Anticipating a good response to his television ad, Menderes Akdag of Lens Express, in Deerfield Beach, Fla., hired a telemarketing firm to field calls for brochures. The response to the spot for the company's replacement contact lenses was, however, so enthusiastic that nearly 40% of the callers got busy signals.

Akdag, president of the $48-million company, decided it was time to see whether a voice-mail system did better than the telemarketers. Callers to the toll-free number featured in the ad now hear a menu that invites them to press 1 for a free brochure or 2 to order from an operator. Because 85% of the callers want the brochure, they never need to speak with an operator.

The automated system easily handles thousands of calls at once, and Akdag is no longer troubled with busy-signal problems. What's more, he's cut his costs by some 50%. The call volume that once accrued to the telemarketing firm now belongs to Lens Express, and the increase in volume has qualified the company for lower phone rates.