Voice Mail Has Come a Long Way

By Peter DeHaan, Ph.D.

Peter DeHaan, Publisher and Editor of AnswerStatVoicemail 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 call centers and teleservice companies feared that voicemail technology would eliminate the need for them. However, other call centers embraced the technology, integrating it into their operations. The list of possible uses grew over time as innovation occurred. A partial list of voicemail features and functions now includes:

  • Message taking (that is, replacing an answering machine)
  • Call screening
  • Automated attendant/Interactive Voice Response (“For sales, press one…”)
  • 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)
  • Conference bridges
  • Text-to-speech
  • Unified messaging/unified communications
  • Speech recognition (which distinguishes spoken words)
  • Voice-to-text conversion
  • Voice recognition (which determines the caller’s identity)

Although all of these items are an outgrowth of voicemail, some applications have spawned completely new categories of systems. This includes voice logging, unified messaging/communications, IVR, and speech recognition.

Most systems today feature a digital architecture, which provides outstanding quality voice recordings. Also, systems with graphical user interfaces (GUI) allow intuitive system changes and mailbox programming to be easily and quickly accomplished. Flexible programming options allow for customization which is critical to call centers, especially those who pride themselves in being innovative and finding creative solutions. 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; dual hot-swappable disc drives are now a common and expected feature.

There are many voicemail system providers and resellers. Here are some vendors to consider that specialize in systems for today’s teleservice call centers:

1Call, a division of Amtelco: The 1Call Infinity system has included an integral, full-featured voice processing and messaging service since its inception in 1994. The software is currently in its fifth version and allows call centers to add automated features, increasing revenue while saving time for operators. The Infinity DVX is a stand-alone version providing voicemail functions for call centers using other switching platforms. Amtelco has been awarded four U.S. Patents for its integrated voice processing technology, which combines agent services with fully automated voice processing under control of a single server and software application.

CenturiSoft: The CenturiSoft platform is built on open standards and runs on a standard SQL database. This eases data access, manipulation, and backup. The Centuri Messenger allows subscribers to “control” calls, hand them back to voicemail, forward, record, or access a personal conference bridge on demand. Another feature, Web Portal, allows subscribers to update or change their account profile, email addresses, follow-me numbers, greeting, and account behavior. It includes a Web portal for subscriber self-service and account management.

Szeto: VMS4000 is a Linux-based call center switch. It can initiate, send, share, direct, and redirect voice messages, as well as send reminder messages and wake-up calls via telephone, pager, or cell phone. It can also patch and transfer callers to subscribers without agent intervention, all the while maintaining privacy (call screening) and accessibility (one-number).

The group mail feature can be setup for departments or companies with message broadcast capabilities and on-call scheduling. The call tree feature allows branching from mailbox to mailbox. The Direct Connect feature includes numeric message call back, return call, call sequencing, out dial scheduling, wake-up call service, call screening, follow-me, and time sensitive transfer.

Telescan: Spectrum VMail® and Spectrum IVR are recent additions to the expanding technology from Telescan. They are fully integrated into the system and require no additional hardware. Accounts are easy to set up and maintain using Windows visual forms. Spectrum voicemail can help make a call center more efficient and save on labor.

Peter DeHaan is the publisher and editor-in-chief of AnswerStat magazine and a passionate wordsmith. Connect with him on his personal blogs, social media sites, and newsletter, all accessible from peterdehaan.com.

[From the August/September 2005 issue of AnswerStat magazine]