Voice Mail Has Come a Long Way

By Peter DeHaan

Peter DeHaan, Publisher and Editor of Connections MagazineVoice mail systems have come a long way during their 25-year history. When first introduced in the early 1980s, these systems came in large floor to ceiling cabinets and did little more than match the functions of an answering machine. At that time, many telemessaging companies feared that voice mail technology would soon destroy the industry.

However, enterprising teleservice companies embraced the technology, integrating it into their call centers. The list of possible uses grew over time as innovation occurred, in complementary collaborative paths, from both vendors and call center users. The list of voice mail features now includes:

  • Message taking (that is, replacing an answering machine)
  • Call screening
  • Automated attendant (“For sales, press 1…”)
  • Auto-answer (generic, personal, and agent/client specific)
  • Operator revert
  • Giving out routine information
  • Recording portions of a call for clients’ future reference (a summary or verification, the caller’s message, or the entire call)
  • Voice forms
  • Non real-time communications
  • A dispatch tool (pager activation)
  • Interactive Voice Response (IVR)
  • Conference bridges
  • Text-to-speech
  • Voice logging
  • Unified messaging
  • Speech recognition which distinguishes spoken words
  • Voice-to-text
  • Voice recognition which determines the caller’s identity

Although all of these items are an outgrowth of voice mail, some applications have spawned completely new categories of systems. This includes voice logging (which was covered in the June 2004 issue), unified messaging (which will be covered in the November issue), IVR (January 2005), and speech recognition (June 2005).

Unified messaging is often mentioned as a benefit of many voice mail systems. Aaron Boatin, from Ambs Message Center, Inc., in Lansing, MI, uses a Startel system. He recommends voice mail for teleservice call centers wishing to add another source of revenue. “We find that our voice processor is an extraordinary machine to provide unified messaging to our clients while introducing new revenue streams and services that our clients were not aware of being available,” stated Boatin. John Robinson, Vice President at ASI in Detroit, MI, concurs, “The Centuri Messenger allows us to offer a true unified communications service to our clients.” He says it allows them to unify their communications and reduce costs. The system is integrated to ASI’s existing call center switch, allowing it to be available to all their clients.

Flexible programming options and customization of voice mail systems is important to some call centers, especially those who pride themselves in being innovative and finding solutions to unique client needs. AnswerPlus Inc., in Toronto, ON, is one such example. “Szeto Technologies designed a sophisticated voicemail application for one of our clients,” stated AnswerPlus’ Dana Lloyd. “The client was looking for an automated employee check-in application” for their employees. With the customization provided by Szeto Technologies, AnswerPlus was able to successfully meet their client’s needs.

Most systems today feature a digital architecture. Digital processing, according to Startel Executive Vice President Socrates Karageorge, “provides exceptional voice quality.” He also advocates a system with a graphical user interface (GUI) for “simpler system and mailbox administration.” Although today’s systems are designed for high reliability and far surpass past systems’ run-time figures, maintenance is still a factor. System updates and backups should be able to occur without interrupting call processing. Reliability in today’s systems “is further enhanced with the use of dual hot-swappable redundant disc drives,” Karageorge concluded.

While there are many voice mail providers, there are several vendors that focus on the specific needs of outsource call centers and teleservice companies, meeting the need to effectively accommodate a multi-client, multi-project call center environment. For an updated list of key vendors, please see Voice Mail and Voice Processing System Providers.

[From Connection Magazine September 2004]

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