Follow-up on Fonolo

Fonolo CEO Shai Berger was kind enough to take time from his vacation (and baby duty) to discuss in more detail about his company and its products. I’d written about Fonolo previously when its iPhone app appeared on the scene to great fanfare. The Toronto-based startup of less than 10 employees has won numerous awards and recognition, and are more than ready to roll out its Fonolo for Business enterprise product.

“Disruptive” was the word chosen by Berger to describe its product. According to Berger, Fonolo is in the middle of a pilot project for a major bank in North America. He couldn’t reveal the name of this customer, but I thought to myself, kudos to the executive(s) who realized the benefit of this technology and more importantly, realized the importance of improving the customer experience using it.

Because that is ultimately what Fonolo aims to do. For customers, allowing them to reach a company’s service representative easily, away from the tired voice interface. For enterprises, allowing them to leverage existing contact center infrastructure but provide an additional channel of customer interaction. Judging from the iTunes Store feedback, the app is commonly misunderstood. Some users have complained about having to set up an account and/or enter a phone number in order to use the service. With some input from Berger, let me see if I can explain it somewhat properly…

Fonolo for Consumers not just navigates an IVR menu for you (its “Deep Dialing” technology), it also allows you to make notes, bookmarks, and save call history. That’s why a user has to set up an account. Those are also unique features of Fonolo compared to other competing offerings which simply push out DTMF tones to get you to someone.

Yes, someone. This may not be the right person because as we know, businesses change and therefore, IVR menus also change. But Fonolo solves this problem and improves its effectiveness by regularly calling company IVRs and updating their menu mappings stored in its database. It’s much more than a DTMF generator. Berger attributed this important distinguishing feature to its home-grown “call engine,” complete with its own SIP stack and RTP library (for you techies craving TLAs).

In terms of implementation, it doesn’t take more than a Web widget embedded on the company site. There’s more good news: absolutely nothing has to be changed to the existing infrastructure. The PBX is left alone, the IVR remains untouched, and the CTI system requires no tweaks. Calls continue to arrive to the agents — screen-pops and all. IVR menu changes? Just update the widget. In a study done and published by Berger and his team, between 30-50% of contact center calls result from mis-navigation (e.g. zero-outs, vague verbiage, long menus, etc.) which cost lots of money. By presenting a visual interface Fonolo cuts down on mis-navigation and could save a company a big chunk of cash. Happy callers? How about happy contact center managers, too.

Now you may think, as I have, “Why not just implement an email routing application?” In fact, many modern contact center software have that capability. Faxes, emails, and even tweets are now being routed along with voice interactions. Email is good for a number of things, but not in dealing with customer service. Otherwise, why aren’t IVRs extinct yet in the midst of email ubiquity? Additionally, Berger pointed out that most contact centers rarely deploy both voice and email routing together; and if voice service is deployed first, they don’t normally add email routing later because of cost and technical complexities. Customers still prefer speaking to a live person, so perhaps email routing is more effective when used as a request for agent callback.

In that aspect I believe the main competitors to Fonolo aren’t other “dialing” apps, but rather products that offer “live chat” capability on a company site.

But Fonolo also has an edge in its smartphone apps. Between sending an email then waiting on a response or not being in front of a PC to initiate live chat, and actually getting to an agent via a quick tap or click on the mobile phone — which would you prefer?

Consumers will find Fonolo an app that solves a common frustration in dealing with companies. And with that, enterprises should take an honest look at themselves to see if they are doing their best to provide the most efficient method of customer service in today’s Web-centric world. Fonolo can be the bridge to that gap.


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