Nortel buys call centre vendor

Nortel buys call centre vendor

Nortel last week bought some help in its effort to unify call centres with electronic commerce by purchasing Periphonics, a maker of interactive voice response (IVR) systems.

Among call centre vendors, Periphonics has been considered a leader in integrating phone calls made to call centres with Web customer enquiries.

Starting with classic IVR systems that direct callers to "press 1" for one thing and "press 2" for another, Periphonics has developed a platform called PeriWeb that gives users an applications development environment to design customised integrated transaction services. That's an advance from merely pushing static Web pages to consumers who happen to be on the Web and the telephone at the same time.

Nortel will pay $US436 million in stock for Periphonics. The acquired company will become a Nortel subsidiary and remain at its current location in NewYork.

Nortel officials said owning an IVR specialist would help it achieve faster progress in Web call centre integration. It currently has an OEM agreement with Periphonics competitor VoiceTek. But Wayne Fothergill, president of Nortel's Enterprise Applications Solutions unit, says Nortel was looking for a tighter relationship that would include providing call centre professional services to users.

In addition, Nortel can probably use the technical help in the just-emerging field of Web call centre integration. One of its products, a "call-me" icon on Web sites called Voice Button, has remained in beta testing for more than a year and is little used by callers even to Nortel's own Web site. Fothergill conceded that Voice Button is "first-generation" technology.

Periphonics CEO Peter Cohen says Periphonics' relationship with numerous marquee corporate and government accounts is valuable to Nortel, even if there is some overlap. Nortel provides switching and Periphonics IVR and transaction services to American Express, Bank of America, Cigna, Kaiser Permanente, UPS, GTE, MCI WorldCom and the IRS.

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