Everywhere you turn these days, it seems there’s a computer that can be used to look up driving instructions, weather, stock data, and a variety of other information that’s needed by a mobile society. At least it seems that way until you need to access a site. Then, there is never a computer around when you need it. However, there is always a telephone nearby. Voice portals, a new class of web sites with audio interface, have recently come on the scene.
These voice portals are not really web sites in the normal sense because they’re designed to be accessed through a standard telephone. Several of these new sites are in operation, and I find they are frequently very helpful. Sites like Tellme.com and BeVocal.com allow callers to request information about the weather, local restaurants, current traffic, and other handy information.
In addition to retrieving information, some sites provide true interaction. iPing is a reminder and notification service that allows you to enter information via the web and receive reminder calls. In addition, iPing can call a group of people to notify them of a meeting or conference call.
But the real value for Internet marketers is not in being able to find traffic information. Rather, these new voice portals can help Internet marketers find new customers.
Several of these sites are advertising supported; thus, the profile data they have available can deliver very precisely targeted advertising. For instance, a department-store chain with an existing brand image can use short audio commercials on these sites to deliver a message related to the topic of the call.
Of course, short 15-second audio commercials must be created and produced by experts who are familiar with this format. In creating these ads, even experienced audio producers need to consider the limited audio bandwidth much like AM radio and not rely on music or jingles.
While Wireless Application Protocol (WAP) works well for mobile users with new phones, these voice portals reach an even wider audience. They use voice recognition for input and standard audio output instead of relying on text entered by the telephone keypad and displayed on a small screen. This means they are accessible by people with older cell phones and any desk or pay phone that may be handy.
Radio stations in areas of the country with unpredictable severe weather have provided telephone access to current weather conditions for many years, along with targeted advertising. Today’s voice portals deliver an even wider array of information to consumers on the go.
In addition to providing an advertising vehicle to reach consumers, voice-portal technology can be even more beneficial in a business-to-business environment.
Interactive voice response (IVR) technology has been around for years. It allows callers to enter database queries using a touch-tone pad, but it can be a difficult interface for users with hand-held mobile phones trying to take notes.
Voice-portal technology can be connected to legacy systems to provide enhanced customer service or to improve access to data for employees, as in the following examples:
- Customers who are away from the office could use a vendor’s voice portal to check on the status of deliveries to a job site.
- Service technicians could be provided with product usage or diagnostic information.
- Salespeople could check on inventory status during a meeting to help close a sale.
There is a wide variety of customer-relationship management applications for voice-portal technology. The challenge is in learning how to create the navigation and other aspects of interaction that make customers feel comfortable in using voice access.
One thing is for certain: No matter how you implement voice interaction, it sure gives new meaning to “listening to your customers.”