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Unified communications making cosmetics firm look good

Kroma Makeup went from using plain old telephone service lines supplemented by cable Internet access to running all its voice, data and Internet traffic over an integrated T-1, saving money and using unified communications to improve sales.

The Maitland, Fla.-based company has expanded its consulting business by using video conferencing to advise clients on what shades of cosmetics they need and it has improved its batting average converting prospects into customers using Web conferencing to weed out unlikely buyers and focus on hot prospects, says Kroma CEO Chris Tillett.

Communications costs have dropped from $12 per day per POTS line plus cable modem access to $60 per month for the T-1 service that carries all of the firm's traffic. Because the gear used is more consolidated, power costs have dipped 10% as well.

The company used to mail out brochures and free samples to people who expressed an interest in retailing its custom, natural cosmetics. That cost $4,000 to $10,000 per month with just one in 10 prospects ever filing an order.

Now the company walks prospects through the product line via a 15-minute WebEx conference, during which they hear the business pitch as well as learn about technical aspects of the products themselves, Tillett says. The give and take at these meetings provides Tillett a much better sense of how serious the retailers are in selling Kroma products. Those who seem serious prove it by paying $20 to have a sample kit shipped to them, he says, and the company keeps much fewer printed brochures on hand as well.

Tillett's wife, Lee, conducts virtual consultations with individuals who use Kroma products via video over WebEx. For example, she can look at a client's images and determine what color foundation makeup they need. She can also teach makeup lessons the same way, expanding the client base she can readily address.

Kroma installed a Cisco UC 520 system that blends call processing, voice mail, auto attendant and remote monitoring. It also includes a firewall/VPN, wireless access point and an eight-port power over Ethernet switch. Workers use both IP Communicator softphones as well as Cisco IP handsets to make calls.

With the gear, Tillet has configured voice mail to be sent to his e-mail account so he can pull it up and listen to it from his iPhone or anyplace he can access the Internet. With IP Communicator, Tillett can receive calls wherever he is connected to the Internet via a single phone number.

The company uses Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) trunking from its carrier Flowroute to receive inbound calls to the Kroma IP phone system, and it is a beta customer of Skype for SIP, using the service to make outbound calls, Tillett says.

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