Monday, June 18, 2007

More than IVRs, Part II : A Real World Example

Just because you could, doesn't mean you should. If it is much easier to blend in speech recognition, IVRs and SMS messages into your software, should you? My theory is that there are three positives from blending real time communications with the business process : it makes businesses faster, it makes businesses more efficient, and it makes customers happier. Let's look at an example that shows each.

Many delays in business are human delays. Finding the right person to answer a question, sign a form or move a phone line can take as long as doing the task itself. Integrating real time communications into the business process makes the job of finding the right person a matter of software, not people-ware. My example for making businesses faster is the review cycle for reports, designs or other plans. If the review cycle were handled by a piece of software, it could coordinate all the comments, aggregate them and post them for the team to see. It would be faster if, as the deadline neared, the software would actually call your cell phone and ask "Your attention is required on a review due tomorrow. If you have any comments, just speak them now, and I'll add them as text to the review document. If you don't have the time to review this, say 'I don't have time'. If you need 30 minutes to review the document, say 'Call me back in 30 minutes' ". Reviews would happen quickly and predictably.

Keeping with the example, I think it's easy to see how this makes business more efficient. How many times have you been to a review meeting, which for most people for most of the meeting, a complete waste of time? Yeah, me too. How about the time to coordinate the meeting? The time to aggregate comments and post them to a site, if you ever did? Answer this honestly: can you go back and get the comments for any work you had reviewed two years ago? Integrating real time communications into the business process makes the business more efficient by coordinating feedback, by making it easy to forward comments back and by (frankly) nagging appropriately.

Happier customers? Yes, I'd say this qualifies as well. As a manager, and the customer of this process, I would be happier to see a predictable schedule, with a well formatted and organized output. Our studies show that one way to make customers happier is to increase visibility into the process itself. If you can see what's going on, you can make judgments about progress and success, and that will help you relieve your anxiety. Same deal here, as you can see how the review cycle is moving, who has responded, and who has not.

I think a fair question to ask would be at this point, "Well sure, Tom, but I could have done this with Lotus Notes and a workflow." Yes, but I think the addition of voice and real time communications has made it even better, and valuably so. By giving the option of offering a review over the phone means that I don't have to wait for the boss to get back to get feedback, even if it's "I don't have any." By giving the option to nag your teammates for their feedback means that I don't have to hope they read their email. For those outside your company, I don't have to fear the SPAM filter. Never mind the nuance of emotion that can be communicated easily with voice, and gets lost with text. Blending in voice to does this for you.

This is a horizontal application, but nearly everywhere I look I see the same effect. Disease management has similar issues, credit calls, transportation, inventory and purchasing as well. You may claim that these are small issues, but I would disagree. But even if they were, costs of deployment for these technologies have fallen so far that to deploy these solutions won't break any company's budget.

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