LAS VEGAS -- Stroll into the lobby of WinTech LLC at 311 E. Warm Springs Road and you'll get a friendly reception but not from someone sitting behind a desk.
Well, actually that person could be sitting behind a desk. But they'll be in an office behind the lobby or even thousands of miles away.
Meet ALICE, the last receptionist you'll ever hire, or so the young technology company hopes. ALICE, an acronym for A Live Interactive Customer Experience, acts as a virtual receptionist that enables customers to press buttons on a flat video screen to make visual contact with a company employee.
The video panel also can be set up, with the help of a motion sensor, so that the company employee can greet guests before those individuals even have a chance to approach the screen.
"We provide a live interactive experience that businesses can use to interact with their customers," said Mike Yoder, the company's Chief Technology Officer. "A lot of our customers are going away from receptionists."
Yoder quickly added that other customers are retaining their receptionists but placing them elsewhere in the building where they can do filing and other secretarial work with greater privacy. Still other companies are using virtual receptionists to assist their traditional ones in lobbies with heavy foot traffic.
Since Yoder, his brother and company president Frank Yoder, and WinTech CEO Vernon Rodriguez formed the business in August 2010, it has amassed nearly 30 customers. They include drug company giant Teva Pharmaceutical of Israel and Las Vegas companies Nevada Dental Benefits, Provident Trust and Crown Executive Suites. Most learn about the product by going to the ALICE website.
With prices starting at $5,000 per unit for 23- to 46-inch screens with removable computers, the panels can either be wall mounted, sit on a stand or come encased in a kiosk.
ALICE greets visitors in the lobby.
ALICE can be programmed so that if a visitor touches the screen but the company official they want to see isn't physically there, the system will dial the official's cell phone so they can still talk through the panel. WinTech is working on an advancement, possibly through Skype, that will enable the absentee company executive to use a cell phone to establish visual contact with a lobby guest.
Another programming feature permits a visitor to leave a message by following the panel's touch screen instructions. The WinTech product comes with a video of a young woman who tells the visitor: "I'm your virtual receptionist. I'll help you contact the person you want to see." But the company that purchases the virtual receptionist can install their own introductory videos if they prefer.
"Some of our customers have decided they don't need a receptionist but they also don't want to have just a bell someone can ring," Yoder said.
Rodriguez added: "ALICE enables the business to retain its professionalism."
A side benefit of the panel system is that it also provides an extra layer of security by giving company employees the option of seeing visitors before choosing whether to interact with them.
"It definitely gives the company a chance to preview the visitor before they accept the interaction," Yoder said.
The panel can also be set up for use by multiple businesses that have adjoining offices.
WinTech CTO Mike Yoder and CEO Vernon Rodriguez with their ALICE kiosk model.
The Yoder brothers, who hail from Virginia and ran a software company for 20 years, and Rodriguez, a New Mexico native with a marketing background, are seeking at least $3 million to take the company global. They believe the product is flexible enough that it can be used by big retailers, shopping malls, universities and government agencies. WinTech is already negotiating with a city agency in Southern Nevada on a potential contract.
Rodriguez said it is realistic to expect that the company, which now employs only two programmers in addition to himself and the Yoders, can grow to 50 employees within two years.
A product the company expects to launch next year, ALICE Concierge, will initially be an exclusive offering of the soon-to-open 209-room Wyndham Garden hotel down the street from WinTech. The hotel will be owned by WinTech investor Ron Robison, which is why he is getting first stab at a television panel that will be installed in each guest room with access to ALICE Concierge.
The idea is to allow the guest to interact with the concierge by video to order show tickets, make restaurant reservations or obtain tee times at a local golf course. If a guest wants to see a particular menu or a sample of a show, those will be provided over the screen as well.
"Many of our clients are looking for new ways to utilize technology, new ways to solve problems," Yoder said.