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November 15, 2007

Voice Enabling the Customer Experience

By Erik Linask, Associate Editor,
Internet Telephony magazine

Unquestionably, the most influential announcement of the year — in the history of the IP Communications space, according to many — is Microsoft’s (News - Alert) recent launch of its Unified Communications software suite. In fact, as Sally Bament, vice president of marketing at BlueNote Networks noted, it truly solidified voice as a business application.

The idea of voice as just another application, while still gaining acceptance, is the key to creating a truly converged business networking environment. However, without that understanding, businesses will be unable to realize the true benefits of IP Communications.
BlueNote, though a relatively young company, having been founded in January, 2005, is in a prime position to take advantage of the injection of voice into the business process, which is where its expertise lies. Using BlueNote’s software, businesses are able to integrate SIP-based communication services into any of their internal or customer facing business applications.
According to Bament, “Voice needs to become just another business application — then it can be easily embedded into other applications and procedures.”
The problem, she says, is that the telephony and data departments are most companies are still not quite on the same page when it comes to converging the two realms, and do not have a firm grasp on how to manage that evolution, which makes the integration difficult.
The key is to first find the business process or application that needs to be voice enables, then educate data managers they do not need to be telephony experts, and the telephony managers they do not need to reinvent the wheel in order to accommodate data applications.
“Unified Communications (News - Alert) is a massive umbrella, and the telephony piece is the foundation,” explained Bament, eluding to the value gained by voice enabling various business applications. 
The key is understanding how to use telephony as a building block to unify the various disparate processes and applications that can benefit from the injection of voice ­— from things as simple as click to call functionality to other, more complex Web applications. The value proposition that really sells businesses, though, is an understanding that voice enabling their business applications reaches much farther than just the enterprise — it injects itself directly into the customer relationship.
For instance, Boston’s Seaport Hotel, which was using a Nortel (News - Alert) TDM PBX, but was not able to completely rewire its facility, was able to enable interfacing between the PBX and the Internet and its phones, adding SIP trunking from AGN Networks, to completely transform its guest experience.
With the help of BlueNote, guests are able to use one-touch dialing on touchscreen phones to contact hotel facilities, like the concierge, as well as external resources, like airport information services or local restaurants. Guests are also able to access the Internet directly from their phones, allowing them to even check email, if they desire. The solution builds guest loyalty by creating an enhanced guest experience — with the additional benefit of generating revenue as well. 
In addition to the hospitality space, BlueNote says it is finding growing interest from the finance, higher education, healthcare, and government verticals. Customers in any of these, and other customer focuses industries are beginning to recognize that a customer-facing application that generates revenue while considerably enhancing the customer experience is of tremendous value. In fact, Seaport Hotel says that its regular guests request rooms with SeaPortal functionality.
At the end of the day, customers are recognizing the value proposition of BlueNote’s voice enabling technology, and any that have doubts can pay the company a visit to see a first-hand demo, as BlueNote has never installed a PBX in its own offices. Rather, it uses its own applications for as a communications system.
Erik Linask (News - Alert) is Associate Editor of INTERNET TELEPHONY, IMS Magazine, and Unified Communications.  Prior to joining TMC (News - Alert), he was Managing Editor at Global Custodian, an international securities services publication. To see more of his articles, please visit Erik Linask’s columnist page.


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