Subscribers looking for more information about the service can go online and into stores, but the marketing campaign won't begin until early January, according to Lucie Pathmann, Alltel's director of marketing publicity, who took a few moments while on vacation to spill the beans.
If Craig Kirkland, Alltel's director of messaging and voice services, has it his way, the company's infamous branded puppet personalities--salesman Chad and the guys from rival wireless carriers--will market the service both in online and TV ads. "It's been a highly successful campaign," he tells Marketing Daily, agreeing that Chad should demonstrate the technology. "If it was up to me, we would."
Beginning in January, Alltel will run mini-commercials on the plasma screens displayed in each Alltel Wireless store. Newsletters, e-mail campaigns and bill inserts will begin shipping with news of the new voice-to-text messaging service.
Alltel chose to offer SpinVox's voice-to-text service after viewing a demonstration that solves a problem that many consumers experience today. Having access to voice mail even though you're in an environment that doesn't allow you to listen to the message seemed like a really good fit," Kirkland says. "We came back to Little Rock (Ark.) and set up demo accounts to test the product for several months to see how it worked and handled several languages."
Back at Alltel headquarters, focus groups affirmed with positive feedback the need for a voice-to-text service. So, Alltel made SpinVox's Voice2TXT service available to subscribers on any phone capable of receiving SMS text message.
This service allows the user to discreetly respond to voice mails without having to dial and listen to voice mail messages. Voice2TXT also allows customers to store and forward converted voice mails as regular text messages as well as retrieve the original voice mail.
Turning voice messages into text isn't easily achieved. IBM and Microsoft worked for years to improve the technology before taking it to consumers in software packages and cars or personal navigation systems. Many speech-to-text services require the consumer to train the software to recognize idiosyncrasies and dialects in the voice.
The "simple, intuitive service" fits into Alltel's marketing strategy for new products. "We try and offer subscribers, choice, control and convenience," Kirkland says. "It appears as if the service adapts to voices, recognizing the words more accurately, as time goes on."
The messages are saved as a voice mail and then converted to text. The subscriber has an option to hear the message or read the text because sometimes the voice mail's tone is as important as the words. If a conversion is unsuccessful because of background noise or other technical problems, Alltel sends a message to alert the subscriber.
Alltel offers several service packages: 20 voice mail conversations for $4.99 per month (each additional 25 cents); 50 conversations for $9.99 per month (each additional 20 cents); and 100 conversations for $19.99 per month (each additional 10 cents).
Vonage, a voice-over-Internet protocol provider, began offering voice-to-text messaging earlier this year. Users pay 25 cents per message rather than a flat monthly fee. Under Vonage's plan, users have the option of forwarding text voice mails to their e-mail accounts. Apple's iPhone also features visual voice mail that allows users to view incoming voice messages in the list.
Alltel, with about 12 million subscribers, is the first of the big five wireless providers to offer the service in the United States. Rogers Wireless rolled out the SpinVox service across Canada last week, and Cincinnati Bell began offering it to wireless subscribers earlier this year.