AT&T; and Domino's Pizza are testing a new service that could revolutionize how consumers obtain a wide variety of goods and services by telephone, from ordering fast food to getting emergency road repairs.
The service is a toll-free nationwide telephone number that does not require a caller to dial an area code. Calls are routed to the most convenient branch office or franchisee of a national chain, just as if the caller had dialed the local office directly.
The new service seems to have several advantages over widely used "800" numbers, which connect callers to a central bank of telephone operators. Called Store Finder, it uses just seven digits, not 11, and all will start with "950." That makes the number easier to remember and therefore easier to advertise.
Using innovative computerized map-reading to match callers' telephone numbers with stores, Store Finder takes seven to 11 seconds to complete a call. That is only a few seconds more
than a normal call. It is also much faster than the several minutes it might take for a human operator to answer an 800 number, consult a map, find a store and confirm the caller's location and the store are really in the same area.
American Telephone & Telegraph Co. has not yet started marketing the service but says almost any national business that depends on a network of outlets might be interested. Rental car agencies, florists, clothing stores and repair centers, even insurance companies and auto dealerships, would be among the most likely users.
"This service provides a company with a way of establishing a national identity, but with a local feeling," said Priscilla A. Cronin, product manager for AT&T; Transaction Services, which is developing the service.
The results so far in a three-month trial in Jacksonville, Fla., are promising, according to AT&T.;