• May 27, 2003
  • By David Myron, Editorial Director, CRM and Speech Technology magazines and SmartCustomerService.com

The End of Agents?

Automated call center services are turning into roboagents, handling both outbound and inbound calls. SoundBite Communications today introduced its latest automated customer communications service, SoundBite 4.0, which marks the company's first foray into inbound interactive voice messaging (IVM). The solution aims to cut costs and close more deals. With the ability to reach 150,000 customers per hour (2.25 million a day in a 15-hour day), the SoundBite solution can reach half-a-million people 26 times faster than human agents, says Tom Gregory, vice president of sales and marketing at SoundBite. When combined with SoundBite 4.0's outbound functionality, the inbound capabilities enable organizations to receive phone calls from customers who were not available or ready to complete an interaction during an initial automated outbound call. By calling a toll-free number provided in the outbound message or left on their answering machines, recipients can access SoundBite's new inbound system to hear and interact with the same (or if appropriate, a different) communication at a time convenient to them. The latest version enables organizations to conduct simple interactions like membership and contract renewals, collections, upselling new products and services to existing customers, and informing customers of a change in service, all without the need for a live agent. Gregory states SoundBite 4.0 is not a magic bullet, and agents are still needed to field complex calls and other inbound calls acting as qualified leads. Gregory cites an example of how the automated outbound and inbound capabilities work together. Out of 100,000 customers the SoundBite 4.0 automated solution may reach 83,000 customers directly, leave 12,000 messages on answering machines, and identify the 5,000 inaccurate numbers. According to Gregory, prior to version 4.0 clients would get back a fragmented look of the results, because they would not know how many of the 12,000 messages resulted in a callback. Through an interactive voice response system (IVR), SoundBite 4.0 can automate the handling of these inbound calls responding to the original outbound message. "The combination of both an automated inbound and outbound solution is compelling, because we charge pennies for just the delivered message as compared to the much higher cost of using live people," Gregory says. SoundBite 4.0, which targets Global 2000 organizations, can be implemented in days versus weeks or months, Gregory says. SoundBite, which has been providing automated outbound call center services since its inception in June 2000, launches the inbound capabilities amid looming outbound call center legislation, such as the national Do Not Call registry, which aims to protect consumers from unwanted sales and marketing calls. Pundits argue recent and pending call center legislation will make it increasingly more difficult for outbound call center vendors to increase sales. "Outbound call center regulation is clearly a driving force [for this solution] in addition to the desire to lower the cost of customer communication. If you can eliminate the need for a human operator for a pretty straightforward human interaction, then this is a good fit," Gregory says.
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