Virtual Queuing – the End of Music on Hold?

Updated: July 08, 2011

This analysis starts with something rather innocuous, but it speaks well to why virtual queuing is important. It's taken a while, but here in Canada, Sirius and XM have finally followed their U.S. parents and merged into Sirius Satellite Radio. For subscribers of either service, this will naturally cause some anxiety, since they initially chose one of these providers for a specific reason, which has now become moot. Add to that the rush of Christmas, and Sirius wants to be as customer-friendly as possible to attract new subscribers and gift-givers.

If you visit their Contact Us page, you'll notice something different. On the right side of the page is a text box, titled Sirius Customer Care, and below that, the following message: "Don't wait on hold. Select an option below, enter your phone number and we'll call you back." If you've never seen a message like this, surely you must be nodding your head, thinking that's a great idea. Well, you're right, and that's virtual queuing.

The company providing this capability is Fonolo, a Toronto-based startup I've been following for some time. While there is a strong Canadian thread to this analysis, I'm not here to promote Fonolo, and as you'll soon see, there are other companies in the conversation. I may have come to virtual queuing from Fonolo, but there is a bigger story here, and that's what this Brief is about.

Virtual queuing really is win-win technology, as it makes contact centers more productive and effective, and it addresses a major shortcoming of the end user experience. Initially, the problem of waiting endlessly on hold was taken on by Virtual Hold Technology. Their virtual solution was very much a 1.0 type of offering by being largely hardware-based, and situated on-prem at the contact center. While effective, it's relatively costly deploy (which implies the need for a tangible ROI), and focuses primarily on the contact center - not the caller.

This certainly worked well at the time, but as we have all seen, the communications space has changed dramatically just in the past two years. I'd like to cite two trends in particular. First is the evolution of Web-based applications, and the shifting of voice from the phone to the PC, especially among younger users. Second is the explosion of smartphones, and when coupled with mobile broadband, how voice has moved even further away from the desk phone and out on to our wireless devices - and increasingly into the cloud.

These changes have helped make end users more active participants in the contact center experience, and innovation has come, namely from two companies - LucyPhone and Fonolo. All of these companies have become vocal advocates for their various technologies, but the interesting thing here is how their solutions are customer-centric and represent a different approach to the problem. They have both chosen to be cloud-based, and with that comes a much lower cost base, and more control for the caller to initiate virtual queuing. The Fonolo widget on the Sirius website is one such example.

While virtual queuing certainly solves a big problem, it raises some new concerns. Unlike call routing, which keeps the call alive in real time until the appropriate agent is found, virtual queuing initiates a new call back to the caller. Since the time for this new call cannot be specified, there is a chance of the customer's line being busy or getting voicemail, so phone tag becomes part of the new equation.

More importantly, once the service does connect the customer to the agent, there is the possibility of the service having access to the conversation, or even customer data. As such, there is a potential security or privacy risk here, and chances are that callers would not even be aware of this unless they really thought through how this process actually works.

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