Evaluating the Benefits of VoiceXML for eBusiness

Saturday Sep 28th 2002 by Jonathan Eisenzopf
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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 support channels.

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:

  • eBusiness
  • Customer Support
  • Transportation
  • Consumer Electronics
  • Medical
  • Retail
  • Manufacturing
  • Government

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to provide critical feedback, you will receive all news and research information on a regular basis, which may or may not be published on the site.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 eisen@ferrumgroup.com.

Overview

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 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. 

Reduces Time-To-Market

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 applications.

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.

Conclusion

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 questioned.

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 including WebReference.com and WDVL.com. Feel free to send an email to eisen@ferrumgroup.com regarding questions or comments about the VoiceXML Strategy series, or for more information about training and consulting services.

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