Amol Joshi, Co-Founder and Vice President of Marketing, BeVocal
Q What are the key trends you see in providing speech services for carrier networks to support telephone speech recognition and text-to-speech?
A The most important trend is the move toward open systems. The telcos that we talk to are very frustrated with the limitations of the proprietary voice systems they have installed in their network. They are looking for open solutions that will enable them to run and bundle multiple voice applications and to draw upon a large pool of third-party developers who are creating applications on one agreed-upon industry standard, VoiceXML.
Q What is the most important aspect for selling speech services into the carrier network: Providing cost-cutting solutions or revenue-generating services? Why?
A Both aspects are important for carriers. Driven by feedback from their customers, many of the carriers we talk with want to use speech to automate customer care systems, which have become expensive to operate and difficult to navigate. By automating customer service applications, a typical wireless carrier can expect to achieve a savings of at least $0.30-$0.50 per subscriber per month, while significantly improving the customer experience. On the churn reduction side, many wireless carriers are looking to voice-enable productivity and entertainment services to attract and retain customers and bring in added revenue. We are also seeing a move toward automatic provisioning for improved customer service and cost savings. One of our carrier customers, for example, has been able to reduce costs and provide improved customer service by letting customers self-provision their voice dialing and voice portal services over the phone.
Q Are carriers' customers buying speech services? Can you provide supporting data for your thoughts?
A Yes - carriers' consumer and enterprise customers are buying speech services for many reasons including safety, convenience, increased efficiency, improved customer service and cost savings. For example, consumers have been buying these services since 2000, when BeVocal customer Qwest Wireless became launched its voice portal services. Qwest began offering voice dialing in March of 2001 and in the first two months, 25% of its new subscribers signed up for the service. Today, 5 out of the top 10 wireless carriers, serving a total of nearly 60 million customers, have launched voice-activated information and/or messaging services to consumers, with the price averaging about $5/month per service. Enterprises are looking to carriers for customer care/self service automation and productivity improvements. One good example of this is voice access to corporate email. Usually the top executives in a company are outfitted with a Blackberry costing a few hundred dollars plus a monthly service fee. It's much more cost efficient to provide all employees with a "voice BlackBerry" ---- voice-access to corporate email via an outsourced 800 number hosted by a carrier such as BellSouth.
Q What's the next trend in the wireless carrier space: In the US; In Europe; In Asia?
A The U.S. will follow on the heels of Western Europe and Asia in delivering services that appeal to the teen and young adult market. With mainstream wireless penetration nearing 50% in the U.S., carriers are looking to new markets for revenue-growth and teens and young adults are top-of-mind. In the US market, BeVocal will be introducing entertainment applications combining voice, WAP and Web technology to enable young users to listen to, interact with, and share music content and play games with friends. These youth-oriented services - including games, video and ringtone downloads, streaming music and messaging have already hit countries like Japan, where NTT DoCoMo subscriptions have passed the 40 million mark.
Q What applications or services will be most important in the near-term? In the long-term?
A In the near-term, carriers will look to services that enhance productivity by giving users convenient access to contact and calendaring information when they are away from their desktop. These services include voice-activated email, conferencing, voicemail and voice dialing. Carriers will also look to compelling entertainment applications to drive adoption by young subscribers. Finally, carriers are very interested in voice solutions that reduce their operating expenses such as customer care automation. By using voice automation, carriers can let customers use voice commands, rather than tedious touch tone menus, to handle service and billing inquiries, bill-pay and a whole host of other high volume inquiries.
Longer-term, carriers are looking to provide hosted voice services for their enterprise customers. Our recent deal to provide eight states with 511 services hosted by BellSouth is an early example of this trend. In the future, businesses will buy their voice hosting services from the same carrier that they purchase their local, long distance, and web hosting services from.
Q What are your thoughts concerning the developing standards such as VoiceXML and SALT and their impact upon the future of speech technology?
A The development and adoption of open standards solutions are crucial to the growth and the success of speech solutions. BeVocal is committed to providing carriers with voice solutions based on open standards and to leading the expansion and enhancement of these standards. In the past, carriers had no choice but to buy legacy systems capable of running only one application. These systems are expensive to operate and time-consuming to update. Furthermore, carriers can only draw upon a limited pool of developers that work on these proprietary systems. Today, thanks to open standards like VoiceXML, carriers can use one platform to run everything from call center and field force automation to voicemail and consumer voice portals. This produces tremendous efficiencies for carriers and enables them to source applications from the tens of thousands of developers creating VoiceXML applications through free Web-based development environments like the BeVocal Café.
Q Multimodal applications are becoming extremely important as the device market heads towards convergence. Describe what BeVocal is doing in providing multimodal services.
A BeVocal has always believed in giving consumers the information they want in the mode they choose. Since our launch in June of 2000, we have given consumers the ability to request information by voice, and have it delivered via, fax, email or text paging. We are now seeing our customers integrate these technologies to offer very intuitive services to their customers. For example, one of our wireless carrier customers enables subscribers to access the voice services portion of their service by placing an outbound call initiated from a WAP session. Through voice commands, the user can then listen to a music clip and forward it to a friend using SMS. This BeVocal carrier customer is giving young users exactly what they want and, in so doing, pioneering a whole new category of multimodal wireless services.
Q What makes BeVocal unique among its competition? Who is your competition?
A Our competition comes mainly from companies who already sell WAP or voicemail solutions to carriers. BeVocal differentiates itself with an open, standards-based platform, speed-to-market and an active VoiceXML developer program. BeVocal's platform enables carriers to easily and affordably add, change and bundle new voice services, as well as to draw upon the thousands of third-party VoiceXML developers for differentiated voice applications. This platform gives carriers flexibility, enabling them to choose a hosted or in-network solution depending upon their needs. BeVocal also offers speed-to-market. In fact, BeVocal got the Qwest voice portal service, the very first wireless carrier deployment, up and running in 38 days.
Q BeVocal was chosen by Bell South to be the "preferred platform for BellSouth"; what does this mean and what speech services will Bell South be providing and to whom will they be marketing these services?
A BellSouth was looking for a flexible VoiceXML platform, which it could integrate into its own network, enabling it to run any number of speech applications across multiple business units. BeVocal's platform is the company's preferred voice platform for delivering new services to BellSouth's consumer and small business segments. BellSouth has already launched consumer voice portal services to its residential voicemail customers, giving subscribers additional incentive to move to network-based voicemail. BellSouth is also working to deploy voice-enabled solutions on a much wider scale internally, reaching Operator Services, Yellow Pages, Field Services and many other areas. In addition, because BellSouth has licensed the platform to run in its own network, it can now provide voice application hosting services to enterprises interested in outsourcing call center and sales force automation, CRM and corporate intranets. This will be a very strong market for BellSouth since enterprises, which already know and trust BellSouth for its reliable phone services and Web hosting, will see turning to BellSouth for voice hosting as a natural convenient, and cost-effective fit.
Amol Joshi is co-founder and vice president of marketing for BeVocal. For more information about BeVocal visit www.bevocal.com.