Say 'Goodbye' to IVR Menus

Fonolo, a Toronto-based company, today began closed beta testing of a service that it says will make it faster and less frustrating to call large companies. The service is expected to be available for public beta testing in the summer; full commercial rollout is expected in the fall.

The service, called Deep Dialing, automatically "spiders" a company’s interactive voice response (IVR) systems, creating a visual transcript of the IVR script for the user to read. Users start by finding the company they need on the Fonolo Web site, then visually scanning through the phone menu on their computers’ or mobile devices’ Web browser and clicking on the appropriate point. Fonolo then dials the company, navigates the phone system, and calls the user’s phone. When the user answers, he is connected to the desired point in the menu.

The service relies on two pieces of technology: Deep Dialer and Intelligent Call History, a component that allows users to bookmark the desired point inside the IVR menu so that in the future, it is only a click away. Intelligent Call History also automatically organizes all of a user’s calls to a given company, regardless of which phone was used to make the call; stores call recordings that users can review, play back to the company, or forward by email; and allows users to write text notes during a call and store them with the history.

Deep Dialing uses proprietary technology developed by Fonolo (formerly FonCloud). Company co-founder and CEO Shai Berger calls it "ground-breaking" and says the company has filed several patents to protect it.

"Speech recognition is a big part of the process, as is a lot of automated dialing," Berger says.

The service, when it is released, will be free to the public, though some additional features, such as printed transcripts, are likely to be available to paid subscribers.

The service currently features a lot of companies in the travel, finance, and government sectors, and will continuously expand and update its databases. "We’ve taken a stab at guessing the top numbers of interest for callers," Berger says. "When we get going, we’ll see what else customers are looking for."

To make sure that content on the site is current, Berger says that his company will frequently respider the IVRs to make sure that nothing has changed. "Every time that someone does a Deep Dial, our system is listening to the IVR prompts, and if a prompt has changed, the company is automatically flagged for a respidering," Berger adds.

Ultimately, Berger’s goal is to create a partnership with the companies whose IVRs Fonolo has spidered. "We’re looking to set up a system right now so that companies will notify us when they change or update their IVR," he says. One day, he even hopes companies will send Fonolo transcripts of its IVRs so that it doesn’t have to run the spider at all.
Another goal is to for Fonolo to handle caller identifications, verifications, and authentications, prior to transferring the call. This, Berger says, will cut down the amount of time agents for those companies have to spend doing those tasks.

Berger is quick to point out that he is not anti-IVR or anti-business. Rather, he says Fonolo is "providing another way to access the IVR and putting together a way to leverage it that is less frustrating to the consumer.

"Our goal is consumer empowerment. The balance of power has shifted away from the consumer in dealing with large companies," he continues. "No one should have to navigate the same phone menu twice. Everyone hates hearing the same questions and dialing the same option keys when they call airlines, banks, utilities, insurance companies, and the like."

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