Ringio, InPhonex Partner to Offer Intelligent Phone Systems to SMBs

Joint venture creates a complete hosted IP PBX service with built-in customer management functionality.

By Ted Stevenson | Posted Oct 18, 2010
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There's been a lot of talk in the unified communications world lately about the importance of melding communications functionality with business processes – but to date there hasn't been a lot of action on that front. Moreover, where business process integration has been implemented, it has, for the most part, been in high-end UC systems that typically get deployed in well-heeled enterprises – not small businesses with 5 to 50 employees.

Enter Ringio, a Herndon Virginia-based startup that released a beta of its eponymous phone application in April of this year.

Ringio, which was founded by a pair of entrepreneurs with deep experience in call center technology, is organized around the notion that small businesses have telephony needs very similar to those of larger organizations. They need to have calls efficiently routed to the appropriate department or employee, and they need context – to understand up front the identity of the caller and his or her history with the business. Only, the 5-to-50 employee company is unlikely to have affordable access to this kind of functionality.

This is the problem Ringio set out to solve, with the ultimate aim of providing a better communications experience for both callers and employees.

"For the caller calling in to a small business, we feel that the experience is often pretty bad," Ringio co-founder Mike Zirngibl told Enterprise VoIPplanet in a recent briefing. "Oftentimes the phone keeps on ringing, nobody picks up, and you end up in voicemail. Or, when you do reach somebody, typically, the person has no idea who you are."

"On the employee side," Zirngibl continued, "we listen to employees, and they tell us that phone calls are a constant source of interruption. It's very frustrating because the phone never seems to stop ringing, and they rarely have any idea of whether it's an important customer, or a vendor who's going to waste their time, or if they're the right person to pick up the call."

The core of Ringio's solution is customer relationship management (CRM) technology, an intelligent screen pop that instantly conveys the caller's identity and shows the history of previous call activity, including dates and times, who the caller interacted with, and any notes or comments employees may have added to the record.

"Screen pop is nothing new;" Zirngibl commented, "it's been around for a long time. But keep in mind that all the things I just described we offer in a self-service product that usually takes fifteen minutes or less to set up and with a price point that's more in line with a virtual PBX offering than a virtual call center offering" – which is to say, about $40 per seat per month.

There is, of course, a fair amount of PBX functionality built into the Ringio application besides the CRM piece – such as custom greetings, presence information, one-click forwarding among all users on the system, sophisticated voicemail and voicemail-to-e-mail functionality, and forwarding of individual calls to a second phone number. There is also an Android client that brings the full Ringio functionality to mobile phones running that OS.

The big hitch with the Ringio service, however, was that it was designed as a system for processing incoming calls only. To have outbound phone service, customers had to maintain an account with another telephony provider.

Enter InPhonex, a Miami, Florida-based VoIP carrier with a global network and reciprocal telecom relationships with hundreds of other telephony providers the world over.

InPhonex, which was founded by another pair of entrepreneurs with deep technology credentials, was built around the vision of an emerging market for pre-packaged telecom services that other companies could customize and resell, so they set about creating a robust IP telephony platform that other businesses could use to create and market VoIP services.

The basic value proposition, according to InPhonex CMO Matt Bramson, is: "You, Mr. Customer, worry about what you want to sell, and how, and to whom you want to sell it; we'll worry about the features and all the telecom stuff, regulatory concerns, E911 service, and all the other issues that have made telecom a difficult business to get into, historically."

In essence, Bramson told Enterprise VoIPplanet, inPhonex created a way for people to get into the telecom business "without having to be in the telecom business."

"That's what attracted Ringio to us," Bramson continued. "Ringio is a small, young company that has a very interesting concept of what the real telecom needs are of a small business. Rather than be constrained, as most people in that space are, by the normal categories – PBX, IVR, CRM, and the like – they blurred those lines and said, 'let's create a product that really meets the needs of a small business.'

"But, like most of our customers, Ringio didn't want to be a telephone company. They wanted to sell a complete solution, they wanted the monthly recurring revenue stream, but they didn't want to have to deal with the capital or operational costs, or the regulatory issues, etc."

Once introduced to each other, the two companies rapidly achieved a meeting of the minds, which resulted in the recent announcement of Ringio On InPhonex (nicknamed ROI), a complete IP telephony solution combining PBX, call center, and VoIP.

InPhonex will, following its established business model, sell ROI to third party value-added resellers, who will have the option of white labeling the service. Ringio will offer the solution directly to its customer base, small – 5-to-50-employee – businesses.

As mentioned, the ROI service, which includes unlimited calling, is expected to be priced at around $40 per seat per month.

Ringio On InPhonex is available now as a beta offering, and should be generally available by year's end.

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