Is your telephone system or call center integrated with your eBusiness platform? Why not?
This article will outline the potential business benefits of integrating your eBusiness infrastructure with your
telephone sales and customer support channels.
Welcome to the VoiceXML Strategy Series
We’ve talked a lot about HOW to develop VoiceXML solutions with our VoiceXML Developer Series. We’ve also started looking at the products that are used to develop VoiceXML applications; in fact Hitesh Seth will be focusing on products almost exclusively with his Product Focus column. So while I feel that we’ve done a decent job of covering the technology side of VoiceXML, what has been lacking is coverage on the business aspects of VoiceXML. That’s why VoiceXML Planet
is adding a third column that will focus on the business strategy and management issues related to selecting and deploying VoiceXML solutions.
First, I need your help to make this series successful. Besides recommendations and requests for topics
and issues that you would like VoiceXML Planet to cover, I am looking for case studies from vendors
and customers who are using VoiceXML successfully to enhance business capabilities and reduce costs.
If you’re a vendor or professional services group, here’s your chance to highlight your customer and solution.
Business segments that I’m particularly interested in are:
- Customer Support
- Consumer Electronics
Secondly, I’d like to form a panel consisting of vendors, industry experts, and business managers who
will provide feedback on topics and content that will be developed for this series. Besides
being able to provide critical feedback, you will receive all news and research information on a regular basis,
which may or may not be published on the site. I’m going to keep this panel relatively small, so if you’re
interested in joining, please send your title, company name, and a description of your interest or involvement in
VoiceXML to [email protected].
What makes VoiceXML especially valuable to an eBusiness strategy is that it was specifically created
to work with Web applications. This means that an automated telephone sales and support system can leverage
your existing eBusiness infrastructure with minimal changes compared with a traditional interactive voice
response (IVR) system. Now that Voice ASPs like Tellme, BeVocal, and Voxeo have reduced the initial and
ongoing costs of deployment to a per-minute fee, most businesses can now afford to explore the potential
uses of a cutting-edge IVR solution.
In this article, the first of this new VoiceXML Strategy series, we will look at four business benefits
that a VoiceXML solution will provide to your eBusiness.
Why You Should Extend your eBusiness Back to the Telephone
Though the Web is a tremendous business tool, if your eBusiness
investment doesn’t extend to the telephone, then you’ve forgotten
about customers who don’t have access to the Web all the time or at
all. Nearly every citizen in the country has a telephone in their
place of business and at home. Why should you reserve new technology
for the Web?
For example, running Web promotions is great. You can crank
orders through the system without lifting a finger. But what if a
customer is in their car and they hear the promotion on the radio.
It’s doubtful that they’ll pull over just so they can log into their
computer to buy your product, but they might call and place an order
on their cell phone. Why not use the same source code and automation
capabilities for the phone as you have on the Web?
VoiceXML applications can be developed with the same tools and
deployed to the same servers, and managed by the same people as your
Web applications. Even though your business is moving to the Web,
don’t forget about the telephone as a customer support and sales
vehicle. That’s probably where your business started and where at
least some of your business will remain for many years to come.owle2Fp>
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
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”.
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.
Productivity gains and global competition has really driven the need to change the way businesses work
so that they can rapidly respond to global conditions. I believe that the introduction of the Euro
currency and the increasing number of free market investments that the United States has been making
over the years requires American businesses to find new ways to drive down costs and to find new
ways to do business with the international community.
VoiceXML is not THE global business solution, but it is one of the technologies that businesses
should be looking at including in their arsenal. This will enable your company
to bring your telephone capabilities to bear as rapidly as your Web site.
Centralizes Development and Management Resources
Does the need to develop a new system every time you have to bridge your front and back office
make sense? Of course not. If you’ve already or are considering consolidating
technologies into common and centralized business components, you
can easily leverage this business logic in VoiceXML. Since we’re
talking about eBusiness, this business logic will exist in a form
that VoiceXML can understand out-of-the-box.
The idea hear is to centralize and re-use application components
across the enterprise in Windows, Web, wireless, and yes, voice
The Web as a computing platform interface has done a lot to drive
consolidation of computing applications. Use this opportunity as a
spring board to integrate your telephone, PBX, and call center
systems with this centralized infrastructure. This will not only
give you more power to affect change across the enterprise, but will
reduce the number of people required to maintain the systems.
Since many companies will likely have in-house Web development talent to develop and maintain
eBusiness systems, why not leverage their expertise and make your automated telephone system
more useful and customer friendly. Any Web developer that understands XML and a backend
scripting language can develop a VoiceXML application. If you’re already beginning to develop
applications that work on the Web and wireless devices, you already have the skills and software
infrastructure to develop applications that will also work on the telephone.
I hope that these four benefits have given you a better
perspective of how VoiceXML can be utilized to provide real business
benefits for an eBusiness. If you have any questions regarding this
material or a related issue, feel free to write to me. If I don’t
know the answer off-hand, I’ll find it for you. It’s important in
this early stage of the technology that all questions are fully
answered. Or in my case as a reporter, that all answers are fully
About Jonathan Eisenzopf
Jonathan is a member of the Ferrum Group, LLC based in Reston,
Virginia that specializes in Voice Web consulting and training. He
has also written articles for other online and print publications
and WDVL.com. Feel free to send an
email to [email protected]
regarding questions or comments about the VoiceXML Strategy series,
or for more information about training and consulting