Let customers charge pizza to their phone bill!

In the days before Internet ordering, POS systems that do everything for you, caller ID and sliced bread, there were only three ways to pay for pizza-cash, check or credit card. But, for those who are familiar with Consumer Data Solutions (CDS) and, there is a fourth option, which, according to the pizza operators who use the service, generates additional sales and creates customer loyalty. That fourth option is charging the order to the customer's monthly phone bill.

Roger Mangum, Pizza Inn franchise owner in Cedar Hill, Texas, said, "Orders charged to customers' phone bill through Tel-Charge generates three to four percent of our overall sales. This location was the first to use the service about eight years ago. It's a nice icing on the cake."

The service is relatively simple to use. The customer calls 1-900-288-GOOD and enters their zip code. The system informs them of the places in their area who offer Tel-Charge services and automatically dials the number. The customer places an order, at the end of the call, the store enters the amount on the phone pad, and the charges are automatically billed to the customer's phone bill. No additional equipment is needed.

"So, how much is it going to cost me?" you ask. CDS President Carl Sherman said, "We shouldn't make money unless you do." Stores are charged a percentage of the order, which varies depending on the volume of billing. "This service adds additional sales to your revenues," Carl says. Customers who use Tel-Charge say that revenues from cash, credit cards and checks are remaining about the same while additional sales are being generated by customers charging food to their phone bills.

Paul Shaheedy, co-owner of the Mr. Jim's Pizza franchise in Lancaster, Texas, says "We see about two percent of our overall sales coming from orders charged to phone bills. It has definitely added to our sales and not taken away from orders paid by cash and check. Right now, a customer has to give their account number over the phone to pay by credit card and many refuse to go that route because they are afraid of fraud. With this payment method, the chance of fraud is eliminated."

Paul says that not only does this method of payment net new customers, the average check is more than checks paid for by cash and checks. He said orders charged to phone bills average around $20, while checks and cash average $18. Roger with Pizza Inn says his average Tel-Charge order is around $25, which is higher than his average orders for cash and checks.

Roger also says Tel-Charge customers usually order two or three times a week. He says that because no one else in his area uses Tel-Charge he has a unique edge over his competitors. This is a great option for customers who may be short on cash this week and are hungry. "Anything, within reason, that you can find that appeals to the customer you need to do. People who repeatedly use eTel-Charge to buy food from us are more loyal for giving them this option. Simply stated, it gives us more customer loyalty."

What if a customer runs up a $50 tab and moves? Do you loose your money? Both operators said they have never had a problem getting their money or getting it on time. "I have had no problems getting my money. They guarantee it," says Paul. Both said they do have limits on the amount that can be charged on a single order, which is around $30. This is to keep kids or pranksters from calling and making huge orders. E-Tel's system does a credit check and blocks those who do not pay their bills.

CDS also helps by providing point-of-purchase material and may work with you on radio and television advertising if there are enough clients who provide Tel-Charge services in a specific area. They currently have about 25 clients, 15 of which are pizza operators. They are also working on an online version of the service, with, Inc, which will require you to have online ordering capabilities to use. CDS (1-800-276-3426). PMQ