Periphonics Moves to Position IVR in Italy

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Telephone technology solutions provider Periphonics is seeking to convince Italian businesses of the benefits of Interactive Voice Response (IVR) through a new distribution agreement with Italian company Saritel.

While the sale of IVR solutions has thrived in northern Europe, Italy has been slower to accept the new technology.

"[Italian clients have said] we're Latin and we like the personal contact. But they're realizing that compared to the cost of technology, the cost per agent is way too high," said Erwin Manise, Italy account manager for Periphonics, Bohemia, NY. "They can no longer hide behind the shield of the customer wanting to deal face to face; that's not a reality anymore.''

Telecommunications companies are setting up similar joint ventures throughout Europe. The Periphonics-Saritel relationship extends back to 1993 when Saritel was a client. Since it knew the product and had a staff of 400 already in place in Italy, Saritel decided to become a distributor.

Saritel, an information technology division of the Telecom Italia Group, Rome, will support existing Periphonics customers and integrate IVR technology into business solutions it provides for telecommunications, banking, finance, travel and transport clients.

IVR can decrease costs and improve the efficiency of client call centers by automating such basic functions as telephone banking, product orders and general customer support. It also eliminates the need to hire more operators to handle increased call volume. When a 100-person call center, for example, receives 130 inbound calls at one time, those extra 30 callers can be expedited through IVR rather than being left on hold. The automated technology also allows call center hours to be extended at little cost.

IVR also increases call center revenue by allowing operators to spend more time on more profitable calls and perform such value-added tasks as cross-selling.

"There may be adversity to IVR because [operators] see it as a threat to their jobs,'' Manise said. "But call centers are seeing growth with a shift of functionality. Machines handle the standard and agents the creative.''

Michele Vecchione, Saritel's group product manager for IVR and call center applications, confirmed that clients want more phone functions handled through automation.

"Our existing customer list includes banks, credit card issuers, oil companies and financial institutions, many of whom are looking to scale up their IVR activities,'' Vecchione said. "We already run a very successful fund raising application that processes over $1.2 million [in] credit card transactions per year, all of which goes through the Periphonics equipment.''

Periphonics has installed call center technology systems in 50 countries. It plans to move into the emerging markets of Central Europe, though a lack of telephone infrastructure in this formerly Communist region could slow growth.

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