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Which button do I press for “Shut your festering cakehole?”

Are you frustrated by the ubiquitous “phone tree” at major corporations?  “Press 1 for customer service, 2 for sales, 3 for…” was bad enough. But with the advent of the mechanical voice, it’s only gotten worse as customers are now supposed to guess the magic words that will make “Emily” open up. 

Fonolo solves that problem through “deep dialing”.  Visit their web site, select the business you want to speak with and the department, and Fonolo will dial the call, navigate the menus and connect you directly with the person you need.   CEO Shai Berger and I talked a couple of weeks ago about their latest release.  It’s a complete redesign of the service, with new features and (gasp)  a business model. 

The user interface has been completely redesigned, beginning with the ability to deep dial without creating an account.  Berger explained that demanding that users create an account had turned out to be a huge barrier.  Now you simply visit Fonolo, search, and then click to dial.  It’s Google for corporate phone trees.  According to Berger, call volumes have been rapidly increasing as a result of this change.

Also in this second release, the Quick Tones feature is an Auto-Fill for the phone user interface.  Just as modern browsers can automatically populate passwords and other fields on web forms, Fonolo’s Quick Tones feature can use DTMF tones to automatically enter ID numbers, credit card information, and other kinds of information commonly requested over the phone.

Fonolo now sports a smarter interface for making call recordings and takeing notes about the calls as well.  In particular, users can add notes and flag points during the call, so that they can return to specific places in the recording at a later time.  During large recordings, this kind of indexing capability is invaluable.

So how does the company plan to make money?  It’s not by charging for the end user service.  According to Berger, this service will be free indefinitely.  They see an opportunity in improving the calling experience to large companies.  Furthermore, it’s a lot easier to get their technology in front of people if it’s on the site that the user is navigating to, rather than a third party site such as Fonolo’s.  Ergo, Fonolo has built a web component that is a miniature version of their existing service, which corporations can deploy on their own websites.  It automatically synchronizes with the company’s existing phone menu, stays synchronized, and enables deep dialing instantly from their website. 

The benefit?  Happy customers, and lower costs because the customer connects to the right agent immediately.  The business model is usage based.  In theory, because customers are on the line and in the queue for shorter periods of time, corporations should save substantial money paying Fonolo rather than the local telco.

Berger believes this is disruptive because the technology can be deployed, immediately, without requiring any changes to the existing telecom equipment in an organization.  Companies add the Fonolo widget to their website, and periodically Fonolo spiders the phone tree, leading immediately to lower costs and happier customers.

One area that’s lacking in their current offering is mobile.  Except for a third party product on Android operating systems, Fonolo has no mobile offering.  Fonolo recognizes that mobile might well be the most attractive application of all, and Berger assured me that “it’s on the roadmap”.

Next time you need to navigate the large phone tree of some anonymous MegaCorp, perhaps a visit to Fonolo.com might be the best place to start.  I know I’ll certainly be doing that.

{ 12 comments… add one }

  • PaulSweeney July 30, 2009, 6:47 am

    Super duper little company and a great way of commercializing the service. Almost "old school" in that the point of existing friction here is the integration/ mapping against their existing phone tree options. The "automatically provisioned" is very compelling.

    If there was a way to give Corps a web-wizard that encouraged them to map their own IVR Tree for free (to a Fonolo standard), then that might enable them to go viral. While I do appreciate the ability to deep dial into a corporate to get things done faster, you do encounter the "have a lot of learning to do for just one use/ sporadic problem".

    It could be compelling for the service provider to help you "surface your intent" by getting you to deep dial, I would love to know a bit more about how Fonolo look at the use case from the customer perspective.

  • Henri Asseily July 30, 2009, 10:16 am

    This is an overly complicated solution for a very simple problem.
    The simple solution is for the company itself to set up a .tel domain for proper mobile navigation without going through a million voice menus.
    And the company can easily convert its xml-based voice menu service into a .tel structure, so no need to even do anything manually.

    • Alec July 30, 2009, 5:56 pm

      I think I disagree with you Henri. That’s like saying that Search Engines are an overly complicated solution for directories. They serve different purposes, IMO.

  • PaulSweeney July 30, 2009, 10:47 am

    Super duper little company and a great way of commercializing the service. Almost “old school” in that the point of existing friction here is the integration/ mapping against their existing phone tree options. The “automatically provisioned” is very compelling.

    If there was a way to give Corps a web-wizard that encouraged them to map their own IVR Tree for free (to a Fonolo standard), then that might enable them to go viral. While I do appreciate the ability to deep dial into a corporate to get things done faster, you do encounter the “have a lot of learning to do for just one use/ sporadic problem”.

    It could be compelling for the service provider to help you “surface your intent” by getting you to deep dial, I would love to know a bit more about how Fonolo look at the use case from the customer perspective.

  • Shai Berger July 30, 2009, 12:21 pm

    Paul,

    Thanks for the compliments. You make some good points.

    Any company can give their customers Deep Dialing functionality by adding the Fonolo widget to their site. That process is straightforward, but not quite at the “web-wizard” level. We’re heading that way, though!

    – Shai

  • Shai Berger July 30, 2009, 12:21 pm

    Paul,

    Thanks for the compliments. You make some good points.

    Any company can give their customers Deep Dialing functionality by adding the Fonolo widget to their site. That process is straightforward, but not quite at the “web-wizard” level. We’re heading that way, though!

    – Shai

  • Henri Asseily July 30, 2009, 2:16 pm

    This is an overly complicated solution for a very simple problem.
    The simple solution is for the company itself to set up a .tel domain for proper mobile navigation without going through a million voice menus.
    And the company can easily convert its xml-based voice menu service into a .tel structure, so no need to even do anything manually.

    • Alec July 30, 2009, 1:56 pm

      I think I disagree with you Henri. That's like saying that Search Engines are an overly complicated solution for directories. They serve different purposes, IMO.

  • aansa August 2, 2009, 4:27 pm

    I always prefer to talk to a live person when calling a business, it is frustrating most of the time going through the available options. I wish I don’t have to listen to recorded voice when I call a business.

  • aansa August 2, 2009, 4:27 pm

    I always prefer to talk to a live person when calling a business, it is frustrating most of the time going through the available options. I wish I don’t have to listen to recorded voice when I call a business.

  • hi there August 11, 2009, 1:04 pm

    How do you propose to monetize Fonolo? I.e make money with Fonolo.

    I can see how you can publish a Fonolo number or service behind every credit card etc to replace their service with yours.

    And only way I see is divert all callers to become web surfers, convert them into web traffic for Ads and generate revenue via ads.

    More over “IVR Spidering” was used back in 90s to create QA scripts to test IVR functionality. If the companies or enterprises are smart they will change their IVR scripts every so often leading to angst for consumers of Fonolo.

    Towidget method seems smart but
    1. Why would a person navigating the website not seek web self help or chat to an agent but use Fonolo to call an agent?
    2. Again for years we fought the internal battle/politics between Enterprise Telecom personnel vs Web or IT personnel to introduce IP telephony. Your product seems to re-start the fire. Telecom guys will start the battle between their IVR creation vs the new Web widget of the IT guys.

    My 2c.

    Rather weak.

    Thanks

  • hi there August 11, 2009, 1:04 pm

    How do you propose to monetize Fonolo? I.e make money with Fonolo.

    I can see how you can publish a Fonolo number or service behind every credit card etc to replace their service with yours.

    And only way I see is divert all callers to become web surfers, convert them into web traffic for Ads and generate revenue via ads.

    More over “IVR Spidering” was used back in 90s to create QA scripts to test IVR functionality. If the companies or enterprises are smart they will change their IVR scripts every so often leading to angst for consumers of Fonolo.

    Towidget method seems smart but
    1. Why would a person navigating the website not seek web self help or chat to an agent but use Fonolo to call an agent?
    2. Again for years we fought the internal battle/politics between Enterprise Telecom personnel vs Web or IT personnel to introduce IP telephony. Your product seems to re-start the fire. Telecom guys will start the battle between their IVR creation vs the new Web widget of the IT guys.

    My 2c.

    Rather weak.

    Thanks

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