Start-ups to Watch: Fonolo, stopping the IVR Hell!

While at the Voice Peering Forum I met an innovative ‘Voice 2.0′ start-up called Fonolo.

If you need to call your bank, airline, operator, car rental agency, travel service, or one of those many other companies that waste your time by making you wait on the phone; this service does all the IVR (Interactive Voice Response) navigation and waiting for you, then once connected to an agent calls you back.  Its one of those applications that immediately reminds you of the frustrations of waiting on the phone for 30 minutes to then go through the same conversation you’ve had for the past 3 months about a billing error that keeps recurring.

It also keeps track of your calls, logging everything including the conversation, so for those companies that “may record your conversation for training and quality purposes;” you can now let them know you’re recording the conversation for your records to be used later if required.  I’ve used the service a couple of times, and it “does what it says on the tin.”  You can select where you want to go for a range of companies’ IVR menus, and it calls you once connected to an agent.

Currently it’s a free stand-alone application, set-up takes less than a minute and it works on any phone, you simply click on the webpage, get on with your life, and when the agent is connected you receive a call.  This does lead to the potential of missing the agent as you’re on another call, buy you can always ‘fonolo’ the company again.

It could be offered by operators as a per-use or subscription based VAS (Value Added Service) to help their customers manage the frustrations with IVRs.  From a call center manager perspective this could lower their agent’s efficiency while they wait the few seconds to be connected.  However, given the person using the Fonolo service will be in a more pleasant mood, the calls could be completed much faster, so overall it could be a gain.  It’s one of those issues that only the market can decide.

One difficulty I see in mass-market adoption is I’m not sure people use call centers often enough to make this a subscription service, if it’s a per-use model then awareness is a problem, and of course we have the background that on-line/web self-care is becoming increasingly common.  However, there will be a segment of power-users, to which this is a compelling time-saver and aligned to the way they conduct their lives.

This issue of mass market adoption got me thinking about how the contact list on my phone suggests people’s names as I type in ‘U,’ then ‘N’ from the keyboard.  Having this as a suggestion, e.g. ‘Fonolo: United 1K international reservations’ would make the use case a mass-market ‘no-brainer.’   Just like when you start typing a URL (Uniform Resource Locater) on your browser and a number of suggestions pop-up.  The contact list / browser of the mobile phone is definitely emerging as a vital link in how operators can make it easy for customers to add cool little applications to their communications experience as part of their Telco API plans.