SalesTech Star

SalesTechStar interview with Allison Owen, VP of Client Success Management at First Orion

How can sales and marketing teams capitalize on a cookie-less future with branded phone calls, to create a better customer experience? Allison Owen, VP of Client Success Management at First Orion weighs in:


Hi Allison, we’d love to hear about your journey through the years…tell us more about First Orion and how it’s evolved over the years?

First Orion has over 13-years of history protecting phone calls. The company was founded in 2008 and by 2012, the company reached its first major milestone of protecting 1 million consumers from dangerous, unwanted spam calls. Two years later, First Orion launched carrier-branded apps and data services. Since then, the company has continued to grow with a clear focus on empowering companies to improve call resolution and answer rates and preventing unwanted calls.

I joined First Orion in 2016 at another pivotal moment in the company’s history. Within my first few months, First Orion launched the first ever in-network call protection solution for a tier-one carrier. This was the result of six years of research and development as our team laid the groundwork for a robust solution that would revolutionize the scam protection industry. Shortly thereafter, the company created the first ever STIR/SHAKEN solution available in the marketplace with the launch of a branded calling solution. Today, First Orion protects over 100 million U.S. customers from scam calls while ensuring legitimate calls get delivered and answered. I’m grateful to have joined the company during such a crucial time.

In today’s (still largely) digital selling environment, how are call screeners helping to redefine the brand calling experience?

Over the past few years, robocalls and scammers have completely eroded consumer trust in phone calls. While scam calls have been an issue for decades, they’ve recently become far more successful, endangering more consumers. In 2020, while the number of people receiving scam calls only increased by about 1% from 2019, scammers were 270% more successful in getting people to give up personal information. Last year alone, consumers reportedly lost $463 million to scam calls.

Scam calls are also costing businesses billions of dollars each year as 87% of consumers rarely or never answer calls from unknown numbers. It’s clear that both businesses and consumers need help navigating these calls. Call screening apps are gaining popularity, but they are not all equally effective. Many rely on blacklist technology that is outdated and ineffective at blocking the majority of these scam calls.

Branded phone calls help mitigate these issues by allowing brands to accurately identify who they are and why they’re calling before a customer even picks up the phone. Customers can rest assured that the call is legitimate as calls that are potentially dangerous are tagged as “Scam Likely.” Both of these solutions help restore integrity back into phone calls and help empower consumers to answer their phone again.

What according to you are some best practices that sales teams need to implement and follow when creating cold / call and call strategies to prospects and clients today?

Sales teams need to work to empower customers with all possible information they need about the planned interaction before they pick up the phone. If a customer knows who is calling and why, they are able to make an informed decision about whether to answer the phone, and if they do answer it will lead to a more productive conversation.

Since most cell phone users do not have a Caller ID service on their plan, most incoming phone calls are unidentified.

A few steps to combat this include:   

  • ​​Call Enhancement Services: Call enhancement services such as branded calls allow for more productive phone calls and increased call-to-conversation conversion rates. In fact, early adopters of our call branded calling solutions saw answer rates double. Not only are brands seeing answer rates increase but through these solutions, they are able to get in front of the right and personalized audience. Customers are also more informed about the reason for a call from the beginning, making calls more productive. Branded phone calls increase customer satisfaction, retention and trust as customers feel more connected to a brand from the second the call comes through to their phone.
  • STIR/SHAKEN compliance: Call originators have a vested interest in ensuring their calls are verified, as do call centers who support those business calls. With this in mind, the FCC has implemented STIR (Secure Telephone Identity Revisited) / SHAKEN (Signature-based Handling of Asserted Information Using toKENs) which goes into effect on June 30. STIR/SHAKEN digitally validates phone calls passing through networks, allowing mobile carriers to verify that a call originated by the number displayed on Caller ID. Given the impending deadline, contact centers must ensure they are in compliance with these guidelines quickly.
  • This past February, First Orion, Hiya and Transaction Network Services launched, a service designed to streamline the telephone number registration process for call originators. This creates a single, unified registration process with the analytics services that support the major wireless carriers in the United States with competitors. Since the website launched, the volume of call originators signing up has doubled each month, increasing satisfaction for businesses and consumers alike​. ​

By implementing these steps, sales teams can help ensure their calls are answered and their conversations are productive. It’s time to bring integrity back into the phone call, and these three steps are the right place to start.

Can you talk about the growing use of call screeners today?

Consumers are desperate for a solution to reduce the number of scam calls. Most carriers provide basic call protection, which identifies potentially dangerous calls as “Scam Likely.” However, this is not enough to effectively address the problem. Additional call screeners such as First Orion can more effectively identify and block scam calls, send blocked calls to voicemail, see who is calling or texting from outside of your contact list, receive notifications on identified numbers, and report unwanted calls. With our intelligent call screening software we identified 3.9 Billion “Scam Likely” calls in Q1 2021, a 12% increase when compared to Q4 2020 and 50% increase versus Q1 2020.

As call screening software becomes more effective, they provide a much-needed increased level of security among consumers. However, as new regulations and tactics become successful, scammers are also becoming more effective at breaking through these roadblocks. Call screeners must become more aggressive and constantly refine and reevaluate their solutions to ensure that it continues to be effective at keeping customers safe.

How do you feel platforms such as this will evolve in future and what will drive demand for more innovations and what kind?

Brands are constantly looking for new ways to deliver seamless, personalized customer experiences. While many brands are already using phone calls in their marketing strategy, most aren’t exploring how to customize them. Through branded phone calls, customers not only get the benefit of identifying spam calls, but also identifying legitimate calls. Branded phone calls give brands the opportunity to innovate on a key customer communication channel that provides first-party data they can’t get anywhere else.

The calling experience is even more important as enterprises look for more personal ways to engage their customers in a cookieless world. Demand for consumer privacy and data protection has reached a point that even the biggest curators of third-party cookies (Google and Apple) are taking steps to protect their users. As we move towards a cookieless future, the branded phone calls can fill the data gap marketers are experiencing.

A few thoughts on what you feel today’s sales and marketing leaders need to do to help them stand out from the crowd?

Marketers need to rebuild and strengthen relationships with customers that suffered from the decrease in face-to-face interactions during the global pandemic. One of the best ways to do this and maintain a personal connection is through a phone call, yet most people do not answer calls from unknown numbers. That’s where branded phone calls come in. Branded calling solutions can help marketers identify themselves, increasing customer trust in their brand and, ultimately, restoring that relationship.

Unexpected calls from unknown numbers are routine for most mobile users at this point. Since consumers are so accustomed to not answering unknown calls, critical calls often get missed. 75% of consumers reported missing at least one important call each week. This often leads to a pesky game of phone tag as consumers try to return important voicemails, only to reach a voicemail on the other end and then not be able to identify the call when it is returned again.

Read More: SalesTechStar Interview with Atif Mushtaq, Founder & Chief Product Officer at SlashNext, Inc.

First Orion is a global provider of digital call experiences for the world’s leading carriers, enterprises, and mobile apps. The First Orion Call Protection Suite provides scam, fraud, and spoof protection solutions to hundreds of millions of consumers. The company’s Branded Calling Suite, INFORM® and ENGAGE®, provides the ability for businesses to brand their calls by name along with a reason for the call while empowering consumers to connect over a trusted, verified call. Processing over 90 billion calls annually, First Orion powers digital call experiences for T-Mobile, Metro by T-Mobile, Boost Mobile, Sky, Virgin Mobile, and Sprint Prepaid mobile networks along with Fortune 500 brands, PrivacyStar®, and other mobile apps. Established in 2008 and led by Charles Morgan (former Founder & CEO of Acxiom), First Orion is headquartered in North Little Rock, Arkansas, has offices in Seattle, London, and Dubai, and employs over 250 people globally.

Allison Owen is the VP of Client Success Management at First Orion.

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