Speech Technology Magazine

 

A Thing of Beauty

Spas and salons benefit from an Angel.com IVR to confirm appointments.
By Adam Boretz - Posted May 1, 2009
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Seventeen months ago, Lifebooker.com—a New York-based online concierge service that provides users with exclusive discounts on everything from haircuts and manicures to BoTox treatments, day spas, fitness centers, and yoga classes, and then allows them to book appointments—had a serious problem with its interactive voice response (IVR) system.

“It just wasn’t very good,” says Dana Reichman, co-founder and chief operating officer of Lifebooker. “It failed a bunch of times. It was kind of buggy, so we wanted something a little more stable.”

Lifebooker launched in New York in October 2007, recently went live in Los Angeles, and plans to go national this year. Its roster includes hundreds of New York and southern California spas, salons, and related businesses that pay the company a commission for honored appointments. 

Lifebooker also provides participating businesses with no-cost phone number and Web site listings and posts appointment availabilities, discounts, exclusive deals, reviews, and ratings to its Web site. Customers can use the site or the IVR to book appointments, and Lifebooker follows up, coordinating with the business and the client to confirm the appointments. It also sends out reminders and reschedules or cancels appointments if necessary. Users, who number more than 10,000 in New York alone, earn rewards for each appointment they book through Lifebooker.

All of that requires a lot of outbound phone calls—and an IVR that is robust, reliable, and scalable. 

With that in mind, Lifebooker did some research and quickly turned to Angel.com’s Outbound IVR system. According to Reichman, Lifebooker reached out to Angel.com, worked with the company, and quickly and smoothly deployed the system to automate its booking processes.

Since implementing the Angel.com Outbound IVR, Lifebooker is better able to handle a large volume of appointments. It also has reduced call handling times, streamlined customer interactions, and automated as many as 200 appointment confirmation calls per day. 

“It worked out well. It’s more reliable,” Reichman says.

“When a provider, when a spa or salon, gets a booking, they get an automated call through Angel’s IVR that interfaces with our system to alert them of a new appointment,” Reichman says, adding that the system makes additional calls if a client cancels an appointment or if a business fails to confirm an appointment. “[Businesses] get a phone call, and they have to come on to our system and confirm the appointment. Angel allows us to do thousands of appointments and thousands of alerts, and we don’t have someone calling them manually.”

According to Reichman, the deployment went smoothly and presented no real hurdles for Lifebooker. “Angel has a pretty good interface that we worked with,” she says. “It wasn’t too hard.”

Reichman found the staff at Angel.com to be very accessible, providing assistance with the implementation of the outbound IVR whenever needed. But in the end, she most praises Angel.com’s interface for the deployment’s success.

“I think their interface was just really easy to work with,” she says.

Forget the Code

One of the main reasons Lifebooker turned to Angel.com in the first place was the ease of use and speed of deployment that Angel.com promised.

“You don’t need to write any code,” explains Rich Scarbath, senior account executive at Angel.com, who points out that all he provided to Lifebooker was one page of instructions and an hour-long demonstration. “To build a voice application it is point and click…Nobody has to know VoiceXML. You don’t have to write any lines of code with the Angel solution.”

Scarbath says Angel.com’s Outbound API—the hosted, Web services component that allows companies to access Angel.com’s Outbound IVR via an application programming interface—is laid out simply and allows companies to link their databases to the Angel.com system quickly.

“They had their system talking to the Angel system in less than a day and actually built their voice site—or the application that would play all these messages—in less than a day, too,” Scarbath says. “So instead of weeks or months in development, it’s just a couple of days.”

However, Scarbath also gives much of the credit for the deployment’s success to Lifebooker.

“They amazingly set up the entire operation with Angel themselves,” he says. “They actually built the voice side of the application themselves.”

According to Reichman—who notes that Lifebooker’s switch to Angel’s Outbound IVR was “seamless”—going with a hosted solution simplified operations for her company, eliminated the need to buy hardware and install phone lines, and was more scalable.

“If we wanted to expand to other cities, we’d have to add more phone lines,” she says of the company’s previous IVR. “[The new system] allows us to scale, and right now we’re in the process of expanding to other geographies in the U.S. With Angel we can keep handling more phone calls, and we don’t have to worry about it.”

And this, too, is due to the flexibility and ease of use that Angel provides, according to Scarbath. “It solves any problem you could ever come up with for an IVR,” he says. “There’s not an IVR out there that exists that I’ve seen that it can’t build and replicate or build and improve upon.”

Scarbath compares the simplicity and flexibility of the Angel.com framework to Lego pieces, the plastic building blocks that interlock and can be used to build an infinite number of objects or structures. Angel is similar in that way, says Scarbath, who adds that he always tells clients to think about building IVRs without limits or preconceptions. 

“What if you could build anything you could dream?” he says. “Don’t think about the way IVR exists today. Think about how you would want to interact with an IVR.

“You can actually have the same network as somebody who spent $5 million literally on IVR equipment…for hundreds of dollars a month. The personalization of IVR needs to start happening across all IVR applications.”

Scarbath says because the Angel.com system can be customized in many ways and linked to any database, it offers an IVR that is more personalized—and even friendlier.

“The IVR, when integrated with the database, is very, very customer-friendly,” he says, noting that this level of personalization eliminates the need for users to enter and re-enter information, like account numbers and phone numbers.

And while Lifebooker is currently using only a handful of the features that Angel.com provides, Reichman says she plans to expand and possibly add text-to-speech features. 

“I’m looking forward to doing that, as well,” she says. “[The system] is an integral part of our business, and we are definitely planning on exploring other more advanced options.” 

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