Lipstream Speaks to Kana

  • Written By: L. Talarico
  • Published On: September 2000



Lipstream Speaks to Kana
L. Talarico - September 6, 2000

Event Summary

Lipstream Networks, Inc., a Voice Over Internet Protocol (VoIP) service provider recently signed Kana Communications, Inc. as a customer. Lipstream's product, Live Voice, will add voice communications to ecommerce websites that use Kana's RealTime application.

Lipstream's first major achievement was enabling Excite's voice chat, which quickly became one of the most popular features on Excite. Lipstream recognized that their VoIP technology had applications in ecommerce, and designed Live Voice to be incorporated in popular CRM suites such as Quintus' eContact Suite and Kana's eBusiness applications.

Live Voice allows CRM vendors to voice enable websites and CRM applications. The customer needs speakers, a microphone, and a minimum 28.8K-baud Internet connection. Consumers can also interact with the customer representatives via text chat and listen to the service representative's response. Lipstream offers Live Voice to CRM vendors in two packages:

  • Web Client - This is a featherweight ActiveX control that downloads and installs on a user's PC in less than a minute. Twenty lines of html code are required to embed the control into any web page. Lipstream owns and manages the back-end network that handles the actual connection, and provides access as a service.

  • Software Developer Kit (SDK) Version - This version provides CRM vendors a flexible foundation to develop custom applications or voice enable any existing application. The SDK version contains features not found in the Web Client such as the ability to record and playback conversations, supervisor capabilities such as monitoring multiple conversations and invisibly joining conversations. The SDK version also takes advantage of Lipstream's network to handle the communications.

In addition to CRM vendors, Lipstream has sold Live Voice to distance learning vendors, community chat sites other than Excite, and business service firms such as Webex, which provides an online meeting service. Lipstream currently has 28 customers. Pricing for the service is flexible and can be done on a per seat or transaction basis.

Market Impact

The number of ecommerce sites using VoIP to provide interactive customer service is sure to grow in response to customers that are dissatisfied with the service functions of most websites. This technology will undoubtedly play a major role in ecommerce in the future. Appropriate use of this technology will combat problems associated with confused customers that leave a site during product inquiries or customers that abandon their shopping carts. Wide spread use of this technology is also going to threaten ecommerce companies who have a business model that relies on low customer interaction and limited pre- and post-sale human contact.

There are short-term challenges preventing the proliferation of VoIP enabled ecommerce sites. The biggest may be convincing consumers to find their microphones and plug them into their computers. Lipstream estimates that 60% of computers bought for consumer use came with a microphone, but it is unknown what percentage of those consumers actually have it plugged in. Furthermore the use of VoIP in ecommerce requires sales representatives. Many companies have the technological capability to implement VoIP products but lack the sales and service resources necessary to support a VoIP enabled website. These companies face big obstacles that will slow the acceptance of VoIP. Some of their challenges are installing and managing a call center or working with a third party to adequately outsource call center services.

Lipstream's main competitors are Net2Phone and HearMe. Net2Phone has more market awareness with consumers than Lipstream, but the installation of their software is considerably larger than Lipstream's, whose download takes less than a minute on a 28.8-baud connection. HearMe has a similar product to Live Voice called HearMe for Ecommerce.

User Recommendations

Firms evaluating the purchase of a CRM suite should strongly consider using service representatives to assist their online customers. Text based chat is an option, but voice communications have the potential to foster stronger customer relationships because it is a more intuitive form of communication. Stand-alone VoIP products are available, but VoIP built into a CRM suite makes sense because the consumer data that a service representative should have at the time of a customer inquiry is collected and managed by a CRM system. Firms should include the following questions when evaluating a CRM vendor:

  • Does your product have a VoIP application that can link website visitors to our call center?

  • Who is responsible for handling the back-end communications network, our company or the VoIP developer?

  • Can you explain the capacity/scalability of the network if the VoIP developer operates it?

  • What does the consumer need to operate VoIP? How big is the consumer download?

  • How much customization of your product will be required to provide the functionality my company requires?

These questions will help develop a sense of the ROI on a VoIP enabled CRM product.

 
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