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Evaluating the Benefits of VoiceXML for eBusiness

  • September 28, 2002
  • By Jonathan Eisenzopf
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Unifies Customer Channels and Improves Customer Service

It's very aggravating when a customer isn't able to get the same level of service across the various lines of communication that businesses offer. Whether a customer places an order on the Web, telephone, or mail, they will expect to get the same level and quality of information and support through all channels that are available to them. And why shouldn't they? Most companies are already working on moving their business capabilities to the Web, but what happens when new Web site features don't get integrated back into other parts of the business? Well, let me list some of them:
  • Dissatisfied customers
  • Internal conflicts
  • Complex integration projects
  • New (and ongoing) maintenance costs

Again, if you've developed an automated ordering, tracking, and customer service interface for the Web, it most cases, it just makes sense that customers would want access to many of the same features on the telephone.

For example, let's say that customer support representatives at a company called Chipper, which manufactures lawn tractors and sells them through local dealers, spend about one quarter of their time answering questions about products, and the other three quarters of their time placing and tracking orders for local dealers. Chipper recently invested in an eBusiness site that allows dealers to place and track orders on the Web, however, only about one quarter of the dealers are using the Web site. The rest are still calling and tracking their orders over the phone.

The Web capabilities are great for customers and for the business. Customers have quick access to their ordering information and can track their orders. But that doesn't help the other guy who still has to wait on hold while his sales rep tries to track down the package (through the Web site).

Again, if you've already invested in your Web infrastructure, extending it to the telephone makes sense, will help you realize your investment faster, and will provide a set of common tools to your customers whether they're at a computer, on the road, or at a pay phone.

PBX and IVR systems are often stowed away in a telephony closet and forgotten about for years at a time. You may occasionally have to call "the phone guy", but he only visits when the thing breaks or you need new lines configured. Unless you're part of a large company, this guy also comes with a hefty hourly price tag. It might occur to someone in the IT department that, "Maybe we should change that promotion message that we stopped offering last year", but probably not. I can almost guarantee that when your customers interact with your existing telephone system that they are not saying to themselves, "Wow, this auto-attendant is really useful and it makes me feel like a valued customer". More likely they're thinking, "I guess I'm not important enough to talk to a real person".

Reduces Costs

I want to be careful not paint cost reduction as a universal benefit of deploying VoiceXML applications. If you're using it to unify customer channels and reduce the time it takes to roll out telephone support for a new product, cost may not be a factor or a benefit.

Utilizing VoiceXML for cost reduction usually involves automating a process that is typically performed by a person, or reducing the time it takes for a customer to retrieve information, thereby increasing the productivity of those resources; whether those resources are people, computers, or telephone lines.

The most dramatic cost savings can be realized in high-volume call centers when repetitive and predictable customer support tasks are replaced by an automated self-service agent. 

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