Mobile Management with UC Service Ribbit

Companies that let employees use their own cell phones for business risk losing their customers -- which means losing money. That's the view of Crick Waters, co-founder of Ribbit, a California-based company that has developed a telecommunication platform offering similar functionality to Google Voice.

An increasing number of enterprises allow employees to use their own cell phones -- notably Apple's iPhone -- because they believe it increases employee productivity, but many of them are becoming aware of a drawback to this approach, says Waters.

"What happens is that when a customer calls an employee's personal cell phone, the enterprise loses control of that customer. Enterprises are saying that they don't want to lose the benefits of permitting employee-owned cells, but they don't like the fact that the employee owns the cell phone number." If an employee leaves, he takes that cell phone number -- which may be many customers' only point of contact with the enterprise, Waters points out.

Waters claims Ribbit has the solution: Enterprises provide employees with Ribbit phone numbers as their primary direct dial contact numbers. The employees -- or the corporate IT department -- can configure any combination of their cell phone, home or office landlines, or Skype, MSN Messenger or Google Talk accounts to ring whenever the Ribbit number is called. They can be set up to ring simultaneously, or in a chain.

Keeping the Enterprise Connected to the Customer

This means that an enterprise can get all the benefits of allowing employees to use their own cell phones, but with one crucial difference: when an employee leaves, his Ribbit contact number can be redirected to another employee's contact numbers, ensuring that it is the enterprise, not the employee, that maintains control over contact with the customer.

Like Google Voice, the Ribbit platform also serves as a universal voice mail service for calls made to any numbers attached to a Ribbit account. Messages are transcribed automatically and then forwarded by SMS, email and to the Ribbit online account page, along with an MP3 file containing the original voice message.

And like Google Voice, Ribbit has a rich parent: the company is owned by BT Group, the UK-based global communications services company. But unlike Google with Google Voice, BT is targeting the Ribbit platform at the enterprise market. The platform and APIs Ribbit provides can be used by software developers or in-house enterprise IT departments to add the functionality of the Ribbit platform to new or existing corporate applications.

"Through the BT sales force and Global Services arm, we are already working with a number of Fortune 500 companies using the platform," says Waters. "We use the Enterprise Ribbit Toolkit to integrate Ribbit functionality into corporate management systems like internal CRM apps."

Ribbit for Salesforce, Oracle CRM

Ribbit also offers Ribbit for Salesforce, a "pre-built" Web-based service for Salesforce.com users, and a Ribbit for Oracle CRM service is in the pipeline. Ribbit for Salesforce uses the Salesforce API to enable users to search, track and manage voice notes, voicemails , SMS messages and calls alongside customer data in the Salesforce application. When a voice message comes in from an existing Salesforce lead or contact phone number, for example, Ribbit recognizes this and the message transcription is automatically added to that contact's notes.

Likewise, if a user receives an SMS from a contact, he or she can reply directly from Salesforce. Any cell phone calls made to Salesforce contacts are automatically logged in the application. Pricing ranges from $15 to $50 per user per month.

Over 100 mobile sales staff at Santander Consumer USA, an automotive finance company based in Fort Worth, Texas use Ribbit for Salesforce to help manage around five voice mails every hour from Salesforce contacts. "The ability to read voice mails transcribed by Ribbit cuts the time staff need to manage them in half," says Deborah Malinowski, the company's vice president of sales.

Ribbit also provides a way for staff to make notes while driving by calling in on their cells and talking to the transcription engine. Ribbit's transcription abilities are not always one hundred per cent accurate, but they are good enough to be worthwhile, says Malinowski.

"Sometimes you get a bit of a giggle out of reading what Ribbit has transcribed, but you can always get the gist of it. And you can always listen to the original message if you need to," she points out. "We thought the service would be helpful, but it has ended up being far more valuable than we expected."

Although to date Ribbit has been aiming its platform at the enterprise market, it is currently beta-testing a new service called Ribbit Mobile for both the enterprise and consumer markets. This shrink-wrapped service is very similar to Google Voice, and makes the features of the Ribbit platform available from a web interface without the need for integration with an existing software product or service.

Ribbit Mobile can be used with a dedicated Ribbit number, or users can simply link their landline, cell phone and Skype, Google Talk and MSN Messenger accounts to their Ribbit Mobile account and have calls to any of these destinations routed to any or all the others. Ribbit plans to offer a Pro service with up to three phones linked and human transcription for around $30 per month, as well as a more limited free service which includes machine message transcription and only one linked phone. Ribbit also offers mobile apps that can be used to read transcribed voice messages.

Ribbit Mobile will likely give the company some visibility in the consumer space, and the Ribbit platform's ability to offer enterprises a way of maintaining control of their customers while allowing employees to use their own cell phones may also prove valuable to some organizations.

But if Santander Consumer USA's experience is anything to go by, integrating voice and telephony features to corporate applications and software services such as Salesforce and Oracle CRM On Demand for mobile workers is where Ribbit has the potential to provide the most value to enterprises.


CRM, Salesforce.com, UC, mobile management, Ribbit