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February 22, 2007

Interactive Voice for Web sites and Browser-based Applications

By Alan Rosenberg, BlueNote Networks


More and more broadband users are leveraging their PCs and the Internet to make free or low cost telephone calls. Skype’s (News - Alert) free telephony client has been downloaded by hundreds of millions of consumers around the world. Popular instant messaging utilities such as AOL Instant Messenger, Yahoo! Messenger and Microsoft (News - Alert) Windows Live Messenger all offer PC calling.  
 
These early PC telephony offerings are used primarily for person-to-person calling, often to contact friends or relatives living abroad. Consumers rarely use these PC telephony clients to connect with businesses.
 
Other than the odd college pizzeria that accepts orders by IM, few businesses have embraced this new medium. Many enterprises have been waiting for Internet telephony to become more widespread, so they can reach a larger target audience. And rather than supporting IM clients directly, many enterprises are looking at ways to embed voice communications directly into their Web sites and applications so they can deliver a more integrated on-line experience that is incorporated into their telecommunications and call center infrastructure.
 
The stage is now being set for enterprises to voice-enable their Web sites and business applications. With the popularity of Skype and other telephony-enabled messenger services, voice-capable PCs are becoming more widespread. USB handsets and headsets are commodity items. Peripheral manufacturers offer keyboards with embedded speakerphones. And WiFi handsets have recently hit the market. Enterprises can now reach an ever growing audience of telephony-capable PCs.
 
In addition, new business communications platforms are offering thin client voice technology that embeds a lightweight telephony agent directly into a Web page, obviating the need for special purpose telephony client software.
 
These new communications platforms feature Web services APIs that integrate Internet-originated calls into the enterprise telecommunications and contact center infrastructure to improve customer interactions and unleash a wide variety of new and interesting Internet telephony applications.
 
Click-to-Talk
 
Adding voice communications to Web sites is perhaps the most obvious application for thin client technology. Many Web sites already feature text chat so visitors can interact with service representatives in real time. Real-time voice enhances the user experience and improves customer satisfaction. Business communications platforms forward important customer and transaction data to contact center agents so they can respond to customer concerns more rapidly, efficiently and satisfactorily.
 
Businesses can retain high value customers by offering them premium services and connecting them to special service queues or dedicated service reps. Improved customer satisfaction leads to more return visits, more referrals and expanded eCommerce revenues. Furthermore, businesses can reduce their carrier costs by accepting Internet-originated calls, and improve contact center economics by reducing call durations and transfers.
 
But applications for thin client telephony are not limited to public-facing Web sites. These new capabilities can enhance almost any browser-based application, in just about any industry and market segment.
 
Portals
 
Thin telephony client technology can add voice calling to Internet portals in the hospitality, transportation, university or healthcare industries. Cellular phone use has decimated hotel, university, and hospital telecomm revenues. Many organizations no longer bill enough to cover their ongoing PBX maintenance costs.
 
Forward-looking CIOs are introducing voice-enabled Internet portals so they can once again derive business value from their telecommunications infrastructure. Often delivered as part of a broadband Internet offering, these portals offer an improved user experience, delivering personalized services, and allowing guests to place and receive outside telephone calls, quickly connect to internal departments and services, and access corporate, institutional, or public telephone directories.
 
Furthermore, organizations can introduce new revenue streams with click-through advertisements. A hotel can offer targeted click-to-talk links to area restaurants and entertainment destinations. A university can offer click-to-talk links to a late night food delivery service or a concert promoter. A hospital can offer click-to-talk links to local florists or gift shops.
 
Kiosks
 
Business communications platforms can be leveraged to add voice calling to kiosks in retail spaces, lobbies, airports, student unions, convention centers or civic auditoriums. Retailers can place kiosks on store floors so shoppers can communicate with a sales specialist equipped with a WiFi (News - Alert) phone or with a distant call center rep.
 
Enterprises can leverage kiosks to reach potential customers at unattended locations such as airports and convention centers. Universities, hospitals, and hotels can leverage kiosks to extend their portals to lobbies, grounds and student unions. Municipalities can introduce kiosks in public spaces to realize click-through-calling revenue from local business advertisements.
 
SaaS (News - Alert) Offerings
 
The success of Salesforce.com is fueling the growth of the remotely-hosted software application market. Software as a Service (SaaS) offerings are popping up for just about every application – customer relationship management (CRM), supply chain management (SCM), enterprise resource planning (ERP), even government risk and compliance (GRC).
 
SaaS offerings are particularly popular among small and medium size businesses who desire the features of a large enterprise offering, without the deployment and maintenance burdens. Business communications platforms are a natural fit for SaaS offerings. Thin telephony client technology can enable sales professionals to engage prospects directly from a CRM screen, or a manufacturer to get more out of his SCM application by communicating directly with vendors. Savvy SaaS providers are leveraging integrated voice calling as a competitive differentiator for their service offerings.
 
Web-based Services
 
Business communications platforms also improve Web-based communication services such as distance learning solutions and presentation sharing applications. More and more companies leverage the Internet to deliver customer presentations, host meetings, and train remote workers.
 
Most Web-based on-line meeting services rely on external audio conference bridges that add cost and complexity to the solution. Business communications platforms enable providers to embed voice communications into their Web clients so they can simplify meeting administration and setup, eliminate separate call-in numbers and reduce telecommunications expenses.
 
By embedding voice communications into Web sites and Internet applications, business communications platforms enable enterprises to deliver differentiated services, improve customer reach, and increase customer satisfaction. Business communications platforms extend and enable a wide variety of applications in just about every industry and market, and deliver financial rewards by introducing new revenue streams, reducing telecommunications expenses, and improving call center economics.
 
Alan Rosenberg is director of Product Line Management for BlueNote Networks (News - Alert). With BlueNote SessionSuite platforms, enterprises, ISVs and partners can quickly and easily embed interactive real-time communication services into a range of commercial or custom software applications, Web sites and internal business processes using industry-standard interfaces and technology. He can be reached at arosenberg@bluenotenetworks.com.


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