Start-up of the week / Succor for haters of audio menus
An Israeli company has heard the cries of companies and harried customers alike, and produced an app that does away with the pesky audio menu in favor of a visual version.
No-one likes waiting on the line for customer service, and no customer service representative enjoys picking up the phone to greet a client already angry and frustrated from navigating a confusing audio menu. But for irked consumers and the frenzied businesses struggling to meet their needs, salvation appears nigh.
The customer-service hotline is a huge expense for consumer-goods companies, and one of the most frustrating for consumers. The headache, it seems, exists on both sides of the line. Some callers are threatened by the call-routing system, known as IVR (an acronym for "interactive voice response”), while others find it confusing and tiring. Company and customers alike suffer from misdirected calls, in which the customer is directed to the wrong department and has to be transferred elsewhere.
Zappix was founded to make the process smoother on both ends. Its product, which is known as the visual IVR, eliminates the traditional, blunder-prone audio IVR and replaces it with a simple and detailed visual menu. Customers in need can navigate a detailed visual menu on their smartphones, and the call starts only after they have reached their destination.
“Zappix’s goal is to be a single-access point for customer service. We can refer customers not only to the right telephone number, but also to the right web page or self-service application, and even enable them to make payments,” says Saadia Ozeri, Zappix’s CEO.
The patent for Zappix’s technology for mapping a company’s IVR tree dynamically, in real time, is in process. The company was launched one year ago, in beta, which is standard for start-ups.
In Israel, about a hundred companies are mapped on Zappix – insurance firms, car-rental companies, communications companies and HMOs. The list is continually expanding.
“In the field of utilities – electricity, water and municipal services – we’ve become connected to the Mybills service, and now people can use Zappix to pay their bills, too,” Ozeri says. “Recently, we signed an agreement with [local restaurant site] rest.co.il that will allow customers to use Zappix to search for a restaurant, view the menu and even order take-out.”
But Zappix is thinking big, and it has its set sight on the American market. It has done a quiet launch of its application in the United States on the Android platform with a hundred companies nation-wide.
Its eight employees work out of two offices, one in the Israeli city of Rehovot and one in Boston. It received $1 million in investments from Cedar venture capital fund and from private investors.
It's far from the only such product on the market. In the field of visual IVR, it has several competitors, including Israeli companies such as Sherut.net (which also has an automatic recording system for telephone calls) and Jacada, which is geared less toward the consumer and more to the companies themselves.
One feature of the application likely to get customer service raves is the price, which is free.
“Our income comes from providing advanced services to companies in addition to what’s built into the application – for example, a chat client, or a referral to the company’s Facebook page," Ozeri says.