In an increasingly interactive world with ever-powerful gadgets to entertain, inform, and organize our lives, the basic telephone seems passe and very few businesses think about utilizing a phone call for anything more than connecting customers to agents or allowing customer self-service using interactive phone response. These businesses are missing out.

I have had the joy of living and breathing interactive voice response (IVR) for 45 days at my new venture - IVR Technology Group. And I am amazed at how much life there is (still) in a telephone call. Forget your morbid thoughts of touch-tone hell and not being able to speak to a live person for a second. Think creatively, instead. Here is an example:

With new FTC/FCC rules in place starting September 1, 2009 that makes outbound telemarketing even harder to do, companies are scrambling to find ways to get prospects to give them actionable phone information. But what better way to get an actionable lead than by taking a captive audience and offering them a few minutes of entertainment in exchange for their phone number? Imagine a large digital display on an empty airport wall where bored people are sitting waiting for their plane. The digital display gives out a toll-free phone number that people can call in using their cellphones. When they call in, they are automatically enrolled into a car racing game. Each caller gets a car and the race begins. A caller can press 4 to speed up, 6 to slow down, 1 or 8 to turn etc. The keypresses on their cell phones are captured by an IVR application and communicated to the game server via web services. Loads of fun for a bored caller and an actionable contact for some company.

Imagine also the ability to instantly communicate time-sensitive information across multiple devices using only a telephone. You are a payroll processing company and your client web portal goes down. You call into an IVR application, record a message saying your site is down, and hang up. The IVR application then, in a matter of seconds, pulls up your contact lists, sends an automated call to some and plays your message, and for those who prefer email and text messaging communications, it converts your message into text and sends it out.

It’s pretty amazing what can still be accomplished with a phone and a dialtone! And the cost is not prohibitive to boot. With advances in technology, companies like IVR Technology Group can create and host IVR applications for businesses in the “cloud”. This means no technology to install, no changes to your PBX that you can barely administer extensions on, and a rapid launch.