Alteva’s Video Auto Attendant: A new face for your business.

Alteva last month launched its Local Anywhere feature, a product that attaches multiple phone numbers to a single desk phone, thus allowing a business to appear “local” to callers dialing in from any location (see VoIPplanet’s coverage here). Now the Philadelphia-based unified communications solution provider is again betting on the appeal of “local.”

The company’s new Video Auto Attendant allows customers to make face-to-face contact with representatives even in remote locations, thus giving the illusion of a local presence.

“There is a certain level of connection that you can’t make unless you actually see someone,” said chief sales officer Louis Hayner.

Just as in the audio world, the video attendant will steer the user toward an appropriate representative. An on-screen presence may ask the customer to “press one for sales,” or a graphical interface may guide the interaction. Eventually the call will land on the desk of a video-enabled representative suited to the subject matter.

The product is priced at $30 per user per month, with hardware typically running $1,500 $2,000 per location, Hayner said.

It does much of what a voice system can do, only on a video screen. Users can leave “video voicemail” messages, or they can watch “video hold” while they wait to be connected.

The hold feature can take a number of forms.

Alteva has played around with putting a spokesperson on screen, airing commercials, and even broadcasting local news, weather, and sports. Ultimately it will be up to each customer to decide where the best fit lies. “Is it right to have a commercial? Do people find it annoying? Do you want to offer local news or some other connection to the local community? Is it going to be about you, or about the client?” Hayner said.

Hayner prefers the local content, rather than the ad messaging. “To me it seems less self-serving, but it’s really a matter of preference,” he said.

The product had its genesis with a customer request—a bank that had outgrown its initial local presence but still wanted to exude a community sensibility. Unable to staff every branch with experts, bank executives were looking for a way to connect customers that went beyond a standard phone call.

“They want to give that ‘local bank’ feel, even though they are no longer a local bank,” Hayner said.

Going beyond the question of enhanced customer service, the video system could help banks and other far-flung enterprises improve efficiency. If a single representative can have a local presence in every office, that would certainly reduce the need to hire multiple experts for multiple locations.

Alteva can help clients to record the video component of their attendants and hold content, or customers can tackle the business themselves, something Hayner anticipates will not be too challenging, given the growing familiarity of IT departments with the nuances of video technology.

Production will be only part of the process, though. Almost more important than the images will be the ideas behind the images, the content driving the application. “Being savvy about the technology, that’s easy,” Hayner said. “But you need to work backward from the end product. You need to start by asking, what do you want to communicate?”

There are some obvious customers here, for example law firms or accountants. These are cases in which customers may be divulging sensitive information, and will feel most comfortable doing so face to face.

Then there are the less obvious uses, for example manufacturing. One may imagine a customer stopping by the main office and being connected, visually, to the foreman on the shop floor.

Alteva recognizes certain challenges in putting the new video product out on the street. For one thing, the potential user pool will naturally be somewhat limited. “It’s not as generic as just needing phone service,” Hayner said. “There will have to be some specific requirement, and a certain level of sophistication in the organization to be able to recognize that specific requirement.”

An even bigger problem may have to do with the location of the connection point. In the case of the bank, for example, a customer still has to walk into the branch to place that video call. That’s something Hayner hopes will take care of itself over time.

“At some point the video technology becomes accessible enough that everyone will have video desktops in their home,” he predicted. “As companies realize that video can be a way to share resources and drive customer demand, then they will start to bring this to the end user.”

When businesses do start to place their bets on video as a customer service and retention tool, Alteva hopes to be the first horse out of the gate.

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