A conversation with Mike, Tom, and Lucy(Phone)

There are many famous Lucys we’re all quite familiar with. There’s Lucy Ricardo, the main character from I Love Lucy, known for her penchant for getting into trouble. Actresses Lucy Liu (Ally McBeal, Charlie’s Angels) and Lucy Lawless (Xena: Warrior Princess). The bossy and cynical Lucy van Pelt of the classic comic strip Peanuts, Charlie Brown’s worst enemy on the football field.

It’s not common to find a Lucy in the names of contact center technologies. I know that IVR and voice prompt vendors would personify system voices — referring to “the Sally greeting” or “the Albert on-hold prompt.” A speech-enabled IVR may even introduce itself (himself? herself?) upon answering, “Hello, I am Alfred. How may I assist you?” but not many systems do.

The personification of technology seems a natural way to reach the widest spectrum of users from a branding as well as usability perspective. Score one for LucyPhone.

I’d stumbled upon this service several days ago, complete with a website and iPhone app (Android and Blackberry versions to come soon) to save you time by staying in queue for you. Yes, no more annoying ads, jittery prompts, and music aimed at hypnotizing on-hold callers! Thank God for Lucy and her tremendous patience…

When you first use the service, you’ll hear a greeting from Lucy, then it’s just pressing a button and waiting for her to call you back once an agent is reached. It’s not a new technology by any means as virtual queuing and callback features have existed for years in the contact center. However, how many contact centers have implemented this? Sadly, not a lot.

And if the number of tweets and Facebook fans is an indication of how much people love Lucy, then contact centers ought to take note. This is a feature that your customers want because nobody likes waiting in line — even if it’s a virtual line, complete with soothing music and calming voices. In essence, customers want contact centers to respect their time.

Surprisingly, founders Mike and Tom Oristian do not come from a contact center technology background. (I shouldn’t be shocked, which contact center developer uses Rails?!) They saw a big opportunity to empower the customer to drive increased customer satisfaction, instead of leaving it to the companies to decide whether to offer a callback feature. So far it’s working well as loyal users have entered hundreds of company toll-free numbers into LucyPhone’s website. (In fact, just the other day I found the unpublished toll-free number of a major online company through LucyPhone’s site. Crowdsourcing is a beautiful thing.)

Score two for LucyPhone.

According to the Oristians, the company has less than 10 people and the service is run on redundant cloud servers. The business model is to offer LucyPhone as SaaS (hmmm, “Sassy Lucy”? I like it already) in order to lower cost and simplify integration. The company is actively looking into partnering with Big Telecom to tackle the integration challenges of bringing this directly into the contact centers.

Perhaps with the popularity of SIP this won’t pose as much of a challenge as pre-SIP days. LucyPhone’s enterprise and consumer offerings will work with SIP for the most cost effective integration path. I remember a long time ago having to implement a similar feature but only using proprietary Nortel technology. The solution (or hack) consisted of generating “fake” calls using phantom PBX ports once the customer chooses the callback option, thereby tricking the CTI software into thinking these are real calls in queue, then once such a call hits the agent desktop with a screen-pop, use the softphone to initiate a call to the customer callback number. Not very pretty at all…

I won’t be surprised to see similar hacks in place today to demonstrate virtual queuing and callback. As somebody who knows a thing or two about this technology, I’m glad that LucyPhone offers another option for a contact center to implement this highly desired feature.


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