The gloves come off in virtual queuing niche


Nobody likes waiting in queue since the invention of the HOLD button. Then the smarties thought adding music would make the on-hold experience more pleasurable.

Well, we all know how that turned out.

Long ago I’d done a couple of projects implementing a virtual queuing feature. It required plenty of customization and worked only with the Nortel PBX. Cool solution, but quite limited. However, obviously a niche area for innovation and opportunity.

Virtual Hold Technology did exactly that and became the go-to solution for virtual queuing (VQ). Founded in 1995 it has dominated the market for VQ implementation. The solution requires on-premise hardware and software, and works with major contact center suites like Genesys, Avaya, and Cisco.

But as we all know, times are a-changing. It’s a world of cloud computing, Web 2.0, and smartphones. Savvy entrepreneurs are looking at VQ in a different light and making it sexy again.

The two disruptive companies to enter this niche are LucyPhone and Fonolo. Both have been covered on this blog previously as well as in other press. But “better” press would be from the blog of a competitor, because that’s when you know you’ve become a credible threat. From VHT’s blog titled “I applaud the concept, but LucyPhone could be hurting more than helping” in August:

When consumers use Lucyphone on the web or as a smartphone app, they select a customer service number from a huge directory of companies that has been provided to them. They may be calling the right company, but is it the right number? Not always. So, despite your company’s efforts to route consumers to the best skilled resource on the first call, they may become frustrated when they need to be transferred around the organization.

This happens with or without IVRs, with or without virtual queuing. This isn’t even a valid argument in this case. I doubt VHT or LucyPhone or Fonolo is able to determine whether a customer dialed the right number. It’s virtual queuing, not call routing.

Then came the FUD factor — security:

Next, after Lucy makes the call on the consumer’s behalf, he or she is directed through your company’s IVR menus where a PIN code, claim number or credit card number may be required to proceed. What happens to this information? With Lucy basically conferenced into the call, is it possible that she’s collecting and storing this private information? Is the consumer knowingly or unknowingly trading privacy for convenience? While I doubt the Oristian brothers have nefarious intentions, consider that the outsider who hacks into Lucy’s brain might. But if your company offered a virtual queuing solution that was fully integrated with the contact center, wouldn’t the consumer have the benefit of both privacy and convenience? In addition, when consumers are transferred to a holding queue, they tell Lucy to stay on the line for them and then hang up. She calls them back when it’s their turn to speak with a rep. Lucy detects when she’s reached a customer service agent and tells the agent to “hold on” while she calls back the customer and patches them through. But does Lucy drop off the call? Or is Lucy listening and recording everything being said? I don’t know for sure but the thought is frightening.

In which LucyPhone co-founder Tom Oristian aptly addressed in the blog comments. Fonolo’s Shai Berger also chimed in with his analysis and opinion:

OK, there are really two separate issues here. LucyPhone differs from VHT in that it is a) cloud-based rather than on-premise and b) unilateral vs bilateral.

To me, it seems that LucyPhone’s “unilateral approach” is what makes it disruptive. Power to the consumers via a no-nonsense smartphone app. Crowd-source the list of company phone numbers on its website. VHT may have a hard time understanding this, but this is the perception: If your technology isn’t accessible from the fingertips of the user, then you are part of the problem.

To use VHT’s solution the caller still has to go through the evil IVR and get to a point to be transferred. But with LucyPhone and Fonolo, the user is in control. The user dictates the interaction on his or her terms.

VHT, LucyPhone, and Fonolo all aim to improve the customer service experience, but there is clearly a distinction. I believe it is this: Is the solution right in front of the user? If not then I’m afraid it’s part of the problem, especially in a today’s world where user experience is being transformed.

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