Google Voice vs. Fonolo – Which Provides A Better Call Center Experience?

This post is based on a question that was recently posted on Quora titled “Does Google plan on adding Fonolo-like features to Google Voice?“. The question was posted anonymously so I have to guess what the questioner meant by “Fonolo-like” features. I assume he is referring to the two most well-known aspects of our product:

Visual Dialing allows callers to walk through a company’s IVR (aka phone menu) and then connect directly to the point they need (thus avoiding the “press 1 for this, or 2 for that” mess); and …

Virtual Queuing replaces hold time with a call-back. Basically it’s the equivalent to the “take a number” system in the physical world. (Here’s Wikipedia’s take.)

Short Answer: No

My educated guess is “No, Google Voice will not be adding similar features”.

Why? In order to implement visual navigation and virtual queuing effectively, you have to work with the company that runs the call center. You can’t just impose these features “from the outside”.

At Fonolo, we sell our service to companies so they can provide a high quality caller experience and make agents more efficient (thus saving money). In other words, an enterprise sales approach is needed to make functionality like this work.

Google Voice, like most of Google’s products, is a direct-to-consumer business, funded by advertising, so I don’t see them adopting that approach.

 Another Angle

Long-time VoIP blogger, Aswath Rao, responded to my post with his thoughts:

I have an idea on how Google Voice can facilitate an user experience that is similar to Visual Navigation. Let us say that a business places a ‘click to call’ link in their pages. The link identifies the phone number to call, the IVR sequence needed to reach the point relevant to that page. When a Google Voice user clicks on the link, Google Voice can originate a call to the user (if the user is already not connected to the identified number), then complete the call to the identified number and finally play out the IVR sequence.

Not as Simple as it Seems

I’ve heard many variants on that comment and it reflects a common misperception. I addressed it in my answer on Quora, but I will elaborate a bit further here:

Many people think you can “get past” the phone menu of any company if you know the right sequence of buttons or tones. (Or, if it’sa voice-driven menu, the right phrase.) This myth is propagated by sites like GetHuman that claim to show you these “cheat codes” for a long list of companies.

The truth is, only the simplest phone systems out there can really be reduced to a static sequence of tones. In a sophisticated call center, factors like CallerID or time of day may influence prompts. In many cases, callers are required to enter info like their account number before getting into the queue for an agent. Indeed, the call centers that account for the vast majority of calls (banks, airlines, insurance, telco etc.) are all of this “sophisticated” type.

So, this simple “tone hacking” technique might get you past the IVR at a dentist office but completely fails when we consider the calls that people most care about. I call this the “cheat code fallacy”.

The “Cheat Code” Fallacy: There are no Simple Cheat Codes for a Modern Call Center

It’s easy to see why the idea of finding the “cheat codes” for all call centers is so alluring. There is a universal hatred of dealing with phone menus, so people are eager to believe there is an easy way around them. Sadly, it’s simply not true. How can I be so definitive in my answer? Because my team at Fonolo spent two years mapping out the phone menus belonging to hundreds of companies and training our system to “Deep Dial” through them. (You can explore that map at our new site http://DeepDial.com).

The tools we developed to interact with phone menus have become the technology that powers Fonolo today.

Motivating the Call Center to Change

To review: Fixing the call center experience is about enabling “intelligent” interactions between the caller and the agent. At the least, that means replacing phone menus with visual navigation and replacing hold time with a call-back. To do that reliably, you have to work with the company that runs the call center. (Because a sophisticated call center can’t be tricked with IVR “cheat codes”.) And if you want to convince a company to spend time and money, it needs to see a benefit to a large percentage of its callers, not just those who are calling from a particular phone or who have installed a particular app.

This, in a nutshell, is the logic that drove us to build Fonolo the way it is. And I think it is the only way we can realistically expect to improve the call center experience on a large scale.