Cork voice technology firm prevents a catalogue of errors

28 May 2009

The main architect of Bank of Ireland’s Banking365 online banking system, a former director-general of Cork University Fund and a venture capitalist are spearheading a young, Cork-headquartered technology firm that uses voice technology to boost customer service for some of the world’s major catalogue and credit card companies.

VoiceSage, which allows businesses to automate low-value phone calls, is the brainchild of Graham Brierton, who built the Banking365 platform, JJ Kett, the founder of the University College Cork Entrepreneurship Programme and Agrelink, and Paul Sweeney, a specialist adviser to high potential start-ups.

The company’s technology is enabling catalogue-based businesses to reduce the number of no-shows when delivery people call to residential or business addresses by tying an interactive voice-response system in with a customer relationship management (CRM) system.

The result is that millions of euro are being saved by catalogue companies and firms that make deliveries because the system can call homes to ensure a person will be there to answer the door.

VoiceSage employs 25 people and is growing at a rate of 40pc a year. Turnover is expected to be €2.5m at the end of June.

Chief financial officer Seán Dowling says the company has not been without its own catalogue of errors, having gone down the wrong road six years ago before correcting its strategy and starting afresh.

“We originally took technology from a company in the US and sold it here. We found out in time that the technology didn’t work as well as we’d hoped and we had to start all over again. We looked at the marketplace, and in terms of where the world is going it is clearly in the direction of communications-enabled business processes.”

After two and a half years of product development, the company’s new technology was ready and it has been adopted in firms ranging from catalogue operators to insurance companies and equipment leasing firms.

Each VoiceSage call can be customised with specific customer details. Users can customise the entire call-cycle experience, from the initial message recording to the options presented and real-time reports that allow them to track responses.

“The result is that catalogue companies aren’t paying delivery people €50 per delivery if there’s no one at home.

“Using the technology, businesses can record their queries and direct them at thousands of homes, if necessary, to ensure people are present to receive the goods they’ve ordered.”

Dowling says that three out of five of the largest blue-chip catalogue players in Ireland and the UK have signed up for the system.

“Our technology is hosted, so a business owner can log in from home and, with a basic Skype headset, just change the message content. We’ve also learned what works best with customers. One of our target markets is mature females.

“We tested a voice from a business where a fellow mature female voice was used to organise a collect time for a catalogue order form and then replaced it with a male voice. The effectiveness times fell from 15pc to 1pc. That’s the beauty of the system – you can test it to see what works best.

“The other advantage is the system provides owner managers with business intelligence around the system, how happy customers are and what campaigns are working. We aren’t just selling voices, we are selling metrics, with firms able to record less than 1pc of no-shows when delivery people or representatives call to the door.”

Dowling says the next step for the company is to work with internet retailers by integrating the technology further with Skype to give them the ability to provide deeper levels of customer service.

“Because our technology sits in the internet cloud, it makes it inexpensive to integrate the technology with existing CRM systems.”

To date VoiceSage has been funded by private capital, including a private €1.2m share placement.

While the company’s technology and business headquarters is in Cork, VoiceSage yesterday opened a Dublin office and its salesforce is based in the UK.

The next chapter in the VoiceSage story will see the company engineer its technology to enable businesses to take the process and turn it around for employers to ensure employees are where they are meant to be at a given time.

“The standard accounting idea is to have people at their desks, but do people work seven hours a day nine to five anymore?” Dowling asks in conclusion.

“The way the business world is moving you will be paying people for the hours they are available. And that suits us, we’re a business that reduces costs.”

By John Kennedy

Pictured: talking about a revolution: VoiceSage chief financial officer Seán Dowling and VoiceSage chief executive JJ Kett