However much we talk about the convergence of communication channels, it always seems more figurative than literal.  Now a new Canadian startup has emerged which has given some real and really interesting thought to what convergence might really mean.

They are called Fonolo, and their pitch is simple: 

Fonolo makes it easier and less frustrating to call large companies.

What they do is very simple (and no doubt mind-blowingly complicated at the same time).  They map phone navigation trees, present them on a screen so that you can immediately see the bit of the organisation you want, then "deep dial" the bit you want.

That’s interesting for two reasons.  The first is because using the strengths of one channel to compensate for the limitations of another adds to the power and usefulness of each of them.  Call menus are limited by the propensity of callers to become raving maniacs if presented with too many options in too many layers.  How much easier to pick precisely the service you want from a list you can see.

The second is that Fonolo clearly believe that companies will see them as a threat.  They are proud of their guerrilla tactics which allow them to capture and present a company’s phone structure:

Since phone menus can change at any time, we continually spider each
company to keep the database current. This is a very challenging
technical problem (that we’ve protected with patents) and it yields a
data set that has never been built before.

On the face of it, that’s a bit odd.  It’s understandable that a small smart company would need to have some way to get going.  But this is a splendid example of a situation where it isn’t at all obvious that there are any losers.  All we need is a standard schema for publishing phone navigation structures, and suddenly everybody can be happier than they were before.

As a service provider, the idea of something which can allow me to help a caller get to precisely the right person to give them the best possible help with no intervening hassle on either side seems almost too good to be true.  I would give Fonolo my menu trees like a shot, without requiring them to spider or interpret anything.

There must be something I am missing here.  Unless it is just that co-operation has become so alien a concept to many organisations that they can’t bear to help another organisation, even if by doing so they help themselves more.

Press 3 for an explanation; press 4 for a polite brush off; or press 6 to be cut off immediately.