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June 14, 2013

The Coming Era of 'Smart-Calling'

By Doug Mohney, Contributing Editor

Today, we have smartphones, but dumb phone calls. It's time to start thinking about how "smart-calling" can improve business productivity for all -- and profitability for communications service providers.

I define a "dumb" phone call as any phone call where the call is made, but the media -- the sound -- isn't saved. Certainly, you get caller ID information and can use caller ID to link to (News - Alert) or other CRM system to pull up information about a caller, as well as to make notes during the call, but... why? Why not keep the whole call in its entirety? Save every business conversation, and use speech-to-text to generate a transcript of every call for future reference.

Companies like VoiceBase are already taking everything from conference calls to podcasts and turning them into searchable "HyperVoice" form. Applying this technology to businesses could vastly improve productivity. If you can't remember what was said on a particular conference call, type in a few key words to pull up the transcript and click on the recording to refresh your memory. Conference call participants can get transcripts in a few minutes.

Caller ID can be easily spoofed. If you are taking credit card or other financial information over the phone or have other need to verify identity, why not use voice biometrics to confirm that you're speaking to the "right person?" It's already happening in New Zealand, where government call centers are cutting an average of 20 seconds off of every call.

Once you've accumulated enough data (transcripts), you can index and analyze them, just like large call centers do today. You can look at what the best performing sales people are saying to help improve the rest of the sales force, look for areas of improvement when it comes to solving customer problems, and analytically look at what customers are telling you to spot competitive threats.

Voice analytics has been around for decades, but it's been the playground of the Fortune 500 because of the once-high expense of recording and processing calls. With off-the-shelf storage at around $80 a terabyte, recording calls becomes cheap and IP environments -- cloud or in-house PBX (News - Alert) -- make recording easy. Cloud services such as Amazon and Moore's Law are providing the computing power to quickly process speech.

Communications service providers and even IP PBX manufacturers are rolling out cloud-based voice services. For these environments, adding smart-calling features as described above is a path to more incremental revenue per business customer and a means to differentiate services from the rest of the pack in the short-term; in the longer term, everyone will have access to all the basics, with differentiation provided by service efficiency and the ability to offer a range of analytical services from simple point-and-click form queries to elaborate report generators.

The final differentiator goes to voice quality. The old adage of "Garbage in, garbage out" applies cleanly when poor quality voice degrades the ability of smart calling services. Service providers that can deliver high-quality, full-range voice will have an advantage in the market if all smart calling services are relatively equal.

Edited by Rory J. Thompson
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