• January 5, 2011
  • By Leonard Klie Editor, Speech Technology and CRM magazines
  • FYI

New App Brings Social Media to Standard Voicemail

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Anana, in conjunction with Alcatel-Lucent and its Genesys Telecommunications Laboratories business unit, has created a new voicemail application that brings together traditional voice messaging with Web 2.0 and social media in a mashup of technology that can, for example, deliver Twitter and Facebook updates to callers.

Instead of hearing the standard Sorry, Ted is not available. Please leave a message after the tone, a caller hears Welcome to Ted’s Its4u service. You can leave a message in just a second,  but quickly, before you do, let’s check Twitter and Facebook...Twitter says, “Hi, I am in a meeting in town until 3:30 p.m,” and Facebook says, “Having fun with the family for the weekend at the beach.” So what’s so important that you just have to leave a message? You know what to do...BEEP!

The called party no longer has to worry about updating his voicemail greeting each time his status or location changes. Text-to-speech technologies convert status updates from Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, RenRen, LinkedIn, and other social networking sites to audio that is played as part of the voicemail greeting. Callers then record their messages, which are saved in MP3 format and converted  to text.

The called party instantly receives a call alert from the solution via text message or has the option of receiving a multimodal message with the transcribed voice message and the recorded audio file as an attachment.

The original voicemail message recordings are still stored on the underlying message storage system and can even be played, viewed, and deleted through visual voicemail applications on smartphones. The messages, plus all details of missed calls or callers who didn’t leave a message, are also listed. The Its4u service also can act as a network concierge, offering auto-attendant functions. In addition, the latest version of the solution features voice-driven message retrieval and a graphical user interface that plugs into Silverlight Web 2.0 applications.

Its4u uses the Genesys Voice Platform and Alcatel-Lucent’s Converged Messaging System (CMS). The application currently uses text to-speech and speech recognition technologies from Nuance Communications, but is able to support all leading speech technologies via the Media Resource Control Protocol (MRCP), version 2. The application can be skinned in any professional voice talent. Its4u is initially being offered to carriers and telephone service providers as a natural extension to “vanilla” voice messaging, says Dave Tidwell, chief operating officer at Anana, which is based in England. Carriers will set their own pricing for this offering.

There is no client-side application, so it doesn’t require a handset- or telephone-specific client. It’s all carrier-side and works with all phones—fixed or mobile.

“Its4u rekindles the relevance of voice messaging in our new social media-entwined world,” Tidwell writes in an email. “It gives the carrier the chance to once again innovate on voice messaging, which, after all, has changed little in the last 25 years.”

Bottom line, voice messaging is a cost for most carriers, he adds. “They can no longer charge for it. It is suffering reduced usage. It is not used at all by the Millennials. Carriers are desperate to embrace social media at the dial tone,” Tidwell says. “Its4u gives them one of many options to express their subscribers’ social network in telephony interactions.”

Though largely geared toward individual users, Tidwell sees business call center uses for the Its4u application as well.

“You phone Verizon with a bill inquiry. You are put into a queue for the call center. You are told, Your call is very important to us. Your expected wait time is four minutes. Please hold for the next available specialist,” he relates. “Wouldn’t it be better for the following to happen? Your call is really important to us. We expect a short four-minute hold for the next available specialist. While you wait, here’s our latest tweet.... ‘Verizon is now offering the iPhone and Windows 7 smartphones.’ Would you like to stay on the call to learn more about this after you’re done?” If the caller says, “Yes,” then Verizon gets a cross-sell opportunity during what would normally just have been redundant music on hold.

“So Its4u builds momentum for businesses, telecoms, and consumers and adds value in interactions by allowing people and companies to express elements of their social media strategy at the dial tone,” he concludes.

Anana, Alcatel-Lucent, and Genesys are currently negotiating with a number of telephone carriers in the United States and Europe to begin offering Its4u to their subscribers. “It has only been ready for market for a [few months] or so, and the sales life cycle has just begun,” Tidwell says. “It is proving itself remarkably well in the interest and activity around the theme.”

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