Monday, June 04, 2007

Microsoft Adds Voice to Apps

In sales, what kills deals? Time. Microsoft just enabled more sales to see the light of day.

I read today on Andy's blog about the recent partnership announcement between Microsoft and Verizon. Sponsored search on Microsoft's Live Search will now include a link that enables Click To Dial between the business and the browser. Since this is only available for sponsored search, I wasn't able to check it out, firsthand. From the article, it seemed as though the partnership provided free calls from the business to the desktop, as opposed to free calls from the business to your handset. So, how does this stack up?

From a business perspective, I think it makes sense for all parties. I play this game with mashups all the time... take a new light-weight application, and ask yourself these questions:
  1. Does the service make the business faster?
  2. Does the service make the business more efficient?
  3. Does the service make customers happier?
In this case, I think they've got three for three. The customer gives his permission, and gets
instant satisfaction. Not bad. More so, they've just radically lowered the time it takes to make the sale. The business makes an outreach to a self-qualified customer that's waiting for the call, and it can't get too much more efficient than that. And the customer is in charge of the interaction, its schedule and the mode by which it happens. In charge customers are happy customers.

From technology view, though, I have some worries. I think the computer makes a crappy telephone. (Sorry, if I offend all of you Skype lovers out there, but I gotta call it as I see it.) Where's my headset? Click, click, ring ring... it's a very aggressive and unfamiliar interface, for many, it not most, people. I'm sure my mother would be quite confused if the computer started talking to her. What does she speak into? All I can imagine is Scotty in that Star Trek movie where he picks up the mouse like a microphone and starts talking into it. No guarantee that the person on the other side of the phone knows that you're calling from a browser... he'll have fun trying to explain that one. Yes, there's a certain percentage of users for whom the computer is a wonderful communications tool - and I suppose I'm one of them - but as a broad based endpoint? I'm unconvinced, and that's after my fourteen years of VoIP softclient development. If Microsoft only depends on a browser based approach, I'm thinking that the upside is limited.

What makes a good telephone interface? A telephone. With mashups, that's an easy fix. Click on the link, ask the user for their phone number, and ring it. Simple and easy. You could even have an option to use the browser for those 5% of our population that would actually prefer it.

What I want to know is how and when Microsoft will start mining all this call data. I suppose there's an off chance they won't, but only because they are still a few years behind Google. They will, at some point, to great advantage to themselves and their advertisers. Perhaps that's why they (apparently) are going for the browser play, so they don't have to deal with all of the call recording legal issues that vary per state.


Dean Collins said...

Hi Thomas,
Microsoft's move for Click-to-Talk versus Googles Click-to-Call opens up a whole heap of functionality that you have missed (and is just not possible with a telephone).

At Mexuar we have been enabling businesses to provide Click-to-Talk from their websites since October 2006, based on the Asterisk technology it is highly scalable and based on open source technology easy and cheap to implement.

Examples such as international dialing, CTI popups that allow advanced customer information and text/url passing just aren't possible on a telephone.

I appreciate it is a certain type of market that has 1/ a headset/mic 2/ bandwidth/latency to suit or 3/desire to make an ip call...however blaming technology isn't the answer.

Mexuar always installs a fallback solution (eg a click-to-call two legged outbound call to a telephone handset) should any of the above fail or the customer selects that option (which you will see MS Live Local also offers.

Like I said before - it's about offering what the customer wants - blaming the technology is the wrong approach to take.

Dean Collins

Thomas Howe said...

Hi Dean -

Thanks for your comments! I'm sorry if I hit the point too hard. Although I still feel, and have for many years, that the computer makes a crappy phone, there are lots of places where services like Mexuar are useful, and important. I just don't believe soft clients are the answer for the majority of users now, and I'm not sure ever. However, with six billion people roaming the planet, there's more than enough of a market for nearly all solutions.

In Microsoft's position, I would have expected them to go for the majority feature set first. In Mexuar's position, I have no such expectations, and if anything, I would expect to see an alternative solution. Offering what the customer wants is what I believe should happen; I don't believe most of them wish to speak to their computer screens.

Thanks for the post Dean - appreciate it.


sexy said...