Calling for support? Calling for trouble! The business idea.

Account cancelation is a great pain in the rear. A PCWorld article (via BoingBoing) tests multiple services and discoveres that most of them go to great troubles to keep people subscribed, willingly or not.
Something has to be done about it. I propose a new business that will cater specifically to the people calling support numbers (e.g. to unsubscribe) and expecting trouble. Let’s name this service: Calling for trouble.

It will work by recording people’s communications with the support centers and will provide easy tools to manage those records, publish them on the web and maybe even establish transient communities between multiple people calling the provider at the same time.

We know that users’ recordings are very effective based on the examples of AOL cancellation and Verizon Math stories. Unfortunately, they require a lot of user’s preparation and get written off by the companies as individual issues. Having an enabler platform/service may change the equation.
The core of the business would build on Voice-over-IP capabilities. VOIP is about to become very, very hot topic, but most of the providers are still looking for a viable model. This could be one niche with a lot of possibilities.

So, basically a user will use VOIP to call the service provider. This could be initiated from a computer or with normal phone line via JAJAH style callback.

Once the call is established, Calling for Trouble service is now a man in a middle between the user and the call center and can provide many benefits not currently possible without specialised equipment or a lot of manual work.

Here are some of the possibilities:

  • All calls are recorded on the server side and can be later checked online for call length and time on hold, reviewed for supervisor/agent name and replayed back (or exported to youTube) to prove a discussion point.
  • Reverse-mute functionality: when a caller is put on hold, that hold is one direction only and everything said during that pause still gets recorded and is audible to the agent. Being able to identify mute pauses and automatically (or manually) make them full-mute could be useful. Swithing their onhold music to your own automatically (e.g. via pandora radio integration) would be an additional advantage.
  • Provide triggers for real English/American voices to say things like ‘Account’, ‘Customer Service’ and ‘Cancel’ – call centers like to use voice recognition that doesn’t actually recognise real voices, Calling for Trouble can give them voices they will recognize.
  • Integrate with a website interface so that all people calling the same support number are automatically given a discussion forum where they can figure out if the problem affects more than them alone. Imagine being able to reply to ‘you are the first person calling about this‘ with ‘there is another 4 people on the line right now with the same issue‘.
  • Integrate GetHuman call trees into the system to be triggered at the touch of a button. This feature alone will bring more than enough publicity to launch the business into the public consciousness.
  • Over time, using voice recognition, build call trees for the service and (on a website) allow the user to see the whole tree and choose the end-point they are trying to get to. Then, using voice generation/pre-recorded voices navigate through the phone maze without user needing to actually listen to the prompt options.
  • On the website provide a list of questions suggested by other people when dealing with this particular company. For example, cancelling AOL account, requires one to specifically ask for refund on top of cancellation procedure. Also, provide general advice such as ‘ask for the representative name‘ and ‘ask for transaction number‘. No need to write the results down though, they will be available as part of the call recording.
  • Finally, allow customers to rate the calls and make the statistics available publically. Currently, it is collected by the companies themselves and they are not too eager to share it with the world. Collecting it by an independant service publically, may produce the push to improve the operations that an internal survey is unable to provide.

These are some advantages. I have thought of many more, but examples given should be sufficient to start the discussion.

What are the dangers and roadblock:

  • Is recording allowed at all? Most (all) of the call centers do a recorded warning that the conversation might be recorded for QA and review purposes. For some countries/states this is sufficient to allow recording at both ends. For more stricts cases, Calling for trouble could play a recording of its own at the same point in time. What’s good for the goose is good for the gander.
  • Privacy is an issue, as a good number of calls involve giving up some information. If the Calling for trouble service is trusted, it could have the feature to blank out the information in the recording either during or after the call. The problem obviously is to gain the trust. On the other hand, we already call banks over the VOIP (or even analog) lines, so maybe the issue will be smaller than expected.

Where would the money come from? Several options are available:

  • Charge normal VOIP rates. This would actually make the service attractive to overseas/interstate users using VOIP rates to call the company instead of normal rates.Playing ads during the hold times. This would be tolerable and in some cases even preferrable over the available on-hold music. And given the information available about the call (service type, voice-recognition based keywords, fact that the user is not happy) may push CPM higher than normal.
  • Showing ads on the website. Again, using targetted information from the call.
  • Charge for advanced features such as call history export or youTube publishing.
  • Collect statistics and make the aggregate infromation available via subscription to either target companies themselves or journalists.
  • Finally, use it as a loss-leader to convert more people to use the provider’s VOIP services (like Skype did) with eventual monetization from the market control.

This business idea is released under Creative Commons license with attribution and complimentary premium account. I would never have time to implement it myself, but would love somebody else to have a go. If such a person/company is found, I will be happy to write up the rest of the ideas as well.

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