First Coffee for September 27, 2005

David Sims : First Coffee
David Sims
| CRM, ERP, Contact Center, Turkish Coffee and Astroichthiology:

First Coffee for September 27, 2005

By David Sims
david@firstcoffee.biz

The news as of the first coffee this morning, and the music, the current CD of five in the changer, is the 2003 compilation Swing Brother, Swing of 30s-50s big band swing, with Frankie Swoonatra on deck:

Yesterday First CoffeeSM’s mild-mannered reporter alter ego wrote an article on speech recognition vendors Voxify, and their announcement that PhotoTLC will put Voxify’s Conversation Engine technology “at the disposal of” PhotoTLC’s more than 15,000 outlets at photo retail centers across the country.

This constitutes what Voxify officials characterize as an “aggressive push” into the retail sector, heretofore a sector not particularly targeted by speech recognition, which usually contents itself with asking you if you’d like your checking balance, a non-smoking room and wake-up call or aisle seat.

First CoffeeSM met with founder and Chief Technical Officer Amit Desai in San Francisco a couple weeks ago – thanks to Antenna Group’s P.R. Guy Andrew Pray for pulling it together – and heard about how eliminating the need for seasonal workers was one of the major selling points of the technology as far as companies are concerned. Seasonal help costs to train, makes rookie mistakes and, just when they have it down pat, the holidays are over.

So a mini-interview with Voxify’s Director of Marketing, Hollis Chin to follow up on their foray into retail:

With PhotoTLC you’re hitting the seasonal retail market, obviously. What other steps do you have planned in your “aggressive” marketing strategy?

We have plans to run campaigns for every segment. Retailers that are part of the Christmas holiday cycle were the focus of a Christmas in July campaign. We’re planning a campaign for January 2006 that will focus on retailers that have any spikes in their call volumes – Super Bowl, Mother’s Day, etc.

Are you ramping up for the seasonal bumps in the travel and hospitality industries as well?

Yes, in fact, we are in the midst of a campaign to travel and hospitality right now. The travel industry gets busy in spring and summer. Now is the time for travel companies to implement technology, in advance of their busy period. The window of opportunity for travel companies to implement is between now and February.

Is your move into retail, at this point, confined to seasonal, or do you anticipate “year-round” work?

We see retailers that are not part of the traditional Christmas holiday cycle. For example, retailers selling office supplies and equipment do not have the strong seasonal spikes. But these retailers receive millions of calls on a regular basis and need speech applications.

Are you creating special agents for retail, or tweaking your current ones?

Many of the Voxify Automated Agents for retail are existing agents that have been tailored specially for retail needs. A new one for retail is the Lead Capture Agent that captures the name and address of direct response leads. There is very high demand for this capability from retailers. We are able to offer this to other industries but retailers have traditionally run very large direct response programs.

Evidently Dartmouth College has switched over to a campus-wide Voice over Internet Protocol telephone system, courtesy of Networked Information Systems from New (And Improved) England neighbor Woburn, Mass.

Dartmouth will, of course, be forever remembered for having rejected First CoffeeSM’s application for admission oh so many years ago, and for having suffered ignominy ever since on a par with the NBA’s Portland Trail Blazers, who drafted some guy named Sam Bowie over Michael Jordan in 1984. The college has since been pressured to drop out of the Ivy League, seen its alumni contributions wither, watched its football team lose to Columbia, endured a plague of locusts and faded into academic obscurity.

It’s a 7,000 phone system – one of the largest deployed by a private, four-year college, Dartmouth officials claim. The college hopes it will thereby reduce its telecommunications costs “while increasing the flexibility and productivity of faculty, staff and students.”

The system merges voice and data traffic over the same backbone, according to NIS Co-CEO Robert Murphy. (“Co-CEO?” Ever heard of a “co-CEO?”)

Two years ago, according to Robert Johnson, Director of Voice and Data Converged Systems at Dartmouth College the school’s old TDM PBX was “nearing the end of its useful life. We decided that voice traffic could be provided more strategically and cost-effectively by converging our voice and data networks.”

Murphy noted that Dartmouth, located in scenic Hangover, New Hampshire, already had a Cisco Systems data network in place, which “made the transition to a fully converged network relatively straightforward.” NIS installed nearly 200 additional Cisco switches with Power Over Ethernet to ensure voice availability during a power outage, and made sure that within the converged network voice had priority over data.

The project included installation of a 7,000-user voice mail system supported by five Microsoft Exchange Servers and a high-end Cisco Unity Server. Murphy claims the new voice mail system “has dramatically reduced the maintenance and support outlays they endured with their old system.”

“Initially we had some concerns about the quality of service and reliability we could expect from a VoIP network,” Johnson said. But after Dartmouth ran some production pilots to ensure that their network could support a “five-nines” application like voice, they decided to deploy the system in stages over a two-year period to avoid disrupting faculty, staff and students during the school year.

If you want to see how the obsolete, bankrupt politics of the labor union movement are crashing to bits on the rocks of reality check out S. Srinivasan’s piece on the failures to organize outsourced call center workers and software programmers in India.

Union Network International has been trying to get India’s back-office workers to “see” that they’re the sweatshop labor of the Internet economy, working long hours for low pay, and that their only hope is to let UNI organize them, strike for wages similar to those paid to American workers and watch their jobs go to the Philippines. Indians blessed with common sense aren’t buying it.

Of 350,000 IT workers in India, only 500 have joined a union. “A union would make sense if there was no job security,” K.V. Sudhakar, who does technical support work in IBM’s offshore outsourcing center tells Srinivasan, showing and a greater grasp of economic reality than the union. “Here jobs are more, people are less – companies are trying all means possible to keep employees happy so that they won’t leave.”

In America labor unions, having won all their real battles years ago, are flailing around desperately to justify their real business anymore, which is vacuuming dues out of the pockets of working people. Hey guys, you won, game over. Declare victory, go home and find a genuine injustice to fight. You got the eight-hour day and five-day week, minimum wage, workman’s comp, OSHA, overtime pay, sick pay, paid vacations, what more do you want? Limos and free beer?

The Indian average income is $500 a year. Beginning pay in call centers, before the standard raises, is five times that, “roughly twice the pay of first-year teachers, accountants or lawyers,” Srinivasan reports, “and [they] work in air-conditioned offices, many of which have health clubs and well-stocked cafeterias.”

Ruchinder Singh, who works for GE Capital International told Srinivasan he can take any issues straight to his company’s chief executive, who listens, so “why do I need union?” And H.S. Sudarshan, who left a call center job to become a recruitment consultant said it’s not like there are no options for unhappy workers: “There is opportunity everywhere, a new job is a better solution than a union.”

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