But losses mount for the home furnishings e-retailer that went public in October.
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Enter Boca Raton, Fla.-based NetByTel, a telephony ASP specializing in e commerce solutions. NetByTel is betting its performance pricing model will persuade e-retailers to think differently about automated voice applications. Rather than charge by call volume, NetByTel clients pay based on the percentage of successfully completed calls.
“It is an attractive value proposition to e-retailers, especially small start-ups that are not sure the service will work,” says Elizabeth Herrell, a senior industry analyst for Cambridge, Mass.-based Giga Information Group. “Automated voice can offload inquiries from live agents.”
NetByTel offers two applications, NetByTel Ordering and NetByTel Order Status. The first application processes inbound orders placed through a telephone. Callers are guided step-by-step through the order process and use their voice to command the system. Voice activated functions include product descriptions, backing-up in the order process and removing items from the shopping cart. The second application verifies order status and projected delivery date.
Both applications use speech recognition and speech synthesis technology and interface with databases running in XML, HTML and frame relay environments. Voice orders are transcribed to text on the order form. Synchronization agents search the site to provide key ordering data in real-time, such as price and product availability. Each client receives its own 800 number, which it can promote to build brand awareness.
The technology is grabbing the attention of several dot-coms. Santa Monica, Calif-based eToys is testing the system and New York-based Flooz.com is preparing to launch an automated order system. Other clients include Delray Beach, Fla.-based Office Depot, which in addition to receiving orders, uses the technology to notify customers by phone if an expected delivery will be late. Stamford, Conn.-based Priceline.com and New York-based Big Star Entertainment Inc., which operates a film content and commerce site, are also clients.
“For dot-coms without call centers our service is a way to improve customer retention and attract new customers,” says Paul Robinson, president of NetByTel. “For those with call centers, we can lower operating costs by automating mundane call center tasks.”
Both are important benefits, since most dot-coms focus their resources on keeping their web site up and running. “The technology is about making it easier to send and receive your product and that is important,” says Robert Levitan, CEO of Flooz.com. “It’s not technology for technology’s sake.”