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May 2000

Greg Galitzine Adding Voice To E-Commerce


Go Right To: Services News

I've never bought anything online. There. I've admitted it. Came close a few times, though. I guess I can take solace in the fact that I'm not alone. Every day, countless shoppers fill up their virtual shopping carts, proceed to checkout, and inexplicably click over to another site before completing their purchases. (A recent survey by Yankelovich Partners found that a full 63 percent of online shoppers preferred more human interaction before they would agree to make purchases online.) While there are many possible reasons for this type of behavior, it seems a great many shoppers simply don't feel comfortable enough to follow through on their best intentions of "closing the deal."

If only there were a way to talk these people through the process of finalizing the sale. Well you know what? There is. A whole slew of companies are offering solutions and full-fledged services that allow a visitor (read: potential purchaser) on your Web site to click up the phone and ask for help.

In the simplest incarnation, these solutions involve setting up a "call me" button on a Web site. Visitors to the site can then click on that button to speak with a live representative who will be able to assuage any fears the shopper may have regarding security or privacy as well as answer any questions the visitor may have regarding any aspect of the purchase. It also gives the representative a terrific opportunity to up-sell or cross-sell a wide array of products or services.

Lipstream Networks created their full duplex voice service with a mass-market consumer audience in mind. Thus the technological hurdles are fairly low and easy to overcome. For example, users need only a 28.8 Kbps connection, speakers, and a microphone to use the voice service, and with most multimedia-ready PCs incorporating the fastest processors and modems, as well as standard speakers and microphones, it's hardly a stretch to find users who are ready to take advantage of Lipstream's service.

The Lipstream client is a miniscule ActiveX control or Netscape plug-in that downloads in less than a minute and auto loads on most browsers. As for the back-end network, Lipstream has partnered with Qwest, thus ensuring a global IP-based fiber-optic network will be used to carry the conversations. Lipstream has also partnered with Qualcomm, who provides the Lipstream solution with a pure voice codec. The company chose UDP (User Datagram Protocol) to deliver voice data over the Internet as opposed to TCP (Transmission Control Protocol), which they feel adds unnecessary latency and packet overhead, which in turn, would contribute to a lower overall quality experience for the user.

At press time, Lipstream had just announced a new partner, Africana.com, Inc. The partnership allows visitors to the Africana.com site to use Lipstream's PC-to-PC live voice service to meet, exchange ideas, and learn about African American culture and history. According to Darrol Roberts, COO and president of Africana.com, "By adding Lipstream's Live Voice chat service, we have provided a great way for our visitors to interact with one another to share ideas."

Another vendor taking the service approach is AudioTalk. As this article was being put together, the company announced that they had agreed to merge with HearMe, a company specializing in text, voice, and video chat. AudioTalk's technology -- standards-based (H.323, SIP) live chat and click-to-talk capabilities -- are a welcome addition to HearMe's portfolio. Specifically, HearMe customers are no longer limited to just the Web. Taking advantage of the AudioTalk piece of the puzzle, subscribers can now connect to any offline telephone. Furthermore, AudioTalk's corporate focus is also a welcome addition to HearMe's primarily consumer-oriented service.

Several notable features of the AudioTalk/HearMe solution include:

  • Firewall compatibility for use by corporate customers;
  • Automatic gain control to eliminate microphone configuration;
  • User moderation for the ability to manage and control group discussions; and
  • Simultaneous (full duplex) two-way communication.

Timing is everything. As the deadline for submitting this article was drawing near, VocalTec announced a new ASP (Application Service Provider) initiative, Surf&Call Network Services. The idea is to enable e-commerce "storefronts" to provide voice integration, co-browsing, and more to their customers shopping online, with the obvious goal of increasing customer retention and increasing revenues.

Describing the new service, VocalTec indicated that Surf&Call Network Services offers the three most important things e-commerce businesses have requested to extend their Web presence:

  • Simple, direct, and instantaneous voice communication from the customer's computer -- no callbacks or second lines, just click and talk immediately;
  • Multiple choices in the means of achieving live, human interaction including live voice from the PC; and
  • A proven platform that can be integrated without disruption to current operations.

In addition to the types of vendors mentioned above, there are those companies who are focused on the underlying technology, who then offer their solutions to e-commerce companies eager to reap the benefits of Web-enabled access to their customer service agents.

Access Power, eFusion, Net2Phone, and others all offer solutions that can essentially help turn a Web site into a point of sale terminal. Some of the other vendors offering such solutions include the likes of Cisco Systems, Servicesoft, Ericsson -- and if you're looking for a complete Web-enabled call center solution -- CosmoCom.

In a nutshell, these companies offer technology designed to enhance a Web site's e-commerce services using voice over IP. When a user visits a site that has been enabled with a call button, they can quickly and easily connect to a customer service representative by clicking that button. As mentioned above, the technology hurdles that need to be cleared before taking advantage of this technology are fairly low. In most cases a PC running (at least) Windows 95 with a minimum 28.8 Kbps Internet connection, together with a multimedia headset or speakers/microphone combination is all it takes to start talking to a real live agent.

Most of these solutions take the form of either a Java applet or an ActiveX control that is downloaded to the user's PC. Some vendors allow Web storefront proprietors to brand the buttons, thus creating brand awareness and another point of marketing toward the consumer. The advantages of deploying a call button on a Web site are many. Some have been mentioned already, others include:

  • A decrease in site or shopping cart abandonment;
  • Increased customer satisfaction;
  • Increased sales and up-sell opportunities;
  • No need to build out and maintain an expensive IP infrastructure;
  • A way for businesses to immediately address concerns of potential customers;
  • Ability to escalate problems if e-mail or text chat do not serve to resolve the issue;
  • Ease of use for customers; and
  • Can be completely free of charge for customers, thus increasing usage.

In a business environment that's becoming ever more competitive, with the perceived need for customer service that goes the extra step, and with the technology to "live-agent" enable an e-commerce Web site becoming readily available, it's becoming clear that adding voice to your site is going beyond being some rare luxury. It's becoming a necessity. And with the cost of entry so low, it's definitely worth taking a look at some of the vendors mentioned in this article. As always, I urge readers to pick up the phone or visit the vendors' Web sites (where you might just be able to click through to a representative). Do your homework before you choose a solution that's right for you. But, keep in mind, some of your competitors might already be well on their way.

Services News

NMS Unveils PacketMedia Strategic Solutions
Natural MicroSystems has announced PacketMedia, a standards-based, carrier-class IP media server solution. PacketMedia offers support for enhanced services applications with real-time media streaming with simultaneous play and record for carrier-grade sound quality and functionality. PacketMedia enables communications equipment providers to rapidly deliver to new carriers new hardware/software platforms capable of supporting a wide range of next-gen IP-based applications and enhanced services. PacketMedia is designed to support media streaming on existing and future NMS platforms.
No. 540, www.itmag.com/freeinfo

Intel To Acquire VTG
Intel has announced that it has entered into a definitive agreement to acquire Voice Technologies Group in a cash transaction. The acquisition provides Intel and its Dialogic subsidiary with leading edge capabilities and features to enable most leading PBX systems sold worldwide to work with Dialogic's computer telephony server systems and IP gateways (equipment used to link to the Internet). In addition, VTG will help expand Dialogic's current portfolio of PBX products. The VTG acquisition will further Dialogic's objective of helping to enable the integration of sophisticated applications -- such as IP telephony, unified messaging, speech-based auto attendant and call center applications -- with PBX systems. Intel and Dialogic will gain access to VTG product lines, intellectual property, technology, expert engineers, and facilities in order to enable new products that accelerate the convergence of PBX and Internet technologies.
No. 541, www.itmag.com/freeinfo

Toshiba Announces Integrated VoIP Card
Toshiba America Information Systems Telecommunications Sys-
tems Division (TAIS TSD) has announced its new VoIP card for the Strat DK424 and DK40i business telephony systems. The VoIP card is an IP solution that offers seamless integrated voice and fax Internet transmission from a Toshiba Strata DK424 or DK40i business telephone system. "The new VoIP card allows users of Toshiba's Strata DK424 and DK40i systems to seamlessly bridge their voice and fax communications over any digital TCP/IP network, maximizing communication capabilities, without incurring large cash outlays," said Dave Mandeville, vice president marketing at Toshiba Telecommunication Systems Division.
No. 542, www.itmag.com/freeinfo

Dialogic Intros New DS3 Offering
Intel and its Dialogic subsidiary announced availability of the DS3 high-end network interface card used by developers for building robust public network applications. The DS3 joins a complete family of Dialogic CompactPCI products and solutions for the public network, including QuadSpan voice processing products, SS7, ATM, and IP telephony products. The combination of CompactPCI and DS3 gives developers high density, allowing them to cut costs by building smaller-footprint solutions.
No. 543, www.itmag.com/freeinfo

TalkVISUAL Uses Solectek's MP1100 Bridges
Solectek and TalkVISUAL are working together to develop services that deliver high-speed wireless video-over-IP solutions linking TalkVISUAL locations into a Virtual Private Internet Network. Moreover, Solectek and Talk-
VISUAL plan to take this relationship further in a joint effort to continue the development of video-over-IP wireless WAN services. Both companies feel that their combined expertise, products, and service offerings blend well to further develop this solution.
No. 544, www.itmag.com/freeinfo

PhoneFree.com Launches New Site And Software
PhoneFree.com has announced the launch of its new Web site and introduction of Version 6.1 of the company's software package. PhoneFree.com has introduced several improvements, including a new site design and Internet phone, expanded features, and a more user-friendly navigation. Phone-
Free.com is "letting freedom ring" by providing consumers and companies with a new standard in worldwide multimedia communications which harnesses the power and the technology of the Internet to allow people to break free from the costs and hassles of traditional phone service.
No. 545, www.itmag.com/freeinfo

Broadmedia Announces freeTone-Global
Broadmedia has announced the availability of freeTone-Global, a phone-to-phone Internet-based long-distance service that enables businesses to call any worldwide destination at low rates. This service is designed for single-site corporations, SOHOs, and other business environments where a direct site-to-site Internet telephony connection (such as basic freeTone) isn't possible. With freeTone-Global service, customers do not need to purchase any new network or computer equipment. Broad-
media provides the Internet gateway hardware either on or off the customer premises as part of the freeTone-Global service.
No. 546, www.itmag.com/freeinfo

RangeStar Expands Wireless Capabilities With Bluetooth
RangeStar Wireless has unveiled a Total Bluetooth Solution that will enable the simplification of interaction between people, as well as wireless devices. Leading industry manufacturers have attempted to speed the development of Bluetooth devices and applications. RangeStar's latest solution offers companies of all sizes and industries the ability to reduce development time, lower cost, and integrate cutting-edge embedded (internal) antenna technology into Bluetooth applications.
No. 547, www.itmag.com/freeinfo

ITXC Has Record Two Million Minute Peak Day
On March 5, ITXC carried more than two million minutes of wholesale Internet telephony traffic on ITXC.net, ITXC's global infrastructure providing consistently high quality for real-time voice and voice-enabled e-commerce over the Internet. Increased volume came both from ITXC webtalkNOW! Service, and the company's core phone-to-phone service, WWeX-
change Service. To facilitate ITXC's network expansion and new enhanced service products, ITXC opened its third super PoP located in Jersey City, NJ. This and all other ITXC-owned super PoPs feature SS7 capability to meet the requirements of the company's tier one customers.
No. 548, www.itmag.com/freeinfo

Geoworks Extends Mobile Customer Service
Geoworks has launched Mobile ASP, Geoworks' mobile communications solution for enterprise clients. Mobile ASP is designed to provide companies with the technology and services necessary to extend their operations, communications, and customer service initiatives to the mobile medium and to achieve enhanced immediate business-to-consumer communications. "With Mobile ASP, Geoworks is scaling its patented server technology and mobile media expertise to make it easier for a wide variety of companies to meet the needs of their mobile customers," said Dave Grannan, CEO and president of Geoworks.
No. 549, www.itmag.com/freeinfo

ipx Announces T-Portal
ipx has announced the creation of T-Portal (Telecommunications Portal), a group of international telecommunications companies dedicated to advancing new technologies. T-Portal is a business and technological vehicle for creating and marketing advanced telecom applications. T-Portal is an industry-wide collaboration of hardware manufacturers, software providers, service providers, access providers, and applications providers making a unified effort to radically change the way Internet-related communication services are deployed around the world.
No. 550, www.itmag.com/freeinfo

RealNetworks, Net2Phone Join Forces
RealNetworks and Net2Phone have agreed to utilize the distribution capabilities of the RealPlayer, providing more than 95 million unique registered RealPlayer users access to Net2Phone's PC-based Internet telephony software and services. Under the agreement, Net2Phone will gain valuable access to the vast RealPlayer user base, and the Net2Phone service will be promoted across the Real.com network of Web sites. RealPlayer users in the United States who download and register for Net2Phone will also receive 100 free minutes of domestic usage and a complimentary headset.
No. 551, www.itmag.com/freeinfo

MIND-iPhonEX To Include Convergent IP Services Billing
MIND has announced that MIND-iPhonEX has been enhanced to support IP services billing. MIND-iPhonEX gives ISPs the key technological element required in supporting even the most ambitious business strategy. The new product developments furnish ISPs, ITSPs, and telcos with a convergent, real-time solution for billing diverse IP services. MIND-iPhonEX provides the means for rapid deployment of new services. The current billing and customer care solution from MIND provides real-time, carrier-grade IP telephony billing for major telcos and ITSPs worldwide.
No. 552, www.itmag.com/freeinfo

XACCT and TeleKnowledge Offer Billing, Customer Care
XACCT Technologies and TeleKnowledge have entered into an agreement under which the companies will integrate the XACCTusage platform with TeleKnowledge's Total-e value-based billing solution, allowing broadband service and content providers to deliver advanced billing and customer care solutions. As value-added services such as VPN, IP fax, IP telephony, and streaming multimedia emerge on the Internet, broadband providers are realizing that they must go beyond a flat-rate pricing model to design and execute innovative pricing models for services based on any combination of consumer-driven value metrics. The integration of XACCTusage and Tele-
Knowledge's Total-e solution enables customers to create flexible, usage- and value-based billing models for IP-based voice, video, and data services.
No. 553, www.itmag.com/freeinfo

iCall Announces Multi-Partner Consumer Service
iCall has announced a global, multi-partner consumer service which delivers inexpensive, easy-to-use real-time connections without the hassles of call backs, pre-registration, advanced purchase, or pre-approvals. This service is possible through the development and deployment of iCall's patent-pending VoIP platform. iCall combines proprietary patent-pending technology and solutions from IP telephony industry leaders to enable foreign and domestic telcos to offer low-cost international collect calling for their customers.
No. 554, www.itmag.com/freeinfo

Natural MicroSystems Delivers NaturalConference
Natural MicroSystems has announced NaturalConference, a software solution that provides real-time, multi-party conferencing capabilities on the company's Alliance Generation family of IP telephony hardware. NaturalConference is designed for conferencing service providers who deliver highly-integrated, multi-feature conferencing systems to companies who are not equipped to deploy and maintain their own service. By utilizing DSP processing power and a standard telephony interface available on NMS's AG platform, NaturalConference is a highly integrated software solution that provides rapid conferencing service development and deployment.
No. 555, www.itmag.com/freeinfo

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