Voice Automation Hops to the Forefront

Sales force automation—and, in fact, all of CRM—has traditionally lacked the ability to capture the voice of the customer, at least in literal terms. A company called Ribbit, self-described as "Silicon Valley's first phone company," is aiming to change that by actually capturing the voice of the customer—or the salesperson, or anybody who can use a phone.

Ribbit for Salesforce, officially launched May 6 (news leaks on April 29 and May 5 notwithstanding) is software-as-a-service (SaaS) that links voice to the popular Salesforce.com CRM system.

Though Ribbit's services work with any voice communication, the focus is mobility. An online mobile extension unites the phone and the application so users can answer and make calls from any Salesforce.com page. The service also enables easier access to messages from mobile phones. Mobile calls, voice messages, and transcribed text (courtesy of partner SimulScribe) automatically flow into customer records in Salesforce.com, allowing users to store, search, and act on voice communications as part of normal workflow. Voice memos can take the place of having to type post-call notes into the system. Automating the flow of mobile communication saves time and captures more customer information, according to Ribbit.

Ribbit is billing its functionality as a new category of business technology: voice automation, the convergence of mobile voice and CRM. While the current offering is exclusively for Salesforce.com, Ribbit CEO Ted Griggs says his company plans to roll out services for other on-demand CRM vendors as opportunities arise. The list of potential partners includes Coghead, NetSuite, Oracle, SugarCRM, and others, he says. Numerous developers, he adds, have already taken interest in Ribbit for Salesforce, with more than 4,000 signing up to create applications based on it. (About one-third of those are actively working on apps, according to Griggs.)

This is not a partnership to be taken lightly. Ribbit for Salesforce" creates new competitive challenges for traditional telephony vendors such as Alcatel-Lucent, Nortel, and Siemens," wrote Jeff Kaplan, managing director of SaaS research firm Thinkstrategies, in a recent blog post. "It also creates new business challenges for traditional telecom resellers, as well as telecommunications carriers. The self-provisioning capabilities and simplicity of administration offered by Ribbit's solution undercuts the value of traditional reseller and carrier consulting, integration, and management services surrounding complex telephony equipment and services."

In a follow-up conversation, Kaplan notes Ribbit's disruptive potential. "If you look at what [Ribbit's] doing, and the impact that Salesforce.com has had on the SaaS space in CRM, you realize that telecom will face the same issues, and Ribbit is at the forefront," he says.

"The digitization of communications, including voice, means that tying into CRM is finally becoming possible. The time is right," Kaplan adds. "A surprising number of [small and midsize businesses] and large enterprises are willing to not only experiment with but adopt this technology."

But therein lies the only potential negative Kaplan sees: "If demand continues to grow, can Ribbit scale with it?"

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