The Web-based deep dialing service Fonolo, currently in public beta, recently announced a series of enhancements to its consumer offering, along with a new solution targeted directly at enterprise customers. The service lets consumers dial directly into companies for customer service, sidestepping lengthy phone trees in the process—hence the term “deep dialing.”
Fonolo, company CEO Shai Berger says, was created to solve a simple but pervasive problem. “When you’re calling into a call center to speak to an agent, the phone menu is a big source of frustration, waiting on hold is frustrating, entering account numbers is frustrating—there’s a whole list of things about that particular experience that could be much, much better… and our broader vision remains to improve all of the things that bother people about that type of phone call,” he says.
The recent enhancements to the service are the first adjustment to the offering since the launch of a public beta in December of 2008. The most obvious change lies in the fact that users no longer have to join Fonolo to make use of it. “You can actually deep dial right from the front page at fonolo.com, so we’ve made it a lot easier—and we’ve added more companies,” Berger says. “We have over 500 companies from North America that are available on our system.”
Still, some new functionality does require registration. A new “quick tones” service, which automatically enters your account numbers for you, and a new Web-based call recording interface, which saves calls as downloadable audio files, both require user sign-up. “Signing up also allows you to bookmark spots inside a phone menu… so if there’s a company you call and you find the spot that you need, if you need to call them back again tomorrow or next month or next year, you can bookmark that spot,” Berger says.
The service itself works via a callback system: Select the name of the company you want to contact on the Fonolo Web site, navigate visually through their phone tree until you find the point you want to reach, enter your phone number—and the service calls you, connecting you to the company. “This approach is the most flexible, in that it gives us the widest audience,” Berger says. “The way we do it today means that anyone with a phone in North America can use our system—you don’t need any special phone or any software.”
While you can have the system contact you at a SIP address or a Skype number, Berger stresses the fact that this isn’t VoIP. “I don’t consider us a VoIP startup at all, and I don’t want to be classified that way,” he says. “There’s nothing really specifically VoIP-related about what we’re doing—people don’t need to understand VoIP or have anything other than a regular phone in order to use our service, and we’re calling the companies on their regular 800 number.”
And the new enterprise offering, Berger says, is designed to solve a problem inherent in the way technology has developed in this space. “Companies really want to improve the calling experience for their customers,” he says. “They know that the phone menu is a source of frustration. The problem is that the way technology is implemented inside large organizations, with legacy equipment and proprietary standards and outsourced call centers, means that the people who want to improve inside the organization often have their hands tied because of all that legacy equipment.”
Fonolo, Berger says, can work with companies to help solve that problem. “What makes us really disruptive in this space is that we can improve the experience without touching the underlying infrastructure at all,” he says. “So we can come into a company and add our deep dialing functionality and the other pieces that go with it, and they don’t have to change their IVR, their phone menu, their phone equipment, their call center—they don’t have to change any hardware or software in any way… and that’s a real game changer.”
At the same time, the potential benefits to Fonolo are obvious. “A tight relationship with the company puts our technology in front of people… when they’re at the company’s site,” Berger says. “Putting this experience in front of them at that point means that we will reach a much larger audience…. So we can take the first step, and that’s what we’re doing with our consumer product—but to really fulfill the full vision here, we need to do some partnering with the target companies.”