and-mortar store, there’s a decent chance that you or your employees waste a lot of time answering dumb questions on the phone: “What are your hours?” “How do I get to your store?” “Are you open right now?” Now a startup called FonGenie has built a service to automate this process and to help bring in more money, too.

When a business owner signs up with Mountain View, Calif.-based FonGenie, they get access to a website where they type in how the system should respond to phone calls. Not only does this create an automated response, but it also makes it easy for a business to update the system with daily specials and other changes — those updates can also be sent or pulled from other services, like Twitter. (Behind the scenes, the company has created its own phone network and requires businesses to sign up with for a new number, but those businesses can automatically forward calls from their old numbers, so their customers won’t know the difference.)

FonGenie also provides access to an analytics service, which gives clients real-time information about things like how long a customer was on the phone, what options they selected, and when they called. That could help businesses see whether their specials attract much customer interest and help them make decisions like changing store hours if most customers seem to call when they’re closed.

Founder and chief executive James Im says there are call center automation services already offered to big corporations by Nortel and Microsoft’s TellMe, but they’re too expensive for small businesses. FonGenie is officially launching its service now, but some early customers have already been using it. Im says the product seems to fit best with service-oriented retailers (the example he showed me was a spa) that receive between 40 and 100 phone calls a day. Among those early customers, revenue has gone up an average 15 percent since installing the service, Im says, presumably because it becomes easier for them to publicize different promotions.

Im previously founded mobile concierge service HeyCosmo, but has now cut back to an advisory role there. FonGenie, meanwhile, has raised a total of $700,000 from angel investors and Im himself.


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