WO2001037528A1 - Autonomously administering enhanced telephony services - Google Patents

Autonomously administering enhanced telephony services Download PDF

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Publication number
WO2001037528A1
WO2001037528A1 PCT/US2000/031327 US0031327W WO0137528A1 WO 2001037528 A1 WO2001037528 A1 WO 2001037528A1 US 0031327 W US0031327 W US 0031327W WO 0137528 A1 WO0137528 A1 WO 0137528A1
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WO
WIPO (PCT)
Prior art keywords
customer
service
enhanced telephony
enhanced
esp
Prior art date
Application number
PCT/US2000/031327
Other languages
French (fr)
Inventor
Ellis K. Cave
Mike Adler
Original Assignee
Intervoice Limited Partnership
Priority date (The priority date is an assumption and is not a legal conclusion. Google has not performed a legal analysis and makes no representation as to the accuracy of the date listed.)
Filing date
Publication date
Priority to US44375999A priority Critical
Priority to US09/443,759 priority
Application filed by Intervoice Limited Partnership filed Critical Intervoice Limited Partnership
Publication of WO2001037528A1 publication Critical patent/WO2001037528A1/en

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Classifications

    • HELECTRICITY
    • H04ELECTRIC COMMUNICATION TECHNIQUE
    • H04MTELEPHONIC COMMUNICATION
    • H04M15/00Arrangements for metering, time-control or time indication ; Metering, charging or billing arrangements for voice wireline or wireless communications, e.g. VoIP
    • H04M15/70Administration or customization aspects; Counter-checking correct charges
    • H04M15/745Customizing according to wishes of subscriber, e.g. friends or family
    • HELECTRICITY
    • H04ELECTRIC COMMUNICATION TECHNIQUE
    • H04MTELEPHONIC COMMUNICATION
    • H04M15/00Arrangements for metering, time-control or time indication ; Metering, charging or billing arrangements for voice wireline or wireless communications, e.g. VoIP
    • HELECTRICITY
    • H04ELECTRIC COMMUNICATION TECHNIQUE
    • H04MTELEPHONIC COMMUNICATION
    • H04M15/00Arrangements for metering, time-control or time indication ; Metering, charging or billing arrangements for voice wireline or wireless communications, e.g. VoIP
    • H04M15/80Rating or billing plans; Tariff determination aspects
    • HELECTRICITY
    • H04ELECTRIC COMMUNICATION TECHNIQUE
    • H04MTELEPHONIC COMMUNICATION
    • H04M17/00Prepayment of wireline communication systems, wireless communication systems or telephone systems
    • HELECTRICITY
    • H04ELECTRIC COMMUNICATION TECHNIQUE
    • H04MTELEPHONIC COMMUNICATION
    • H04M3/00Automatic or semi-automatic exchanges
    • H04M3/42Systems providing special services or facilities to subscribers
    • HELECTRICITY
    • H04ELECTRIC COMMUNICATION TECHNIQUE
    • H04MTELEPHONIC COMMUNICATION
    • H04M2215/00Metering arrangements; Time controlling arrangements; Time indicating arrangements
    • H04M2215/01Details of billing arrangements
    • H04M2215/0108Customization according to wishes of subscriber, e.g. customer preferences, friends and family, selecting services or billing options, Personal Communication Systems [PCS]
    • HELECTRICITY
    • H04ELECTRIC COMMUNICATION TECHNIQUE
    • H04MTELEPHONIC COMMUNICATION
    • H04M2215/00Metering arrangements; Time controlling arrangements; Time indicating arrangements
    • H04M2215/01Details of billing arrangements
    • H04M2215/0152General billing plans, rate plans, e.g. charge rates, numbering plans, rate centers, customer accounts
    • HELECTRICITY
    • H04ELECTRIC COMMUNICATION TECHNIQUE
    • H04MTELEPHONIC COMMUNICATION
    • H04M2215/00Metering arrangements; Time controlling arrangements; Time indicating arrangements
    • H04M2215/01Details of billing arrangements
    • H04M2215/0168On line or real-time flexible customization or negotiation according to wishes of subscriber
    • HELECTRICITY
    • H04ELECTRIC COMMUNICATION TECHNIQUE
    • H04MTELEPHONIC COMMUNICATION
    • H04M2215/00Metering arrangements; Time controlling arrangements; Time indicating arrangements
    • H04M2215/01Details of billing arrangements
    • H04M2215/0176Billing arrangements using internet
    • HELECTRICITY
    • H04ELECTRIC COMMUNICATION TECHNIQUE
    • H04MTELEPHONIC COMMUNICATION
    • H04M2215/00Metering arrangements; Time controlling arrangements; Time indicating arrangements
    • H04M2215/01Details of billing arrangements
    • H04M2215/018On-line real-time billing, able to see billing information while in communication, e.g. via the internet
    • HELECTRICITY
    • H04ELECTRIC COMMUNICATION TECHNIQUE
    • H04MTELEPHONIC COMMUNICATION
    • H04M3/00Automatic or semi-automatic exchanges
    • H04M3/42Systems providing special services or facilities to subscribers
    • H04M3/42136Administration or customisation of services
    • H04M3/42153Administration or customisation of services by subscriber
    • HELECTRICITY
    • H04ELECTRIC COMMUNICATION TECHNIQUE
    • H04MTELEPHONIC COMMUNICATION
    • H04M3/00Automatic or semi-automatic exchanges
    • H04M3/42Systems providing special services or facilities to subscribers
    • H04M3/42136Administration or customisation of services
    • H04M3/42153Administration or customisation of services by subscriber
    • H04M3/42161Administration or customisation of services by subscriber via computer interface
    • HELECTRICITY
    • H04ELECTRIC COMMUNICATION TECHNIQUE
    • H04MTELEPHONIC COMMUNICATION
    • H04M7/00Interconnection arrangements between switching centres
    • H04M7/12Interconnection arrangements between switching centres for working between exchanges having different types of switching equipment, e.g. power-driven and step by step, decimal and non-decimal, circuit-switched and packet-switched, i.e. gateway arrangements

Abstract

A system and method for autonomously administering enhanced telephony services are disclosed. An enhanced services platform (ESP) is utilized to interact with customers to receive and respond to customer requests in real-time. The ESP autonomously handles many types of customers requests, without requiring human intervention or assistance at the ESP. The ESP can handle customers' requests to obtain a new enhanced telephony service, to review an existing account, or to update an existing account. The ESP has access to a database containing customer specific information. The ESP autonomously creates a new customer account with customer specific information in the database when a customer obtains a new enhanced telephony service. The ESP autonomously accesses account information in the database when a customer requests to review an account, and the ESP autonomously updates account information in the database when a customer requests to update an account. In responding to customer requests, the ESP can autonomously attempt to obtain credit validation. That is, the ESP can autonomously attempt to obtain credit authorization for a credit card number, and the ESP can autonomously determine whether a customer is creditworthy (e.g., by performing a credit check on the customer). Customers can interact with the ESP to make requests and receive responses in real-time via the Internet via data modem or via telephone. The ESP allows customer requests to be satisfied in real-time without requiring human assistance at the ESP.

Description

AUTONOMOUSLY ADMINISTERING ENHANCED TELEPHONY SERVICES

RELATED APPLICATIONS

This application is related to concurrently and commonly assigned U.S. Application Serial Number [47524-P091US-987032] entitled "ADMINISTERING CALL BACK SERVICES," and concurrently filed and commonly assigned U.S. Application Serial Number [47524-P099US-990412] entitled "PRE-QUALIFYING CALL-BACK SERVICE," the disclosures of which are hereby incorporated herein by reference.

AUTONOMOUSLY ADMINISTERING ENHANCED TELEPHONY SERVICES

TECHNICAL FIELD

The invention relates generally to telecommunication systems, and more particularly dministering enhanced telephony services.

BACKGROUND

Enhanced telephony services are currently being provided allowing users additional options with regard to their telephone service. Enhanced telephony services may include anything beyond a customer's basic telephone service for placing telephone calls. Examples of such enhanced telephony services include, but are not limited to the following: prepaid calling cards, postpaid calling cards, voice mail, One Number service, Call Back service, language translation service, call waiting, three-way calling, caller ID, and call forwarding. Such enhanced telephony services provide customers with a variety of useful services in addition to their basic telephone service for placing calls. However, there are significant limitations in the methods currently being used by service providers to administer such enhanced telephony services.

In administering enhanced telephony services, service providers generally must handle several types of requests made by customers. Customers may request to initially obtain/activate a particular enhanced telephony service, and customers may request to delete/deactivate an existing enhanced telephony service. Additionally, a customer may request to review an existing account that the customer has with the service provider for a particular enhanced telephony service. Further, a customer may request to update an existing account that the customer has with the service provider for a particular enhanced telephony service, such as changing the customer's address on the account. Further still, customers may request to make a payment to an existing account, and customers may request to renew an existing account for enhanced telephony service. Enhanced telephony service providers typically must have some method for handling the tasks associated with administering such enhanced telephony services.

Generally, prior art methods of administering enhanced telephony services require human intervention or assistance at the service provider to perform one or more of the tasks associated with administering such enhanced telephony services. Also, prior art methods of administering enhanced telephony services are typically unable to perform one or more of the tasks associated with administering such enhanced services in real-time.

A prior art method for administering enhanced telephony services may be best illustrated, for example, by the prior art method for administering prepaid calling service. A prepaid calling service allows callers to charge telephone call costs against a prepaid amount that has been deposited by the callers. Prepaid calling services are available in both wireline and wireless telecommunications systems. Typically, users deposit a prepaid amount in an account that has been established with a service provider. Calls that are made through the service provider's system are charged against the user's prepaid account balance.

The prior art prepaid calling systems typically require the prepaid users' to initially obtain a prepaid calling service in one of two ways. First, a customer can go to a grocery store or convenience store and purchase a calling card. Such a calling card may offer the customer 200 minutes of call time at a cost of $20, which would be a flat rate of $0.10 per minute. A service provider that provides this type of calling card usually administers the service by establishing a database containing a list of personal identification numbers ("PIN") and the amount of time remaining for each PIN number. The service provider then has calling cards made which contain a toll-free number to contact the service provider and one of the PIN numbers from the database. The calling cards are then distributed to grocery and convenience stores.

After a customer purchases a calling card from the grocery or convenience store, the customer dials the toll-free number on the card to call the service provider. After prompting by the service provider, the customer enters the PIN number provided on the card. The prepaid customer may then be notified of the amount of time that he has remaining on the card. The prepaid customer then enters the telephone number that he wants to call, and supposing that he has enough credit remaining on the card to place the call, the service provider attempts to connect the call. Once a telephone connection is made to the called party (e.g., the called party answers the call or an answering machine answers the call), the time remaining on the prepaid customer's card is deducted until the customer hangs up or the balance on the card is depleted. Once the prepaid customer depletes the entire balance of time available on the card, the customer's call is disconnected and the user can no longer use that card for calling. The prepaid customer must then go to a convenience store and purchase another prepaid calling card before making another prepaid call.

An example of the above-scenario follows: a prepaid customer goes to a convenience store and purchases a $20 prepaid calling card. The prepaid calling card has a flat rate of $0.10 per minute, which allows the customer 200 minutes of calling time. When ready to make a call using the prepaid card, the customer calls a toll-free number given on the back of the card for the service provider for that particular card. The customer is then prompted to enter the PIN number given on the card. After verifying that the account for that particular PIN number has a positive balance, the service provider allows the customer to enter the telephone number that he desires to call. Once a connection is made to the called party, the customer's account is deducted until the customer hangs up or the balance on the card is depleted. After the customer uses the entire 200 minutes of calling time available with the card, the customer can no longer use the card to make prepaid calls. Therefore, if after depleting the entire 200 minutes available on the prepaid card the customer wants to make another prepaid call, he must first go to the convenience store and purchase a new card.

The above technique of providing a prepaid calling service is most inconvenient for prepaid customers. Utilizing the above-described method of providing prepaid calling service, a customer must first go to a grocery store or convenience store to purchase a calling card before being able to take advantage of the prepaid calling services. Accordingly, a customer does not have the luxury of obtaining prepaid calling service without leaving the customer's home or office Furthermore, prepaid customers must purchase new calling cards each time the balance of time on their cards is depleted Prepaid customers have no method of reinvesting or refreshing their balance on the purchased cards Therefore, prepaid customers must purchase new cards, with new PIN numbers and possibly different toll-free numbers to call each time a card's balance is depleted

Because the above technique does not offer prepaid customers the ability to reinvest in a purchased card, prepaid customers will often be forced to either forego the balance on a particular card or use the remaining balance m a shortened call For example, suppose a prepaid customer purchases 200 minutes of calling time The customer then makes a call that lasts for 198 minutes leaving the customer with a balance of 2 minutes remaining on the card Because the customer has no way of adding additional minutes to that card, the customer is forced to either discard that calling card and lose the 2 minutes already purchased or use the 2 minutes m a shortened call. Since the prepaid customer will likely desire to talk longer than 2 minutes the next time that he places a prepaid call, the customer would be forced to either place the call using a new card having more minutes available or break the call in to 2 separate calls (i.e., place a first call utilizing the card having 2 minutes remaining and then place a second call utilizing a different card for the remainder of the call). Moreover, with the above-descπbed method, a prepaid customer does not have a customer specific account established with the service provider. The prepaid service providers usually have a database containing only a list of PIN numbers and the amount of time remaining for each PIN number An account containing customer specific information, such as the prepaid customer's name and account numbei, is not established with the service provider Therefore, the prepaid customer's entire account resides in the card that they purchase Accordingly, if a prepaid customer loses the calling card and is unable to remember the toll-free number and PIN, then the customer has lost the money invested in that card

The second way m which prepaid customers can obtain prepaid calling service m the prior art is by contacting a prepaid calling service provider via telephone or via mail, and requesting a prepaid calling card Because it is a prepaid calling service, the customer must first make a payment on the card (l e prepay) Some service pro videis offer customers the option of providing a credit card number to an operator over the telephone to make the initial payment With other service providers, the initial payment is generally made by the customer sending a check to the service provider It usually takes seveial days for the service provider to receive and process such a check Customers' prepaid amounts are usually stored in a single centralized server or database at the service providei This central unit holds account information for every prepaid customer in the system The user account records typically comprise such information as a current prepaid balance, an account number, a personal identification number (PIN) or password, and the user's billing rate plan

Typically, the service providers have an accounting department staffed with employees who receive payments, either checks or credit card numbers, from customers

Upon receiving an initial payment from a customer desiring prepaid calling service, the accounting department staff creates a customer account m the database for that customer For example, if the accounting department receives an initial payment from a particular customer desiring prepaid calling service, a member of the accounting department must create an account for that particular customer The accounting department member may create the account by accessing the database on a computer console and typing the account information for the customer for each required field of the database

After creating an account for the customer, the service provider then sends a calling card along with a PIN number to the customer, which the customer may receive up to two weeks after first requesting the prepaid calling service The customer can then use the prepaid calling card by calling a toll-free number for the service provider, entering the PIN number, and enteπng the telephone number the customer desires to call If the customer has enough credit in his account to place the call, then the service provider will attempt to connect the call Once the call is connected, the customer's account is deducted until the card is depleted or the caller disconnects When the customer's account is depleted during a call, the call is disconnected and the customer is not allowed to place another prepaid call until the customer's account is credited with a payment

This second technique of administering a prepaid calling service offers the customer the option of retaining the same card with the same PIN number by reinvesting in the customer's account Generally, customers reinvest in a prepaid account by mailing a check to the prepaid calling service provider After processing such a check, the service provider will update the customer's account balance, which will add more minutes of calling time to the customer's calling card Other service providers offer customers the option of making a payment with a credit card over the telephone Typically, the prepaid calling service providers have an accounting department staffed with employees who receive payments, either checks or credit card numbers, from prepaid customeis The accounting department staff modifies/updates each prepaid customer's account in the database as payments are received from each customer For example, if the accounting department of a prepaid calling service receives a payment from a particular customer, a member of the accounting department must pull up that particular customei 's account on a computer console and physically update the customer's balance in the database Once the accounting department staff has updated the customer's balance in the database, the customer may then use the prepaid calling service up to the new balance m his/her account

Some service providers may offer customers the ability to make a credit card payment via telephone without speaking to a human In this manner, a customer may call the service provider and hear a recording The recording may instruct the customer to enter a credit card number and an amount to be charged on the telephone keypad, which sends a dual tone multi- frequency (DTMF) signal to the service provider The service provider may then obtain credit authorization for the credit card number and update the customer's account balance

This second method has an advantage over the first method in that it allows a prepaid customer to retain the same calling card and PIN by reinvesting in a calling card However, it has the disadvantage of not allowing the prepaid customer to instantaneously receive the prepaid calling service That is, the customer must wait appi oximately two weeks before receiving the prepaid calling card initially In addition, the prepaid customer may be required to wait several days after each payment is sent to the prepaid calling service provider before the amount is updated on the prepaid customer's account. Because staff members at the service provider physically enter updates to customer accounts, such as payments received by the service provider, the method lends itself to human errors made while making such updates. Furthermore, the service provider has the additional costs associated with staffing the employees required to make such updates.

The above-discussion of administering prepaid calling cards provides an example of methods currently used for administering enhanced telephony services. Similar methods exist in the prior art for administering other enhanced services as well. Thus, prior art methods of administering enhanced telephony services typically require human intervention or assistance at the service provider to perform one or more of the tasks associated with administering such enhanced telephony services. Also, prior art methods of administering enhanced telephony services are typically unable to perform one or more of the tasks associated with administering such enhanced services in real-time.

SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION

The above-detailed problems associated with the prior art methods for administering prepaid calling services are common to all enhanced telephony services. The delays present in activating/deactivating an enhanced telephony service, the delays present in updating an existing account for enhanced telephony services, the delays present in making payments for enhanced telephony services, the need for a database containing customer specific information for enhanced telephony services, the lack of a method for activating/deactivating an enhanced telephony service in real-time and without requiring human assistance at the service provider, the lack of a method for reviewing customer specific information for the enhanced telephony service in real-time and without requiring human assistance at the service provider, the lack of a method for updating customer specific information for the enhanced telephony service in real-time and without requiring human assistance at the service provider, and the lack of a method for making payments for an enhanced telephony service in real-time and without requiring human assistance at the service provider are some of the problems associated with existing methods for administering enhanced telephony services.

In view of the limitations of prior art enhanced telephony service administration, there is a need for a method and system for administering enhanced telephony services autonomously, without requiring human assistance at the service provider. There is a further need for a method and system for administering enhanced telephony services in real-time. There is a further need for a method and a system for administering enhanced telephony services that allow customers to activate or deactivate enhanced services without leaving their home or office. There is a further need for a method and system for administering enhanced telephony services that allow customers to activate or deactivate enhanced services immediately, in real-time. There is a further need for a method and system for administering enhanced telephony services that have the ability to activate or deactivate enhanced telephony services autonomously, without requiring human assistance at the service provider.

There is a further need for a system and method for administering enhanced telephony services that have the ability to create a customer account containing customer specific information in a database autonomously, without requiring human assistance at the service provider. There is also a need for a system and method for administering enhanced telephony services that have the ability to create a customer account containing customer specific information in a database in real-time. There is a further need for a system and method for administering enhanced telephony services to allow customers to review their accounts autonomously, without requiring human assistance at the service provider. There is also a need for a system and method for administering enhanced telephony services to allow customers to review their accounts in real-time. There is a further need for a system and method for administering enhanced telephony services to allow customers to update their accounts autonomously, without requiring human assistance at the service provider. There is also a need for a system and method for administering enhanced telephony services that allow customers to update their accounts in real-time. There is a further need for a system and method for administering enhanced telephony services to allow customers to make payments autonomously, without requiring human assistance at the service provider. There is also a need for a system and method for administering enhanced telephony services to allow customers to make payments in realtime. There is a further need for a system and method for administering enhanced telephony services to allow customers to renew their accounts autonomously, without requiring human assistance at the service provider. There is also a need for a system and method for administering enhanced telephony services to allow customers to renew their accounts in realtime.

These and other objects, features and technical advantages are achieved by a system and a method which generally robotically administer enhanced telephony services autonomously, without requiring live ('human") agent intervention or assistance. Further, a system and method is disclosed which generally administer enhanced telephony services in real-time. Thus, customers may create, access and update their accounts for enhanced telephony services in real-time. For example, an Enhanced Services Platform (hereinafter "ESP"), which provides enhanced telephony services, may autonomously interact with customers to allow customers to perform tasks such as: activate a new enhanced telephony service (e.g., subscribe for a new enhanced telephony service), deactivate an existing enhanced telephony service, perform administrative updates to the customers' accounts (e.g., change a customer's address), perform administrative review of the customers' accounts for a particular enhanced telephony service (e.g., review a customer's balance), make payments for enhanced telephony services, and renew an enhanced telephony service. In this manner, the

ESP may allow a customer to interact with the ESP to perform certain tasks associated with administering enhanced telephony services without requiring human assistance at the ESP. Furthermore, the ESP may allow a customer to interact with the ESP to perform certain tasks associated with administering enhanced telephony services in real-time.

As used herein, the phrase "real-time," when used in describing an ESP, means an ESP that is designed to receive data from a customer during a transaction, process it, and complete the requested task during the same transaction. That is, the ESP may receive a request and satisfy the request during the same transaction. Also, as used herein, the word "autonomously," when used in describing an ESP, means an ESP that is capable of robotically performing certain tasks independently, without requiring outside human control. That is, the word "autonomously" in describing an ESP means that the ESP is capable of robotically performing certain tasks without requiring human intervention or assistance at the

ESP.

There are many types of tasks associated with administering enhanced telephony services that may be robotically performed by the ESP autonomously, without requiring human assistance. Examples of such tasks associated with administering enhanced telephony services that the ESP may robotically perform without requiring human assistance include, but are not limited to the following: 1) activating an enhanced telephony service for a customer, 2) deactivating an enhanced telephony service for a customer, 3) performing administrative updates (hereinafter "updates") for a customer's account (e.g., changing a customer's address), 4) performing administrative review (hereinafter "review") for a customer's account (e.g., allowing a customer to review his account balance), 5) allowing customers to make payments for an enhanced telephony service, and 6) allowing a customer to renew an enhanced telephony service account. Rather than requiring that a service provider's employees perform one or more of the tasks associated with administering enhanced telephony services, the ESP may allow the user of the enhanced services (i.e., the customer) to interact with the ESP, and the ESP may robotically perform one or more of such tasks autonomously, without requiring human assistance at the ESP. Additionally, the ESP may perform one or more of such tasks in real-time.

In one embodiment of the present invention, the ESP autonomously interacts with customers via an unswitched packet network, such as the Internet. For example, a customer may interact with the ESP by accessing a service provider's website via the Internet. In an alternative embodiment of the invention, the ESP autonomously interacts with customers via a public switched network (PSTN). For example, a customer with a personal computer that has a modem and a software program running on the personal computer may interact directly with the ESP via data modem As another example, a customer may interact directly with the ESP via telephone (e g , the customer presses keys on the telephone keypad, or the customer speaks over the telephone and voice recognition technology is utilized at the ESP to interpret the spoken words)

It should be appreciated that a technical advantage of the present invention is that a system and method for autonomously administering enhanced telephony services are provided That is, a system and method are disclosed wherein an ESP may robotically administer enhanced telephony services, without requiring human assistance at the ESP Accordingly, human intervention or assistance at the ESP is generally not required administering enhanced telephony services

A further technical advantage is realized in that the present invention generally provides an ESP with the ability to respond to customers immediately and in real-time For example, customers may activate or deactivate an enhanced telephony service from the ESP, review an existing account with the ESP, update an existing account with the ESP, make payments for an enhanced telephony service, and renew an existing enhanced telephony service immediately and m real-time

A still further technical advantage is realized in that the disclosed system and method generally provide for creating and maintaining customer specific information for a customer in a database accessible by the ESP Moreover, the ESP may create and maintain the database autonomously, without requiring human assistance at the ESP Furthermore, the ESP may create and maintain the database in real-time

The foregoing has outlined rather broadly the features and technical advantages of the present invention m order that the detailed description of the invention that follows may be better understood Additional features and advantages of the invention will be described hereinafter which form the subject of the claims of the invention It should be appreciated by those skilled m the art that the conception and specific embodiment disclosed may be readily utilized as a basis for modifying or designing other structures for carrying out the same purposes of the present invention It should also be realized by those skilled in the art that such equivalent constructions do not depart from the spirit and scope of the invention as set forth in the appended claims BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWING

For a more complete understanding of the present invention, and the advantages thereof, reference is now made to the following descriptions taken in conjunction with the accompanying drawing, in which: FIGURE 1 shows a block diagram for administering enhanced telephony services available in the prior art;

FIGURE 2 shows a block diagram of a preferred embodiment of a method for administering enhanced telephony services;

FIGURE 3 shows a block diagram of one embodiment of administering enhanced telephony services via the Internet;

FIGURE 4 shows a block diagram of an alternative embodiment of administering telephony services via a data modem;

FIGURE 5 shows a block diagram of a second alternative embodiment of administering telephony services via a telephone; FIGURE 6 shows a more detailed block diagram for administering telephony services and the database, which contains customer specific information for the enhanced services platform;

FIGURES 7A-7E show an exemplary flow diagram for one embodiment of the invention; and FIGURE 8 shows an exemplary graphical user interface that may be implemented on an Internet website in one embodiment or through software running on a computer in an alternative embodiment to allow a customer to make enhanced telephony service requests.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION

Providers of enhanced telephony services must interact with their customers to administer such services. In administering enhanced telephony services, service providers must handle many types of requests made by customers. A customer may request to activate a particular enhanced telephony service, or a customer may request to deactivate an existing enhanced telephony service. A customer may request to review an existing account that the customer has with the service provider for a particular enhanced telephony service. Further, a customer may request to update an existing account that the customer has with the service provider for a particular enhanced telephony service, such as changing the customer's address for the account. Also, a customer may request to make a payment to an existing account, or a customer may request to renew an existing enhanced telephony service. Further still, a customer may request to review the types of enhanced telephony services provided by a service provider.

Before discussing the inventive method and system for administering enhanced telephony services, a description of the prior art method for administering enhanced telephony services for each type of customer request would be beneficial. Turning to FIGURE 1 , a method of administering enhanced telephony seivices available in the prior art is shown in block diagram form.

If a customer 102 desires to activate an enhanced telephony service, such as a prepaid calling service, customer 102 calls a service provider 106 via a telephone over a public switched telephone network ("PSTN") 104. As shown herein, the PSTN encompasses a cellular switch and a local exchange carrier. The customer's call will typically be answered by an operator employed by the service provider 106, such as employee 108. Customer 102 then tells employee 108 that he wants to activate a particular enhanced telephony service. Employee 108 will take all of the information required to activate the particular service, and then employee 108 will physically enter the required information into a database 114 to create a customer specific account for customer 102.

Customer 102 may be required to make a payment prior to activating the enhanced telephony service (e.g., if the service is a prepaid service). If the requested service is a prepaid service, employee 108 will inform customer 102 that he must make a payment prior to activating the service. Customer 102 may be given two payment options at this point. Customer 102 may mail a payment in the form of a check to service provider 106, or customer 102 may be allowed to make a payment over the telephone using a credit card. If customer 102 chooses the first option (mailing a payment to service provider 106), the payment will usually be received by service provider 106 two or three days after customer 102 mails it. Once the payment is received by service provider 106, it will typically be routed to an accounting department staffed with employees, such as employee 108. After receiving the mailed payment, employee 108 will recognize the received mail as an initial payment to activate a particular enhanced telephony service, and employee 108 will use maintenance console 112 to create a customer specific account for customer 102 in database 114.

If customer 102 chooses the second payment option (making a payment over the telephone using a credit card), customer 102 will give a credit card number to employee 108.

Employee 108 will then attempt to obtain credit validation 1 10 for customer 102. That is, employee 108 will attempt to obtain credit authorization for the customer's credit card number. Once the credit card number is authorized, employee 108 will use maintenance console 1 12 to create a customer specific account for customer 102 in database 1 14. If the requested service is a postpaid service, service provider 106 will typically perform a credit check on customer 102 to determine whether customer 102 is creditworthy. Therefore, a service provider employee, such as employee 108, will attempt to obtain credit validation 110 for customer 102. That is, employee 108 will attempt to obtain a credit report for customer 102. Once the customer's credit history is evaluated and determined to be acceptable for the particular enhanced telephony service, employee 108 will use maintenance console 1 12 to create a customer specific account for customer 102 in database 114.

After employee 108 has created a customer account for customer 102, service provider 106 will typically mail information to customer 102 about the account. Such information may include a card, such as a calling card, a PIN number that customer 102 can use to access the enhanced telephony service, and other account information. Generally, customer 102 cannot begin using the enhanced telephony service before receiving such account information in the mail. After establishing an account for a particular enhanced telephony service with service provider 106 and receiving the account information required to access the particular service, customer 102 may use the enhanced telephony service (e.g., by calling a toll-free number for service provider 106 and supplying a PIN number).

As FIGURE 1 illustrates, the prior art requires service provider 106 to staff employees, such as employee 108, to perform the tasks associated with activating a new enhanced telephony service account for customer 102. The prior art requires employees 108 of service provider 106 to physically enter information on maintenance console 112 to create a customer account for customer 102. The prior art provides no method or system for administering telephony services wherein a customer 102 can obtain an enhanced telephony service without requiring human assistance at the service provider 106.

In administering a customer request to review information for an existing account for a particular enhanced telephony service (e.g., check the customer's account balance) in the prior art, customer 102 would call service provider 106 via a telephone over a public switched telephone network ("PSTN") 104. The customer's call may be answered by an operator employed by the service provider 106, such as employee 108. Customer 102 then tells employee 108 that he wants to review information for a pre-existing account. Employee 108 will take any information required to ensure that customer 102 should be provided information on the account, such as a password or PIN number, and then employee 108 will use maintenance console 1 12 to access the account information in database 114. Employee 108 may then read the account information to customer 102.

Some service providers may have the customer's call answered by a recording. The recording may allow customer 102 to review certain information about an existing account, such as the current balance and last payment received, by pressing certain keys on the telephone keypad. Service provider 106 may recognize the DTMF signals, access database 114, and provide the requested account information to customer 102 without requiring human assistance at the service provider 106. However, this is the only method currently employed by service providers 106 whereby customers 102 can review account information without requiring human assistance at the service provider 106. That is, utilizing the telephone to interact with customers 102 via DTMF signals is the only method currently employed by service providers 106 to allow customers 102 to review account information without requiring human assistance at the service provider 106. The prior art provides no method or system for administering telephony services wherein a customer 102 can review account information via some means other than the telephone without requiring human assistance at the service provider 106. A customer 102 may desire to update information for an existing account for a particular enhanced telephony service, such as change a PIN number for a particular service, change the customer's mailing address, or change features associated with a particular service (e g , change a voice mail greeting) In the prior art, a customer's request to update an existing account may be handled differently by service provider 106 depending on the type of update that customer 102 requests

For example, if customer 102 desires to change a PIN number associated with a particular enhanced telephony service, customer 102 may or may not be allowed to do so

Some service providers 106 do not allow customers 102 the ability to choose a PIN number or to change an existing PIN number for an enhanced telephony service If service provider 106 does offer customer 102 the option of changing an existing PIN number, customer 102 would call service provider 106 and speak to an operator employed by service provider 106, such as employee 108 Customer 102 would inform employee 108 of his desire to change an existing PIN number, and then employee 108 would use maintenance console 112 to query database 1 14 to see if the desired PIN number is available If the PIN is available, employee 108 would use maintenance console 112 to access the account for customer 102 in database 114 and physically enter the new PIN number into database 114 As another example, if customer 102 wants to change his address or telephone number for an existing account, service provider 106 may provide the customer with two options First, customer 102 may mail a change of address form to service provider 106 Second, customer 102 may be allowed to make a change to his addiess over the telephone If customer 102 chooses the first option (making a change to his address via mail), customer 102 would complete a change of address form and mail it to service provider 106 The change of address form will usually be received by service provider 106 two or three days after customer 102 mails it Once the change of address form is received by service provider 106, it will typically be routed to an employee, such as employee 108 Employee 108 will recognize the received mail as a change of address to an existing account, and employee 108 will use maintenance console 112 to update the account address for customer 102 m database

114

If customer 102 chooses the second option (making a change to his address via telephone), then customer 102 will speak to an operator, such as employee 108 Customer 102 will give employee 108 his new address and telephone number, and employee 108 will use maintenance console 112 to update the address and telephone number for customer 102 in database 114 Other update requests may be administered by service provider 106 in a similar manner. That is, other update requests for an existing enhanced telephony service may be administered by service provider 106 via telephone or via mail. Generally, prior art methods for administering the tasks associated with updating an existing enhanced telephony service require employees 108 of service provider 106 to physically assist in such tasks (e.g., by physically entering information on maintenance console 112). As the above examples demonstrate, the prior art provides no method or system for administering enhanced telephony services wherein a customer 102 can update an existing enhanced telephony service without requiring human assistance at the service provider 106. A customer 102 may desire to make a payment to an existing account for a particular enhanced telephony service. If customer 102 wants to make a payment to an existing account, service provider 106 may provide customer 102 with two options. Customer 102 may mail a payment in the form of a check to service provider 106, or customer 102 may be allowed to pay by credit card over the telephone. If customer 102 chooses the first option (mailing a payment to service provider 106), then the payment will usually be received by service provider 106 two or three days after customer 102 mails it. Once the payment is received by service provider 106, it will typically be routed to an accounting department staffed with employees, such as employee 108. Employee 108 will recognize the received mail as a payment to an existing account, and employee 108 will use maintenance console 1 12 to update the account balance for customer

102 in database 114.

If customer 102 chooses the second payment option (paying by credit card over the telephone), then customer 102 will give a credit card number to a service provider employee, such as employee 108. Employee 108 will then attempt to obtain credit validation 110 for customer 102. That is, employee 108 will attempt to obtain credit authorization for the customer's credit card number. Once the customer's credit card number is authorized, then employee 108 will use maintenance console 112 to update the account balance for customer 102 in database 114.

As the above-discussion illustrates, the prior art requires service provider 106 to staff employees, such as employee 108, to perform the tasks associated with receiving a payment for an existing customer account. The prior art requires employees 108 of service provider 106 to physically enter information on maintenance console 112 to update the account balance for customer 102 when a payment is made The prior art provides no method or system for administering telephony services wherein a customer 102 can make a payment to an existing account without requiring human assistance at the service provider 106

In view of the above-discussion, pnor art method for administering enhanced telephony services offers customers 102 little flexibility in how to make a request to a service provider That is, customer requests are generally limited to either being made via telephone or via mail Moreover, most customer requests require human assistance at the service provider 106. Accordingly, the prior art method is costly to service providers 106 because service providers 106 have to staff employees 108 to handle customer requests. In addition, the prior art method is slow because it requires time for the service provider employees 108 to satisfy customer requests Furthermore, the prior art method lends itself to human error because service provider employees 108 must physically enter account information into the database 114.

It should be appreciated that enhanced telephony services are unique m that well- established methods of administering enhanced telephony services exist Traditionally, enhanced telephony services have been administered through a telephone interface or through the mail. Typically, customers prefer the telephone interface for administering enhanced telephony services because the telephone interface generally provides a faster and more convenient method of administering the services than the mail The field of enhanced telephony services has been slow to move to other interfaces for administering such services

Thus, enhanced telephony services are quite different from other products and services because of the telephony seivices unique relationship with the standard telephone interface That is, enhanced telephony services are quite different from other products and services because enhanced telephony services have traditionally been administered through a telephone interface.

Furthermore, telephony services have a well-established infrastructure that is global m scope. At one time, telephone companies had a monopoly over such services That is, only telephone companies provided enhanced telephone services Telephone companies have traditionally been more than just a carrier, they have also been a provider of enhanced telephony services Thus, the field of enhanced telephony services has been slow to move to methods and interfaces other than those traditionally provided by telephone companies for administering such services The present invention generally administers the various customer requests for enhanced telephony services without the limitations of the prior art Turning to FIGURE 2, a block diagram of a preferred embodiment of a method and system for administering enhanced telephony services is shown If a customei 202 desires to make a request regarding enhanced telephony services (e g , activate/deactivate a particular service, review an existing account, update an existing account, make a payment, or renew an existing account), customer 202 contacts an Enhanced Services Platform ("ESP") 204 ESP 204 is a computer system that may autonomously provide enhanced telephony services for a service provider That is, ESP 204 may robotically perform one or more of the tasks associated with administering enhanced telephony services, without requiring human assistance at ESP 204 ESP 204 has a telephony interface allowing it to attach to telephone lines Typically, the ESP 204 telephony interface is a Tl interface, and ESP 204 may have multiple telephony mtei faces Customer 202 may contact ESP 204 in a variety of ways including via an unswitched packet network (such as the Internet), via a data modem, and via telephone Each method for contacting the ESP 204 offers distinct advantages

Once customer 202 is connected to ESP 204, customer 202 may interact with ESP 204 to make requests in real-time Customer 202 may interact with ESP 204 to provide information required for a particular request In one embodiment, customer 202 submits such information to ESP 204 via the Internet by accessing a service provider's website In an alternative embodiment, customer 202 submits the required information using a software program running on a computer and a data modem In a second alternativ e embodiment, customer 202 submits the required information via telephone

ESP 204 may request, receive and process the required information autonomously, without human assistance being required at ESP 204 ESP 204 may autonomously access database 208 to create a customer specific account for customer 202, to retrieve information from an existing customer account, and to update information for an existing account without human assistance being required at ESP 204 Furthermore, ESP 204 may autonomously perform credit validation 206 without human assistance being required at ESP 204 As used herein, credit validation includes performing such tasks as obtaining ciedit authorization to charge a certain amount to a credit card number, and performing a credit check on a particular customer Turning to FIGURE 3, one embodiment of the inventive method and system for administering enhanced telephony services is shown. In this embodiment, customer 202 (not shown) has access to a computer 302 that has Internet service. In this embodiment, customer 202 uses computer 302 to access the Internet 304. Customer 202 may interface with ESP 204 by accessing a service provider's website on the Internet 304. The website may provide an interface by which customer 202 can interact with ESP 204. The website may allow customer 202 to review the types of enhanced telephony services provided by ESP 204. The website may also provide customer 202 with additional options, including options for: activating a particular enhanced telephony service (e.g., subscribing for a particular service), deactivating an existing enhanced telephony service, reviewing an existing account, updating an existing account, making a payment for an enhanced telephony service, and renewing an enhanced telephony service.

Suppose that customer 202 wants to activate a particular enhanced telephony service. Some enhanced telephony services may require that customer 202 subscribe for the service to activate them. However, other enhanced telephony services may allow a customer to activate the services on a one-time basis for a fixed amount of time (e.g., 1 hour, 1 day, or 1 time use of the service). An example of how this website interface embodiment of the present invention may administer a request to activate a particular service follows. First, customer 202 would use computer 302 to access the service provider's website on the Internet 304. The website interface may provide an option for activating an enhanced telephony service

(e.g., it may have a button that customer 202 can click to subscribe for an enhanced telephony service). The website may then provide customer 202 with a method for entering the information required for activating the particular service, such as an on-line enrollment form. Customer 202 may enter the required fields on the on-line enrollment form, such as his/her name, address, and credit card number, to establish an account for the particular enhanced telephony service. After entering the required information into the on-line enrollment form, customer 202 may click on a submit button. The information from the enrollment form would then be transmitted to ESP 204. Once ESP 204 receives the required information, the ESP may autonomously activate a particular enhanced telephony service for customer 202. Moreover, ESP 204 may grant the customer's request in real-time. Thereafter, ESP 204 may autonomously and in real-time provide any information necessary for customer 202 to use the activated service (e.g., a PIN number). For example, suppose that a customer desires to activate a prepaid calling service. An exemplary website interface that may be used to allow a customer to subscribe for a prepaid calling service is shown in FIGURE 8. Customer 202 may first choose an amount to initially pay on the prepaid service by clicking on one of the prepaid amounts 1200. As shown, a $50 prepaid amount is selected. Customer 202 may then enter his first and last name in boxes

1202 and 1204. Customer 202 may then enter his address, city, state, zip code, and telephone number in boxes 1206, 1208, 1210, 1212, and 1214 respectively. Customer 202 may then enter information pertaining to prepayment for the service. Customer 202 may enter his name as it appears on his credit card in box 1216. Customer 202 may enter his credit card number in box 1218. Customer 202 may enter the type of card that he is using, such as VISA or Mastercard, in box 1220, and customer 202 may enter the expiration month and year for the card in boxes 1222 and 1224.

Once customer 202 completes the on-line enrollment form, he may click on the submit button 1226, which may cause the information to be transferred to the ESP 204 via the Internet. Thereafter, ESP 204 may autonomously attempt to perform credit validation 206 for customer 202. That is, ESP 204 would autonomously attempt to obtain authorization for the credit card number provided by customer 202 on the on-line enrollment form. If the credit card number is authorized, ESP 204 may charge $50 to the card and autonomously create a customer specific account in database 208 for customer 202, and ESP 204 may autonomously activate the requested enhanced telephony service.

ESP 204 may then provide, via the website, information that customer 202 will need to access the prepaid calling service. That is, ESP 204 may provide via the website a toll-free number to call and a PIN number to customer 202. Such information may be displayed on the website in the form of a calling card 1228, wherein the toll-free number to call would appear in box 1230 and the customer's PIN number would appear in box 1232. Thereafter, customer 202 can begin using the prepaid calling service immediately.

In this manner, customer 202 is able to obtain an enhanced telephony service from ESP 204 in real-time. Furthermore, ESP 204 is able to create a new account and activate the requested enhanced telephony service for customer 202 without requiring human assistance at the ESP 204. The above-example of obtaining prepaid calling service via the Internet is equally applicable to other enhanced telephony services that may be offered by ESP 204. Such services as postpaid calling cards, voice mail, One Number service, Call Back service, language translation service, call waiting, three-way calling, caller ID, and call forwarding may also be activated instantaneously via the Internet 304 in a manner similar to that described for activating prepaid calling service.

Suppose that customer 202 wants to deactivate an existing enhanced telephony service. An example of how this website interface embodiment of the present invention may administer such a request follows. First, customer 202 would use computer 302 to access the service provider's website on the Internet 304. The website interface may provide customer 202 an option for deactivating an enhanced telephony service (e.g., the website may provide a button that customer 202 can click to deactivate a particular service). The website may provide customer 202 with a method for entering the information required for selecting the enhanced telephony service to be deactivated. For example, after entering information required for identifying customer 202, such as the customer's name and PIN number, customer 202 may be able to view the enhanced telephony seivices that he/she currently has activated. That is, ESP 204 may display the enhanced telephony services that ESP 204 currently provides for customer 202. Thereafter, customer 202 may be able to choose one or more of the currently activated services (e.g., by double-clicking on particular enhanced telephony services). After selecting the appropriate service, customer 202 may click on a deactivate button, which may cause the request to be transmitted to ESP 204. ESP 204 may then autonomously deactivate the selected enhanced telephony service. Thus, ESP 204 may administer the tasks associated with deactivating an existing account autonomously.

Moreover, ESP 204 may administer the tasks associated with deactivating an existing account in real-time.

Suppose that customer 202 wants to review an existing account for a particular enhanced telephony service. For example, a customer with an existing enhanced telephony service account may desire to review his/her account balance. An example of how this website interface embodiment of the present invention may administer such a request follows. First, customer 202 would use computer 302 to access the service provider's website on the Internet 304. The website interface may provide customer 202 an option for reviewing an existing account for an enhanced telephony service (e.g., the website may provide a button that customer 202 can click to review an existing account). The website may provide customer 202 with a method for entering information required for selecting the enhanced telephony service to be reviewed. For example, after entering information required for identifying customer 202, such as the customer's name and PIN number, customer 202 may be able to view the enhanced telephony services that he/she currently has activated. That is, ESP 204 may display the enhanced telephony services that ESP 204 currently provides for customer 202. Thereafter, customer 202 may be able to choose one or more of the currently activated services (e.g., by double-clicking on particular enhanced telephony services). After selecting the appropriate service, customer 202 may review the account for the selected service (e.g., the customer may click on a button for reviewing the account), which may cause the request to be transmitted to ESP 204. Thereafter. ESP 204 may autonomously retrieve the requested account information from database 208 and display the information to customer 202 on the website. Thus, ESP 204 may administer the tasks associated with reviewing an existing account autonomously. Moreover, ESP 204 may administer the tasks associated with reviewing an existing account in real-time.

Suppose that customer 202 wants to update an existing account for a particular enhanced telephony service. Updating an existing account may include, but is not limited to: changing a customer's PIN number, changing a customer's address, changing a customer's telephone number, changing a credit card number for paying for particular enhanced telephony services, and changing features associated with a particular enhanced telephony service (e.g., changing a voice mail greeting, or changing the telephone numbers at which a customer may be reached at a given time for a One Number Service). An example of how this website interface embodiment of the present invention may administer such an update request follows. First, customer 202 would use computer 302 to access the service provider's website on the Internet 304. The website interface may provide customer 202 an option for updating an existing account for an enhanced telephony service (e.g., the website may provide a button that customer 202 can click to update an existing account). The website may provide customer 202 with a method for entering information required for selecting the enhanced telephony service to be updated. For example, after entering information required for identifying customer 202, such as the customer's name and PIN number, customer 202 may be able to view the enhanced telephony services that he/she currently has activated. That is, ESP 204 may display the enhanced telephony services that ESP 204 currently provides for customer 202. Thereafter, customer 202 may be able to choose one or moie of the currently activated services (e g , by double-clicking on particular enhanced telephony services) After selecting the desired enhanced telephony service, customer 202 may update the account for the selected service For example, the website may provide current information about the selected enhanced telephony service, such as the customer's address, telephone number, PIN number, etc , and the customer may change the information and submit the changes via the website, which may cause the updated information to be transmitted to ESP 204 Thereafter, ESP 204 may autonomously update the account information in database 208 Thus, ESP 204 may administer the tasks associated with updating an existing account autonomously Moreover, ESP 204 may administer the tasks associated with updating an existing account m real-time

Suppose that customer 202 wants to make a payment to an existing account for a particular enhanced telephony service An example of how this website interface embodiment of the present invention may administer such a payment request follows First, customer 202 would use computer 302 to access the service provider's website on the Internet 304 The website interface may provide customer 202 an option foi making a payment to an existing account for an enhanced telephony service (e g , the website may provide a button that customer 202 can click to make a payment to an existing account) The website may provide customer 202 with a method for entering information required for selecting the enhanced telephony service to be paid Foi example, after entering information required for identifying customer 202, such as the customer's name and PIN number, customer 202 may be able to view the enhanced telephony services that he/she currently has activated That is, ESP 204 may display the enhanced telephony seivices that ESP 204 currently provides for customer 202

Thereafter, customer 202 may be able to choose one or more of the currently activated services (e g , by double-clicking on particular enhanced telephony services) After selecting the desired enhanced telephony service, customer 202 may make a payment to the account for the selected service For example, customer 202 may type information required for a payment, such as a credit card number, caid type, and expiration date (similar to that shown m FIGURE 8 in boxes 1216-1224) Customer 202 may submit the payment information (e g , by clicking on a submit button), which may cause the payment information to be transmitted to ESP 204 Thereafter, ESP 204 may autonomously attempt to obtain credit authorization for the supplied credit card number Once ESP 204 obtains credit authoπzation, ESP 204 may autonomously update the particular customer account information in database 208. Thus, ESP 204 may administer the tasks associated with making a payment to an existing account autonomously. Moreover, ESP 204 may administer the tasks associated with making a payment to an existing account in real-time. Suppose that customer 202 wants to renew an existing account for a particular enhanced telephony service. Some accounts for enhanced telephony services may renew automatically, upon payment for the account. However, some accounts may require action on the part of customer 202 to be renewed. An example of how this website interface embodiment of the present invention may administer such a renewal request follows. First, customer 202 would use computer 302 to access the service provider's website on the Internet

304. The website interface may provide customer 202 an option for renewing an existing account for an enhanced telephony service (e.g., the website may provide a button that customer 202 can click to renew an existing enhanced telephony service). The website may provide customer 202 with a method for entering information required for selecting the enhanced telephony service to be renewed. For example, after entering information required for identifying customer 202, such as the customer's name and PIN number, customer 202 may be able to view the enhanced telephony services that he/she currently has activated. That is, ESP 204 may display the enhanced telephony services that ESP 204 currently provides for customer 202. Thereafter, customer 202 may be able to choose one or more of the currently activated services (e.g., by double-clicking on particular enhanced telephony services). After selecting the desired enhanced telephony service, customer 202 may renew the selected service. For example, customer 202 may type any information required for renewing the service, such as a credit card number, card type, and expiration date (similar to that shown in FIGURE 8 in boxes 1216-1224). Customer 202 may then submit the renewal request (e.g., by clicking on a submit button), which may cause the renewal request and any other required information to be transmitted to ESP 204. Thereafter, ESP 204 may autonomously attempt to obtain credit authorization for a supplied credit card number, if required. Once ESP 204 obtains any required credit authorization, ESP 204 may autonomously renew the particular customer account and update any renewal information contained in database 208. Thus, ESP 204 may administer the tasks associated with renewing an existing account autonomously. Moreover, ESP 204 may administer the tasks associated with renewing an existing account in real-time. In an alternative method for interacting with ESP 204 via the Internet 304, an email message may be generated by the website and transmitted to ESP 204 in a format that ESP 204 can recognize. Continuing with the prior example of customer 202 desiring to activate a prepaid calling service, when customer 202 clicks on the submit button 1226, an email message containing the necessary information (e.g., the information supplied on the on-line enrollment form) may be generated and transmitted to ESP 204. The email message may be in a format that ESP 204 can recognize, such that ESP 204 may process the request autonomously, without requiring human assistance at ESP 204.

In yet another alternative method for interacting with ESP 204 via the Internet 304, customer 202 may draft an email message containing any required information, and customer

202 may transmit the email message to ESP 204 via the Internet 304. Such an email message may be in a format that ESP 204 can recognize to allow ESP 204 to process the customer's request autonomously, without requiring human assistance at ESP 204.

An alternative embodiment for the present invention is shown in FIGURE 4. In this alternative embodiment, a customer 202 (not shown) may have access to a computer 402 with a data modem, but may not have access to the Internet. In this alternative embodiment, customer 202 uses computer 402 to contact ESP 204 via a data modem over a public switched telephone network (PSTN) 404. Computer 402 may be running a software program that allows customer 202 to interact with ESP 204 via a data modem. The software program may be a custom program provided by the service provider to customer 202 and then loaded onto computer 402, or alternatively it may be standard dial-up networking software provided by a third party. The software program may provide an interface much like the website interface described above and shown in FIGURE 8. The software may allow customer 202 to review the types of enhanced telephony services provided by ESP 204. The software may also provide customer 202 with additional options, including options for: activating a particular enhanced telephony service (e.g., subscribing for a particular service), deactivating an existing enhanced telephony service, reviewing an existing account, updating an existing account, making a payment for an enhanced telephony service, and renewing an enhanced telephony service. Suppose that customer 202 wants to activate a particular enhanced telephony service.

An example of how this alternative embodiment of the present invention may administer such a request follows: customer 202 would use computer 402 to run a software program that may have been provided to customer 202 by the service provider that owns ESP 204. Computer 402 executes the software program and allows customer 202 to interact with ESP 204 via a data modem. The software interface may provide an option for subscribing for an enhanced telephony service (e.g., the software may provide a button that customer 202 can click to subscribe for an enhanced telephony service). The software may then provide customer 202 with a method for entering the information required for activating the particular service, such as an on-line enrollment form. Customer 202 may enter the required fields on the on-line enrollment form, such as his/her name, address, and credit card number, to establish an account for the particular enhanced telephony service. After entering the required information into the on-line enrollment form, customer 202 may click on a submit button.

The information from the enrollment form would then be sent to ESP 204 via a data modem, and ESP 204 may autonomously activate the requested enhanced telephony service. Thus, ESP 204 may administer the tasks associated with activating an enhanced telephony service autonomously. Moreover, ESP 204 may administer the tasks associated with activating an enhanced telephony service in real-time.

For example, suppose that a customer desires to activate a prepaid calling service. An exemplary interface that may provided by the software program to allow a customer to subscribe for a prepaid calling service is shown in FIGURE 8. Customer 202 may first choose an amount to initially pay on the prepaid service by clicking on one of the prepaid amounts 1200. As shown, a $50 prepaid amount is selected. Customer 202 may then enter his/her first and last name in boxes 1202 and 1204. Customer 202 may then enter his/her address, city, state, zip code, and telephone number in boxes 1206, 1208, 1210, 1212, and 1214 respectively. Customer 202 may then enter information pertaining to prepayment for the service. Customer 202 may enter his name as it appears on his credit card in box 1216. Customer 202 may enter his credit card number in box 1218. Customer 202 may enter the type of card that he is using, such as VISA or Mastercard, in box 1220, and customer 202 may enter the expiration month and year for the card in boxes 1222 and 1224.

Once customer 202 completes the on-line enrollment form, he may click on the submit button 1226, and the information may be transferred to the ESP 204 via data modem. ESP 204 may autonomously attempt to perform credit validation 206 for customer 202. That is, ESP 204 may autonomously attempt to obtain authorization for the credit card number provided by customer 202 on the on-line enrollment form. If the credit card number is authorized, ESP 204 may autonomously create a customer specific account in database 208 for customer 202, and ESP 204 may autonomously activate the requested enhanced telephony service.

ESP 204 may also provide, via data modem, information that customer 202 will need to access the prepaid calling service. That is, ESP 204 may provide via data modem a toll- free number to call and a PIN number to customer 202. Such information may be displayed on computer 402 in the form of a calling card 1228, wherein the toll-free number to call would appear in box 1230 and the customer's PIN number would appear in box 1232. Thereafter, customer 202 would preferably be able to begin using the prepaid calling service immediately.

In this manner, customer 202 is able to obtain an enhanced telephony service from ESP 204 in real-time. Furthermore, ESP 204 is able to create a new account for customer 202 without requiring human assistance at the ESP 204. The above-example of obtaining prepaid calling seivice via a data modem is equally applicable to other enhanced telephony services that may be offered by ESP 204. Such services as postpaid calling cards, voice mail, One

Number service, Call Back service, language translation service, call waiting, three-way calling, caller ID, and call forwarding may also be activated instantaneously via data modem in a manner similar to that described for activating prepaid calling service.

Suppose now that customer 202 wants to deactivate an existing enhanced telephony service. An example of how this alternative embodiment of the present invention may administer such a request follows. First, customer 202 would use computer 402 to execute a software program that may be provided by the service provider and to connect to ESP 204 via data modem. The software interface may provide customer 202 an option for deactivating an enhanced telephony service (e.g., the software program may provide a button that customer 202 can click to deactivate a particular service). The software program may provide customer

202 with a method for entering the information required for selecting the enhanced telephony service to be deactivated. For example, after entering information required for identifying customer 202, such as the customer's name and PIN number, customer 202 may be able to view the enhanced telephony services that he/she currently has activated. That is, ESP 204 may transmit information to computer 402 such that computer 402 may display the enhanced telephony services that ESP 204 currently provides for customer 202. Thereafter, customer 202 may be able to choose one or more of the currently activated services (e.g., by double- clicking on particular enhanced telephony services). After selecting the appropriate service, customer 202 may choose an option for deactivating the selected service (e.g., click on a deactivate button), which may cause the request to be transmitted to ESP 204. ESP 204 may then autonomously deactivate the selected enhanced telephony service. Thus, ESP 204 may administer the tasks associated with deactivating an existing account autonomously.

Moreover, ESP 204 may administer the tasks associated with deactivating an existing account in real-time.

Suppose now that customer 202 wants to review an existing account for a particular enhanced telephony service. For example, a customer with an existing enhanced telephony service account may desire to review his/her account balance. An example of how this alternative embodiment of the present invention may administer such a request follows. First, customer 202 would use computer 402 to execute a software program and to connect to ESP 204 via data modem. The software interface may provide customer 202 an option for reviewing an existing account for an enhanced telephony service (e.g., the software program may provide a button that customer 202 can click to review an existing account). The software program may provide customer 202 with a method for entering information required for selecting the enhanced telephony service to be reviewed. For example, after entering information required for identifying customer 202, such as the customer's name and PIN number, customer 202 may be able to view the enhanced telephony services that he/she currently has activated. That is, ESP 204 may supply information to computer 402 such that computer 402 may display the enhanced telephony services that ESP 204 currently provides for customer 202.

Thereafter, customer 202 may be able to choose one or more of the currently activated services (e.g., by double-clicking on particular enhanced telephony services). After selecting the appropriate seivice, customer 202 may review the account for the selected service (e.g., the customer may click on a button for reviewing the account), which may cause the request to be transmitted to ESP 204. Thereafter, ESP 204 may autonomously retrieve the requested account information from database 208 and display the information to customer 202 on computer 402. Thus, ESP 204 may administer the tasks associated with reviewing an existing account autonomously. Moreover, ESP 204 may administer the tasks associated with reviewing an existing account in real-time. Suppose now that customer 202 wants to update an existing account for a particular enhanced telephony service. Updating an existing account may include, but is not limited to: changing a customer's PIN number, changing a customer's address, changing a customer's telephone number, changing a credit card number for paying for particular enhanced telephony services, and changing features associated with a particular enhanced telephony service (e.g., changing a voice mail greeting, or changing the telephone numbers at which a customer may be reached at a given time for One Number Seivice). An example of how this alternative embodiment of the present invention may administer such an update request follows. First, customer 202 would use computer 402 to execute a software program and to connect to ESP 204 via data modem. The software interface may provide customer 202 an option for updating an existing account for an enhanced telephony service (e.g., the software program may provide a button that customer 202 can click to update an existing account). The software program may provide customer 202 with a method for entering information required for selecting the enhanced telephony service to be updated. For example, after entering information required for identifying customer 202, such as the customer's name and

PIN number, customer 202 may be able to view the enhanced telephony services that he/she currently has activated. That is, ESP 204 may display the enhanced telephony services that ESP 204 currently provides for customer 202 on computer 402.

Thereafter, customer 202 may be able to choose one or more of the currently activated services (e.g., by double-clicking on particular enhanced telephony services). After selecting the desired enhanced telephony service, customer 202 may update the account for the selected service. For example, the software program may provide current information about the selected enhanced telephony service, such as the customer's address, telephone number, PIN number, etc., and the customer may change the information and submit the changes via data modem to ESP 204. Thereafter, ESP 204 may autonomously update the account information in database 208. Thus, ESP 204 may administer the tasks associated with updating an existing account autonomously. Moreover, ESP 204 may administer the tasks associated with updating an existing account in real-time.

Suppose now that customer 202 wants to make a payment to an existing account for a particular enhanced telephony service. An example of how this alternative embodiment of the present invention may administer such a payment request follows. First, customer 202 would use computer 402 to execute a software program and to connect to ESP 204 via data modem. The software interface may provide customer 202 an option for making a payment to an existing account for an enhanced telephony seivice (e.g., the software program may provide a button that customer 202 can click to make a payment to an existing account). The software program may provide customer 202 with a method for entering information required for selecting the enhanced telephony service to be paid. For example, after entering information required for identifying customer 202, such as the customer's name and PIN number, customer 202 may be able to view the enhanced telephony services that he/she currently has activated. That is, ESP 204 may display the enhanced telephony services that ESP 204 currently provides for customer 202 on computer 402. Thereafter, customer 202 may be able to choose one or more of the currently activated services (e.g., by double-clicking on particular enhanced telephony services). After selecting the desired enhanced telephony service, customer 202 may make a payment to the account for the selected service. For example, customer 202 may type information required for a payment, such as a credit card number, card type, and expiration date (similar to that shown in FIGURE 8 in boxes 1216-1224). Customer 202 may submit the payment information

(e.g., by clicking on a submit button), which may cause the payment information to be transmitted to ESP 204 via data modem. Thereafter, ESP 204 may autonomously attempt to obtain credit authorization for the supplied credit card number. Once ESP 204 obtains credit authorization, ESP 204 may autonomously update the particular customer account information in database 208. Thus, ESP 204 may administer the tasks associated with making a payment to an existing account autonomously. Moreover, ESP 204 may administer the tasks associated with making a payment to an existing account in real-time.

Suppose now that customer 202 wants to renew an existing account for a particular enhanced telephony service. Some accounts for enhanced telephony services may renew automatically, upon payment for the account. However, some accounts may require action on the part of customer 202 to be renewed. An example of how this alternative embodiment of the present invention may administer such a renewal request follows. First, customer 202 would use computer 402 to execute a software program and to connect to ESP 204 via data modem. The software interface may provide customer 202 an option for renewing an existing account for an enhanced telephony service (e.g., the software program may provide a button that customer 202 can click to renew an existing enhanced telephony service). The software program may provide customer 202 with a method for entering information required for selecting the enhanced telephony service to be renewed. For example, after entering information required for identifying customer 202, such as the customer's name and PIN number, customer 202 may be able to view the enhanced telephony seivices that he/she currently has activated. That is, ESP 204 may display the enhanced telephony services that ESP 204 currently provides for customer 202 on computer 402.

Thereafter, customer 202 may be able to choose one or more of the currently activated services (e.g., by double-clicking on particular enhanced telephony services). After selecting the desired enhanced telephony service, customer 202 may renew the selected seivice. For example, customer 202 may type any information required for renewing the service, such as a credit card number, card type, and expiration date (similar to that shown in FIGURE 8 in boxes 1216-1224). Customer 202 may then submit the renewal request (e.g., by clicking on a submit button), which may cause the renewal request and any other required information to be transmitted to ESP 204 via data modem. Thereafter, ESP 204 may autonomously attempt to obtain credit authorization for a supplied credit card number, if required. Once ESP 204 obtains any required credit authorization, ESP 204 may autonomously renew the particular customer account and update any renewal information contained in database 208. Thus, ESP 204 may administer the tasks associated with renewing an existing account autonomously. Moreover, ESP 204 may administer the tasks associated with renewing an existing account in real-time. Yet a second alternative embodiment for the present invention is shown in FIGURE 5.

In this second alternative embodiment, a customer 202 (not shown) may not have access to a computer, but may have access to a telephone 502. In this second alternative embodiment, customer 202 uses telephone 502 to contact ESP 204 over PSTN 404. Telephone 502 allows customer 202 to interact with ESP 204 by pressing keys on the telephone keypad, i.e., dual tone multi-frequency (DTMF) signals, or by speaking into the telephone. ESP 204 may recognize the DTMF signals or verbal commands provided by customer 202, and ESP 204 may provide verbal responses back to customer 202 over telephone 502. The telephone interface may allow customer 202 to perform the same functions as the website, e-mail, and data modem interfaces described above. The telephone interface may allow customer 202 to review the types of enhanced telephony services provided by ESP 204. The telephone interface may also provide customer 202 an option for obtaining a particular enhanced telephony service (e.g., subscribing for a particular service), deactivating an existing enhanced telephony service, reviewing an existing account, updating an existing account, making a payment for an enhanced telephony seivice, and renewing an enhanced telephony service.

Again, suppose that customer 202 wants to obtain an enhanced telephony service. An example of how this second alternative embodiment of the present invention may administer such a request follows: customer 202 would use telephone 502 to call ESP 204. ESP 204 may notify customer 202 of the functions that may be performed via telephone. ESP 204 may notify customer 202 that he/she can activate (e.g., subscribe for) a particular enhanced telephony service by pressing a certain key on the telephone keypad or by speaking a command into the telephone. ESP 204 may recognize DTMF signals transmitted by corresponding key presses, and ESP 204 may recognize verbal responses from customer 202 utilizing speech recognition technology. Customer 202 may press the corresponding key or speak the appropriate verbal command to subscribe for a particular enhanced telephony service, and ESP 204 may recognize the DTMF signal or verbal command. ESP 204 may then prompt customer 202 to enter certain information on the telephone keypad or speak certain information required to establish the prepaid service, such as the customer's name, address, and credit card number. ESP 204 may receive the DTMF signals or verbal information from customer 202, and ESP 204 may convert any verbal information to text using a speech-to-text converter. Thereafter, ESP 204 may autonomously activate the requested enhanced telephony service.

As an example, suppose a customer wants to activate a prepaid calling service using this embodiment. Customer 202 would first contact ESP 204 via telephone 502. Customer 202 may then select an option provided by ESP 204 for subscribing for prepaid calling service. Customer 202 may interact with ESP 204 by pressing keys on the telephone keypad or by speaking verbal commands/information into telephone 502. Customer 202 may select an amount to initially pay on the prepaid service. Customer 202 may then provide his/her first and last name, address, city, state, zip code, and telephone number. Customer 202 may then provide information pertaining to prepayment for the service. Customer 202 may provide the type of credit card that he/she will use to prepay for the service (e.g., customer 202 may say VISA or Mastercard, or customer 202 may press a key on the telephone keypad corresponding to the appropriate type of card). Customer 202 may then his/her name as it appears on the credit card. Thereafter, customer 202 may provide the credit card number and the expiration month and year for the card.

As customer 202 provides information required for activating the enhanced telephony service, the information may be transmitted to the ESP 204 via PSTN 504. Thereafter, ESP 204 may autonomously attempt to perform credit validation 206 for customer 202. That is,

ESP 204 may autonomously attempt to obtain authorization for the credit card number provided by customer 202. If the credit card number is authorized, ESP 204 may charge the appropriate amount to the card and autonomously create a customer specific account in database 208 for customer 202, and ESP 204 may autonomously activate the requested enhanced telephony service.

ESP 204 may then provide, via telephone 502, information that customer 202 will need to use the prepaid calling service. For example, ESP 204 may provide via telephone 502 a toll-free number to call and a PIN number to customer 202. Thereafter, customer 202 can begin using the prepaid calling service immediately. In this manner, customer 202 is able to activate an enhanced telephony service from

ESP 204 in real-time. Furthermore, ESP 204 is able to create a new account and activate the requested enhanced telephony seivice for customer 202 without requiring human assistance at the ESP 204. The above-example of obtaining prepaid calling service via telephone 502 is equally applicable to other enhanced telephony services that may be offered by ESP 204. Such services as postpaid calling cards, voice mail, One Number service, Call Back service, language translation service, call waiting, three-way calling, caller ID, and call forwarding may also be activated instantaneously via telephone 502 in a manner similar to that described for activating prepaid calling service.

Suppose now that customer 202 wants to deactivate an existing enhanced telephony service. An example of how this telephone interface embodiment of the present invention may administer such a request follows. First, customer 202 would use telephone 502 to connect to ESP 204 over PSTN 504. Once connected, ESP 204 may provide customer 202 an option for deactivating an enhanced telephony service (e.g., ESP 204 may instruct customer 202 to press a certain key on the telephone keypad or speak a certain command to deactivate a particular service). ESP 204 may provide customer 202 with a method for selecting the enhanced telephony service to be deactivated. For example, after providing information required for identifying customer 202 via telephone 502, such as the customer's name and PIN number, customer 202 may be able to select the enhanced telephony service to be deactivated. That is, ESP 204 may allow the customer to press a certain key or speak a certain command to choose a particular enhanced telephony seivice to be deactivated (e.g., press 1 for voice mail, press 2 for Call Back service, or speak "1," or speak "voice mail"). After selecting the appropriate service, customer 202 may choose an option for deactivating the selected service (e.g., the customer may press a certain key or speak a certain command to deactivate the selected service). ESP 204 may then autonomously deactivate the selected enhanced telephony service. Thus, ESP 204 may administer the tasks associated with deactivating an existing account autonomously. Moreover, ESP 204 may administer the tasks associated with deactivating an existing account in real-time.

Suppose now that customer 202 wants to update an existing account for a particular enhanced telephony seivice. Updating an existing account may include, but is not limited to: changing a customer's PIN number, changing a customer's address, changing a customer's telephone number, changing a credit card number for paying for particular enhanced telephony services, and changing features associated with a particular enhanced telephony service (e.g., changing a voice mail greeting, or changing the telephone numbers at which a customer may be reached at a given time for One Number Service). An example of how this telephone interface embodiment of the present invention may administer such an update request follows. First, customer 202 would use telephone 502 to connect to ESP 204 over PSTN 504. The telephone interface may provide customer 202 an option for updating an existing account for an enhanced telephony service (e.g., the telephone interface may allow customer 202 to press a certain key or speak a certain command to update an existing account). The telephone interface may provide customer 202 with a method for selecting the enhanced telephony service to be updated. For example, after providing information required for identifying customer 202 via telephone 502, such as the customer's name and PIN number, customer 202 may be able to select the enhanced telephony service to be updated. That is, ESP 204 may allow the customer to press a certain key or speak a certain command to choose a particular enhanced telephony service to be updated (e.g., press 1 for voice mail, press 2 for Call Back service, or speak "1," or speak "voice mail"). After selecting the appropriate service, customer 202 may choose an option for updating the selected seivice (e.g., the customer may press a certain key or speak a certain command to update the selected service). Thereafter, customer 202 may be provided options for updating his/her account information (e.g., press 1 to change your address, press 2 to change your PIN number, press 3 to change your voice mail greeting, etc.). By pressing keys on the telephone keypad or speaking commands, customer 202 may then update his/her account as desired. Thereafter, ESP 204 may autonomously update the customer's account information in database 208. Thus, ESP 204 may administer the tasks associated with updating an existing account autonomously. Moreover, ESP 204 may administer the tasks associated with updating an existing account in real-time.

Suppose now that customer 202 wants to make a payment to an existing account for a particular enhanced telephony service. An example of how this telephone interface embodiment of the present invention may administer such a payment request follows. First, customer 202 would use telephone 502 to connect to ESP 204 over PSTN 504. The telephone interface may provide customer 202 an option for making a payment to an existing account for an enhanced telephony service (e.g., the customer may press a certain key or speak a certain command to make a payment to an existing account). The telephone interface may provide customer 202 with a method for selecting the enhanced telephony service to be paid. For example, after providing information required for identifying customer 202 via telephone 502, such as the customer's name and PIN number, customer 202 may be able to select the enhanced telephony service to be paid. That is, ESP 204 may allow customer 202 to press a certain key or speak a certain command to choose a particular enhanced telephony service to be updated (e.g., press 1 for voice mail, press 2 for Call Back service, or speak "1 ," or speak "voice mail").

Suppose now that customer 202 wants to renew an existing account for a particular enhanced telephony service. Some accounts for enhanced telephony services may renew automatically, upon payment for the account. However, some accounts may require action on the part of customer 202 to be renewed. An example of how this telephone interface embodiment of the present invention may administer such a renewal request follows. First, customer 202 would use telephone 502 to connect to ESP 204 over PSTN 504. The telephone interface may provide customer 202 an option for renewing an existing account for an enhanced telephony seivice (e.g., the customer may press a certain key or speak a certain command to renew an existing account). The telephone interface may provide customer 202 with a method for selecting the enhanced telephony service to be paid. For example, after providing information required for identifying customer 202 via telephone 502, such as the customer's name and PIN number, customer 202 may be able to select the enhanced telephony service to be paid. That is, ESP 204 may allow customer 202 to press a certain key or speak a certain command to choose a particular enhanced telephony service to be updated (e.g., press 1 for voice mail, press 2 for Call Back service, or speak "1 ," or speak "voice mail").

After selecting the appropriate service, customer 202 may choose an option for renewing the selected service (e.g., the customer may press a certain key or speak a certain command to renew the service). Customer 202 may then provide any information required to renew the particular service via telephone 502, such as a credit card number. Thereafter, ESP 204 may autonomously attempt to obtain credit authorization for a supplied credit card number, if required. Once ESP 204 obtains any required credit authorization, ESP 204 may autonomously renew the particular customer account and update any renewal information contained in database 208. Thus, ESP 204 may administer the tasks associated with renewing an existing account autonomously. Moreover, ESP 204 may administer the tasks associated with renewing an existing account in real-time.

Each of the above-discussed embodiments of the present invention offer certain distinct advantages. The embodiment of interacting with the ESP via the Internet website offers advantages over the embodiments which interact with the ESP via data modem and via telephone. First, this embodiment provides the customer with a more flexible and user friendly graphical interface that is not provided when using a telephone. The Internet website may graphically and/or verbally walk the customer through the steps required for performing certain tasks associated with administering enhanced telephony seivices. Moreover, the website may graphically and/or verbally teach the customer about a particular service and how to use the service, and the website may graphically and/or verbally answer questions that the customer has about a particular service.

In addition, the Internet website embodiment provides a standard interface with which most persons having access to the Internet are familiar. As the number of persons using the Internet grows, the Internet website will provide a global, standard interface. Additionally, a customer does not need to have specialized software in order to interact with the ESP. That is, a customer that has access to the Internet is not required to obtain any additional software to interact with the ESP. Moreover, the service provider must only create a standard interactive website, without having the added burden of creating a software program that is adaptable to different types of computers That is, a service provider must only create one website, which may be utilized by all customers who have Internet access, and the service provider is not required to create a software program (or programs) that is adaptable to the different types of computers and operating systems that customers use. Further, a service provider may update the functionality of the website interface, and is not required to distribute updated software programs to customers for each update made (as is typically required with software programs distributed to customers)

Furthermore, it is much easier and more natural to perform some transactions for administering enhanced telephony services using a graphical interface, rather than a verbal telephone interface. For example, if a customer desires to review his/her account history

(e.g., billing history or usage history for a particular service), which may have several pages of records, it is much easier and faster for the customer to do a visual search through the records, rather than listening to each record over the telephone. If a customer is searching for a particular record, it is typically easier and faster for a customer to do a visual pattern match, rather than listening to each record over the telephone As other examples, it is typically easier to change a customer's address, or complete an enrollment form using a graphical interface, rather than an audio telephone interface

Also, the Internet website interface may provide an additional benefit to service providers in that the service providers may be able to sell advertising space on the website. Websites having a high volume of traffic provide a valuable advertising medium, and a service provider may be able to sell advertising space on its website to other companies. A service provider may also advertise its own products and services on the website Moreover, the Internet website interface may provide customers with an easy-to-remember method of contacting the ESP (or service provider). That is, the Internet website may have a Uniform Resource Locator ("URL") that corresponds to the service providers name (e.g.,

"http:WCOMPANY-NAME.com"). Also, customers may have the ability to bookmark a service provider's website, which would provide the customers with an easy method of returning to the website each time that the customer wants to interact with the ESP.

The alternative embodiment of interacting with the ESP via data modem offers advantages over the embodiments which interact with the ESP via the Internet and via telephone. First, this embodiment provides the customer with a graphical interface that is not provided when using a telephone. The software may graphically and/or verbally walk the customer through the steps required for making a particular request regarding an enhanced telephony service Moreover, the software may graphically and/or verbally teach the customer about a particular service and how to use the service, and the software may graphically and/or verbally answer questions that the customer has about a particular service Further, a customer may not have access to the Internet That is, a customer may not have

Internet service established through and Internet Service Provider (ISP) Further, a customer may not be familiar with navigating the Internet and interacting with websites Additionally, a customer may feel more secure in transferring information directly to the ESP via data modem, rather than transferring information over the Internet Furthermore, it is much easier and more natural to perform some transactions for administering enhanced telephony services using a graphical interface, rather than a verbal telephone interface For example, if a customer desires to review his/her account history (e g , billing history or usage history for a particular service), which may have several pages of records, it is much easier and faster for the customer to do a visual search through the records, rather than listening to each record over the telephone If a customer is searching for a particular record, it is typically easier and faster for a customer to do a visual pattern match, rather than listening to each record over the telephone As other examples, it is typically easier to change a customer's address, or complete an enrollment form using a graphical interface, rather than an audio telephone interface The second alternative embodiment of interacting with the ESP via telephone offeis advantages over the embodiments which interact with the ESP via the Internet and via data modem First, this embodiment provides the customer with a method for performing tasks associated with administering enhanced telephony services without requiring that the customer have access to a computer Additionally, a customer is not required to have specialized software m order to interact with the ESP Further, a customer may not have access to the Internet That is, a customer may not have Internet service established through and Internet Service Provider (ISP) Further, a customer may not be familiar with navigating the Internet and interacting with websites Additionally, a customei may feel more secure m transferring information directly to the ESP via telephone, rather than transferring information over the Internet Also, as with the Internet interface and the data modem interface, the telephone interface may verbally walk the customer through the steps required for making a particular request regarding an enhanced telephony service Also, the telephone interface may verbally teach the customer about a particular service and how to use the service, and the telephone interface may verbally answer questions that the customer has about a particular service.

In addition, the telephone interface embodiment provides a standard interface with which most persons are familiar. Additionally, a customer does not need to have specialized software in order to interact with the ESP. That is, a customer that has access to a telephone not required to obtain a computer, Internet access, or any additional software to interact with the ESP. Moreover, the service provider must only create a standard interactive telephony interface, without having the added burden of creating a software program that is adaptable to different types of computers. That is, a service provider must only create one interface, which may be utilized by all customers who have access to a telephone, and the service provider is not required to create a software program (or programs) that is adaptable to the different types of computers and operating systems that customers use. Further, a service provider may update the functionality of the telephone interface, and is not required to distribute updated software programs to customers for each update made (as is typically required with software programs distributed to customers).

Furthermore, it is much easier and more natural to perform some transactions for administering enhanced telephony services using a verbal interface, rather than a graphical interface. For example, if a customer desires to change his/her voice mail greeting, it is typically more natural to use an audio interface, rather than a graphical interface for this type of transaction. Although, the Internet and/or data modem interfaces may allow for a customer to perform verbal transactions, as well as the telephone interface (e.g., voice packets may be created and transmitted via the Internet or via data modem to the ESP). Additionally, as more robust speech recognition systems are developed, many of the disadvantages associated with using the telephone interface may vanish. That is, the ESP may utilize a robust speech recognition system to allow improved interaction with customers via a telephone interface.

Turning to FIGURE 6, an exemplary database 208 containing customer specific information is shown in greater detail for one embodiment of the present invention. As FIGURE 6 illustrates, database 208 contains customer specific information for a customer 202 (not shown). Exemplary information that may be contained in database 208 includes, but is not limited to: the customer's name 602, address 604, account number 606, PIN number 608, the billing rate plan for the customer's particular enhanced telephony service 610, and the customer's account balance 612.

Turning to FIGURE 7A-7E, there is shown an exemplary flow diagram for a method for administering each type of request that may be received from a customer regarding enhanced telephony services. More specifically, the flow diagram of FIGURES 7A-7E show how ESP 204 may autonomously administer customer requests in real-time. When ESP 204 is first contacted by a customer, ESP 204 may determine the type of enhanced telephony service that the request regards at step 702. For example, ESP 204 may determine whether the customer request regards prepaid calling seivice, voice mail, or some other enhanced telephony service. At step 704 ESP 204 may determine whether the service that a particular request regards is a prepaid or postpaid service.

If ESP 204 determines that the customer is making a request regarding prepaid service, ESP 204 may determine whether the customer request involves activating a new account or involves an existing account at step 706. Suppose that a customer wants to activate a new prepaid enhanced telephony service, ESP 204 may perform branch "A" 710, which is shown in detail in FIGURE 7B. Turning to FIGURE 7B, ESP 204 may receive information required to activate a new prepaid enhanced telephony service from the customer at step 802. Such required information may include the customer's name, address, and telephone number. Because a prepaid account is involved, ESP 204 must receive an initial amount to be prepaid to the seivice provider. For example, if a new prepaid calling service is being requested, the requesting customer may decide to initially purchase $50 worth of calling time. ESP 204 may receive the amount of the initial prepayment at step 804. At step 806 ESP 204 may receive the requesting customer's credit card number, and ESP 204 may autonomously attempt to obtain credit authorization for the credit card number at step 808. If the credit card number is not authorized, ESP 204 may notify the customer of that fact at step 814. If, on the other hand, the credit card number is authorized, ESP 204 may autonomously create a new customer specific account in a database 208 at step 810. ESP 204 may then immediately, in real-time, notify the customer of information necessary for the customer to use the prepaid service, such as a PIN number, at step 812.

Turning back to FIGURE 7A, suppose a customer wants to make a request involving an existing prepaid account at step 706. ESP 204 may perform branch "B" 712, which is shown in detail in FIGURE 7C. Turning to FIGURE 7C, ESP 204 may receive information at step 902 to determine which existing customer account is involved in the customer's request. For example, ESP 204 may receive a customer name and PIN number to determine which existing account is involved. ESP 204 may then determine the type of request being made by the customer at step

904. As shown in FIGURE 7C, a customer may request to review an existing account, update an existing account (e.g., change a PIN number on the account, change the customer's address and/or telephone number for the existing account, or perform some other type of update to an existing account), make a payment to an existing account, or renew an existing account. If the request is a request to review an existing account, ESP 204 may access database 208 and provide the account information to customer 202 at step 906.

If, at step 904, ESP 204 determines that the request is a request to make a payment to an existing account, ESP 204 may receive the amount that customer 202 wants to pay at step 910. This payment amount may be a specific monetary amount or it may be a specific amount of time to be credited to the prepaid account. For example, if a customer wants to make a payment for an existing prepaid calling account, the customer may enter $10 as a monetary amount or the customer may enter 100 minutes as the amount of time (for fixed rate plans) to be made available for future use. ESP 204 may receive the customer's credit card number at step 912, and may attempt to obtain credit authorization for the card number at step 914.

If the customer's credit card number is not authorized, ESP 204 may notify the customer of this fact at step 916. If, on the other hand, the credit card number is authorized, ESP 204 may autonomously access the customer's account in database 208 and update the customer's balance accordingly at step 918. Therefore, the customer can make a payment to an existing account in real-time, and immediately begin using the additional amount credited to the prepaid account.

It should be appreciated that some of the steps shown in the flowcharts of FIGURES 7A-7E may be performed in a different order and still be within the scope of the present invention. For example, the order of steps 910 and 912 may be reversed in FIGURE 7C. Thus, the ESP may first receive the credit card number and then receive the amount of payment and still be within the scope of the present invention. As another example, the step of determining whether the request involves a prepaid or postpaid service (shown in FIGURE 7A) may be performed at a different point within the flow diagram.

The customer request may be a request to update an existing account. Many types of update functions may be performed, such as changing a PIN number, changing a customer's address, changing voice mail greeting, or making some other change to a customer's enhanced telephony service. Exemplary update requests for changing a PIN number and changing a customer's address are illustrated in FIGURE 7C. If, at step 904, ESP 204 determines that the customer request is a request to change an existing PIN number, ESP 204 receives the new PIN number from the customer at step 922. At step 924, ESP 204 accesses database 208 autonomously to determine whether the requested PIN number is available or if it is already being used. ESP 204 determines whether the PIN number is available at step 926, and if it is not available, ESP 204 notifies the customer of that fact at step 928. On the other hand, if the requested PIN number is available, ESP 204 autonomously accesses the customer's account in database 208 and changes the PIN number therein accordingly at step 930.

If, at step 904, ESP 204 determines that the customer request is a request to change a customer's address and/or telephone number, ESP 204 receives the new customer address and/or telephone number in step 934. ESP 204 then autonomously access the customer's account in database 208 and changes the customer's address and/or telephone number accordingly at step 936. Various other update requests may be handled by the ESP, which are noted in FIGURE 7C at step 938.

Turning back to FIGURE 7A, suppose customer 202 wants to make a request involving a new account at step 704. ESP 204 may then determine whether the customer request involves activating a new account or involves an existing account at step 708. Suppose that a customer wants to activate a new postpaid enhanced telephony service, ESP

204 may perform branch "C" 714, which is shown in detail in FIGURE 7D. Turning to FIGURE 7D, ESP 204 may receive information required to establish a new postpaid enhanced telephony service from the customer at step 1002. Such required information may include the customer's name, address, and telephone number. Because a postpaid account is involved, a credit check may be required for the requesting customer to determine whether the customer is creditworthy. Such a credit check may have been performed previously for this customer (e.g., when the customer requested to activate another enhanced telephony seivice). Such a credit check may include reviewing information on an automated credit history report for the customer. For example, the service provider may subscribe to a credit rating service that may return a simple "yes or no" answer, which may be based on criteria supplied to the credit rating service by the service provider. In this manner, ESP 204 may autonomously perform a credit check for the customer, without requiring human assistance at ESP 204. ESP 204 may determine whether the customer's credit is acceptable for the requested postpaid enhanced telephony service at step 1004. If the customer's credit is not acceptable, ESP 204 may notify the customer of that fact at step 1010. If, on the other hand, the customer's credit is acceptable, ESP 204 may autonomously create a new customer specific account in database 208 at step 1006. ESP 204 may then immediately, in real-time, notify the customer of information necessary for the customer to use the postpaid service, such as a PIN number, at step 1008.

Turning back to FIGURE 7A, suppose a customer wants to make a request involving an existing postpaid account at step 708. ESP 204 may perform branch "D" 716, which is shown in detail in FIGURE 7E. Turning to FIGURE 7E, ESP 204 may receive information at step 1 102 to determine which existing customer account is involved in the customer's request. For example, ESP 204 may receive a customer name and PIN number to determine which existing account is involved.

ESP 204 may then determine the type of request being made by the customer at step 1104. As shown in FIGURE 7E, a customer may request to review an existing account, update an existing account (e.g., change a PIN number on the account, change the customer's address and/or telephone number for the existing account, or perform some other type of update to an existing account), make a payment to an existing account, or renew an existing account. If the request is a request to review an existing account, ESP 204 may access database 208 and provide account information to customer 202 at step 1106. ESP 204 may provide the account information to the customer via the Internet, via data modem, or via telephone.

If, at step 1104, ESP 204 determines that the request is a request to make a payment to an existing account, then ESP 204 may receive the amount that the customer wants to pay at step 1110. This payment amount may be a specific monetary amount. For example, if the customer wants to make a payment for an existing postpaid account, the customer may enter $20 as a specific monetary amount. ESP 204 may receive the customer's credit card number at step 1112, and may attempt to obtain credit authorization for the card number at step 1114.

If the customer's credit card number is not authorized, ESP 204 may notify customer 202 of this fact at step 1116. If, on the other hand, the credit card number is authorized, ESP 204 may autonomously access the customer's account in database 208 and update the customer's balance accordingly at step 1118. Therefore, customer 202 can make a payment to an existing account in real-time.

The customer request may be a request to update an existing account. Many types of update functions may be performed, such as changing a PIN number, changing a customer's address, changing voice mail greeting, or making some other change to a customer's enhanced telephony service. Exemplary update requests for changing a PIN number and changing a customer's address are illustrated in FIGURE 7E. If, at step 1 104, ESP 204 determines that the customer request is a request to change an existing PIN number, ESP 204 receives the new PIN number from customer 202 at step 1122. At step 1124, ESP 204 accesses database 208 autonomously to determine whether the requested PIN number is available or if it is already being used. ESP 204 determines whether the PIN number is available at step 1126, and if it is not available, ESP 204 notifies customer 202 of that fact at step 1128. On the other hand, if the requested PIN number is available, ESP 204 autonomously accesses the customer's account in database 208 and changes the PIN number therein accordingly at step 1130.

If, at step 1104, ESP 204 determines that the customer request is a request to change a customer's address and/or telephone number, ESP 204 receives the new customer address and/or telephone number in step 1134. ESP 204 then autonomously accesses the customer's account in database 208 and changes the customer's address and/or telephone number accordingly at step 1136. Various other update requests may be handled by the ESP, which are noted in FIGURE 7E at step 1138.

As described herein, a system and method for autonomously administering enhanced telephony services is disclosed. The present invention provides a system and method for autonomously administering various customer requests. A customer may request to activate a particular prepaid or postpaid enhanced telephony service. A customer may request to deactivate an existing enhanced telephony service. A customer may also request to review an existing account. Further, a customer may request to update an existing account. Also, a customer may request to make a payment for an enhanced telephony service. Furthermore, a customer may request to renew an existing enhanced telephony service.

One embodiment of the present invention allows customers to make the above requests via the Internet, and an ESP may autonomously satisfy the customers' requests in real-time. An alternative embodiment of the present invention allows customers to make the above requests via data modem, and an ESP may autonomously satisfy the customers' requests in real-time. A second alternative embodiment of the present invention allows customers to make the above requests via telephone, and an ESP may autonomously satisfy the customers' requests in real-time. It will be appreciated that the system and method described with reference to

FIGURES 2-8 and the accompanying exemplary narrative when referring to a website and/or transferring data over the Internet, it is preferable to have a secure website and/or secure transmission of data over the Internet. That is, encryption methods well known in the art may be used to provide secure transmission of data over the Internet. For example, Secured Sockets Layer ("SSL") may be utilized, wherein Internet communications are transmitted in encrypted form. Therefore, information sent to/from a customer can be trusted to arrive privately and unaltered to the server specified (and no other).

It will be further appreciated that the system and method described with reference to FIGURES 2-8 and the accompanying exemplary narrative are not limited to the methods of data entry referred to herein for allowing a customer to interact with the ESP. Different methods of data entry may be substituted for each other and still be within the scope of the present invention. For example, a customer may use speech to interact with a website, rather than or in addition to using a mouse and/or computer keyboard, if the customer's computer has such capabilities. It will be further appreciated that the method of payment within the system and method described with reference to FIGURES 2-8 and the accompanying exemplary narrative is not limited to credit card payments. For ease of explanation, the system and method have been described herein referring to customer payments being made with a credit card number. However, other methods of payment may be substituted for credit card numbers and still be within the scope of the present invention. For example, a customer may make a payment by supplying the ESP with a debit card number. Alternatively, payment may be made by using some other type of bank card, check card, or some form of electronic currency, Internet currency, or computer generated currency, such as eCash™ provided by DigiCash, Inc. or E- cash provided by Elka Enterprises, Inc.

The system and method described herein are applicable to all types of enhanced telephony services, including both prepaid and postpaid enhanced telephony services. It will be appreciated that the system and method may be applied to some type of hybrid of a prepaid and postpaid enhanced telephony seivices and still be within the scope of the present invention. For example, a customer may have an account for an enhanced telephony service that is linked to a checking account for automatic payment. The account may contain information that would allow the ESP to access the customer's checking account. When the customer requests to use the enhanced telephony service the ESP may access the customer's checking account to determine the balance available in the checking account. Then the customer will be allowed to use the service up to the amount of the checking account's balance. Once the customer uses the enhanced telephony service, the ESP may automatically withdraw the amount charged for that use of the service from the customer's checking account. If the customer's use of the service approaches the amount of the customer's checking account balance, the ESP may warn the customer that the balance is almost depleted, and then the ESP may not allow the customer to continue using the enhanced telephony service once the checking account balance is depleted.

Rather than allowing a customer's checking account to be depleted to $0, the customer may be able to set a balance at which the ESP is to deny service to the customer.

That is, the customer may set $500 as the minimum balance that must be in the customer's checking account before the ESP will allow the customer to continue using the service. In this mamier, the ESP will not deplete the customer's checking account entirely, but would not allow continued use of the enhanced telephony seivice once the user's charges would deplete the checking account balance to $500. A "hybrid" form of payment for an enhanced telephony service may be established for a checking account, savings account, credit card account, and other currency or credit accounts. Such a "hybrid" form of payment provides a customer the convenience of only paying for a seivice after using such service, rather than having money dedicated to a prepaid account. In addition, the "hybrid" form of payment provides security for the service provider because the service provider is able to ensure that it will be paid prior to providing the service. It will be further appreciated that the database containing customer specific information for the system and method described with reference to FIGURES 2-8 and the accompanying exemplary narrative is not necessarily separate from the ESP. For ease of explanation, the database has been shown in FIGURES 2-6 as being separate from the ESP, and the ESP having access to the separate database. However, the database may be part of the ESP (e.g., contained within the ESP), or the database may be shared between several ESPs and still be within the scope of the present invention.

Although the present invention and its advantages have been described in detail, it should be understood that various changes, substitutions and alterations can be made herein without departing from the spirit and scope of the invention as defined by the appended claims. Moreover, the scope of the present application is not intended to be limited to the particular embodiments of the process, machine, manufacture, composition of matter, means, methods and steps described in the specification. As one of ordinary skill in the art will readily appreciate from the disclosure of the present invention, processes, machines, manufacture, compositions of matter, means, methods, or steps, presently existing or later to be developed that perform substantially the same function or achieve substantially the same result as the corresponding embodiments described herein may be utilized according to the present invention. Accordingly, the appended claims are intended to include within their scope such processes, machines, manufacture, compositions of matter, means, methods, or steps.

Claims

WHAT IS CLAIMED IS:
1. A method for autonomously administering enhanced telephony services via an unswitched packet network, the method comprising:
(a) receiving a request via an unswitched packet network for an enhanced telephony service from a customer at an enhanced services platform that provides enhanced telephony seivices; and
(b) said enhanced services platform autonomously interacting with said customer to satisfy said request, wherein human assistance is not required at the enhanced telephony services platform.
2. The method of claim 1, wherein said enhanced services platform has access to a database containing customer specific information for enhanced telephony services.
3. The method of claim 1, further comprising: said enhanced services platform validating credit for said customer.
4. The method of claim 1, wherein said enhanced telephony services includes at least one service selected from the group consisting of prepaid calling card service, postpaid calling card service, voice mail service, One Number calling service, Call Back service, language translation service, call waiting service, three-way calling service, caller- identification service, and call-forwarding service.
5. The method of claim 1, wherein said packet network is the Internet.
6. The method of claim 2, wherein said customer specific information includes at least one database entry selected from the group consisting of customer name, customer account number, customer address, customer telephone number, customer personal identification number, customer account balance, type of enhanced telephony service, and billing rate for the enhanced telephony service.
7. The method of claim 1, wherein said request is a request to activate an enhanced telephony service.
8. The method of claim 7, wherein said step of autonomously interacting further comprises: receiving payment information from said customer at said enhanced services platform.
9. The method of claim 8, wherein said payment information includes a credit card number, further comprising: said enhanced services platform autonomously attempting to obtain credit authorization for said credit card number; and if credit authorization is obtained for said credit card number, said enhanced services platform autonomously activating the requested enhanced telephony seivice.
10. The method of claim 9, further comprising: if credit authorization is obtained for said credit card number, said enhanced services platform autonomously accessing a database containing customer specific information, and creating a database entry containing customer specific information for said customer.
11. The method of claim 9, further comprising: if credit authorization is obtained for said credit card number, said enhanced services platform autonomously assigning a personal identification number (PIN) to said customer for the requested enhanced telephony service.
12. The method of claim 9, further comprising: if credit authorization is obtained for said credit card number, allowing said customer to choose a personal identification number (PIN) for the requested enhanced telephony service, wherein said enhanced services platform autonomously assigns said personal identification number (PIN) chosen by said customer to said customer for the requested enhanced telephony service.
13. The method of claim 7, wherein said step of interacting further comprises: said enhanced services platform attempting to perform a credit check for said customer autonomously; and if said customer's credit check is acceptable for the requested enhanced telephony service, said enhanced services platform autonomously activating the requested enhanced telephony service.
14. The method of claim 1, wherein said request is a request to deactivate an existing enhanced telephony service.
15. The method of claim 1, wherein said request is a request to review an existing account for an enhanced telephony service.
16. The method of claim 1, wherein said request is a request to update an existing account for an enhanced telephony service.
17. The method of claim 1 , wherein said request is a request to make a payment for an enhanced telephony service.
18. The method of claim 17, wherein said step of autonomously interacting further comprises: receiving payment information from said customer at said enhanced services platform.
19. The method of claim 18, wherein said payment information includes a credit card number, further comprising: said enhanced services platform autonomously attempting to obtain credit authorization for said credit card number; and if credit authorization is obtained for said credit card number, said enhanced services platform autonomously accepting said payment.
20. The method of claim 19, further comprising: if credit authorization is obtained for said credit card number, said enhanced services platform autonomously accessing a database containing customer specific information, and updating said database to reflect said payment.
21. The method of claim 1 , wherein said request is a request to renew an existing enhanced telephony service.
22. The method of claim 1, further comprising: said enhanced services platform providing said enhanced telephony service to said customer.
23. The method of claim 1, further comprising: said enhanced services platform autonomously interacting with said customer to satisfy said request in real-time.
24. A method for autonomously administering enhanced telephony services via data modem, the method comprising:
(a) receiving a request directly via data modem for an enhanced telephony service from a customer at an enhanced services platfoπΗ that provides enhanced telephony services; and
(b) said enhanced services platfonn autonomously interacting with said customer via data modem to satisfy said request, wherein human assistance is not required at the enhanced telephony services platform.
25. A method for autonomously administering enhanced telephony services via telephone, the method comprising:
(a) receiving a request directly via telephone for an enhanced telephony service from a customer at an enhanced services platform that provides enhanced telephony services, wherein said request is a request selected from the group consisting of activating an enhanced telephony service, deactivating an enhanced telephony seivice, reviewing an existing enhanced telephony service, updating an existing enhanced telephony service, making a payment to an existing enhanced telephony service, and renewing an existing enhanced telephony service; and (b) said enhanced services platfonn autonomously interacting with said customer via telephone to satisfy said request, wherein human assistance is not required at the enhanced telephony services platform.
26. A method for administering enhanced telephony services via an unswitched packet network in real-time, the method comprising:
(a) receiving a request via an unswitched packet network for an enhanced telephony seivice from a customer at an enhanced services platform that provides enhanced telephony seivices; and
(b) interacting with said customer at said enhanced services platfonn via an unswitched packet network to satisfy said request in real-time.
27. The method of claim 26, wherein said enhanced seivices platform has access to a database containing customer specific information for enhanced telephony seivices.
28. The method of claim 26, further comprising: validating credit for said customer.
29. The method of claim 26, wherein said enhanced telephony services includes at least one service selected from the group consisting of prepaid calling card service, postpaid calling card service, voice mail service, One Number calling service, Call Back service, language translation service, call waiting service, three-way calling service, caller- identification service, and call-forwarding service.
30. The method of claim 26, wherein said packet network is the Internet.
31. The method of claim 27, wherein said customer specific information includes at least one database entry selected from the group consisting of customer name, customer account number, customer address, customer telephone number, customer personal identification number, customer account balance, type of enhanced telephony service, and billing rate for the enhanced telephony service.
32. The method of claim 26, wherein said request is a request to activate an enhanced telephony service.
33. The method of claim 32, wherein said step of interacting further comprises: receiving payment information from said customer.
34. The method of claim 33, wherein said payment information includes a credit card number, further comprising: attempting to obtain credit authorization for said credit card number; and if credit authorization is obtained for said credit card number, activating the requested enhanced telephony service.
35. The method of claim 34, further comprising: if credit authorization is obtained for said credit card number, accessing a database containing customer specific information, and creating a database entry containing customer specific information for said customer.
36. The method of claim 34, further comprising: if credit authorization is obtained for said credit card number, assigning a personal identification number (PIN) to said customer for the requested enhanced telephony service.
37. The method of claim 34, further comprising: if credit authorization is obtained for said credit card number, allowing said customer to choose a personal identification number (PIN) for the requested enhanced telephony service; and assigning said personal identification number (PIN) chosen by said customer to said customer for the requested enhanced telephony service.
38. The method of claim 32, wherein said step of interacting further comprises: attempting to perform a credit check for said customer; if said customer's credit check is acceptable for the requested enhanced telephony service, activating the requested enhanced telephony service.
39. The method of claim 26, wherein said request is a request to deactivate an existing enhanced telephony service.
40. The method of claim 26, wherein said request is a request to review an existing account for an enhanced telephony service.
41. The method of claim 26, wherein said request is a request to update an existing account for an enhanced telephony service.
42. The method of claim 26, wherein said request is a request to make a payment for an enhanced telephony service.
43. The method of claim 42, wherein said step of interacting further comprises: receiving payment information from said customer at said enhanced services platform.
44. The method of claim 43, wherein said payment information includes a credit card number, further comprising: attempting to obtain credit authorization for said credit card number; and if credit authorization is obtained for said credit card number, accepting said payment at said enhanced services platform.
45. The method of claim 44, further comprising: if credit authorization is obtained for said credit card number, accessing a database containing customer specific information, and updating said database to reflect said payment.
46. The method of claim 26, wherein said request is a request to renew an existing enhanced telephony service.
47. The method of claim 26, further comprising: said enhanced seivices platform providing said enhanced telephony service to said customer.
48. A method for administering enhanced telephony seivices via data modem in real-time, the method comprising: (a) receiving a request directly via data modem for an enhanced telephony service from a customer at an enhanced services platform that provides enhanced telephony seivices; and
(b) interacting with said customer at said enhanced services platfonn via data modem to satisfy said request in real-time.
49. A method for administering enhanced telephony services via telephone in realtime, the method comprising:
(a) receiving a request directly via telephone for an enhanced telephony service from a customer at an enhanced services platform that provides enhanced telephony services, wherein said request is a request selected from the group consisting of activating an enhanced telephony service, deactivating an enhanced telephony service, reviewing an existing enhanced telephony seivice, updating an existing enhanced telephony service, making a payment to an existing enhanced telephony service, and renewing an existing enhanced telephony service; and (b) interacting with said customer at an enhanced service platform via telephone to satisfy said request in real-time.
50. An enhanced telephony services platform comprising: a computer capable of administering enhanced telephony services autonomously, wherein human assistance is not required at said computer; said computer having access to a database containing customer information for enhanced telephony services; said computer capable of providing enhanced telephony services; and a means for said computer to interact with a customer to allow said customer to administer enhanced telephony seivices autonomously, wherein said computer is capable of autonomously receiving customer requests, accessing said database, and satisfying said customer requests, wherein human assistance is not required at said computer.
51. The enhanced telephony services platform of claim 50, wherein said computer is capable of validating credit autonomously, wherein human assistance is not required at said computer.
52. The enhanced telephony services platform of claim 50, wherein said means for said computer to interact with a customer is selected from the group consisting of an unswitched packet network, a data modem connection, and a telephone connection.
53. The enhanced telephony services platform of claim 52, wherein said unswitched packet network is the Internet.
54. The enhanced telephony seivices platform of claim 50, further comprising: said computer having a connection to the Internet; and a website for allowing a customer to interact with said computer.
55. The enhanced telephony services platform of claim 50, further comprising: said computer capable of administering enhanced telephony services in real-time.
56. An enhanced telephony services platform comprising: a computer capable of administering enhanced telephony services in real-time; said computer having access to a database containing customer information for enhanced telephony services; said computer capable of providing enhanced telephony services; and a means for said computer to interact with a customer to allow said customer to administer enhanced telephony seivices in real-time, wherein said computer is capable of receiving customer requests, accessing said database, and satisfying said customer requests in real-time.
57. The enhanced telephony services platform of claim 56, wherein said computer is capable of validating credit in real-time.
58. The enhanced telephony services platform of claim 56, wherein said means for said computer to interact with a customer is selected from the group consisting of an unswitched packet network, a data modem connection, and a telephone connection.
59. The enhanced telephony services platform of claim 58, wherein said unswitched packet network is the Internet.
60. The enhanced telephony services platform of claim 56, further comprising: said computer having a connection to the Internet; and a website for allowing a customer to interact with said computer.
PCT/US2000/031327 1999-11-19 2000-11-15 Autonomously administering enhanced telephony services WO2001037528A1 (en)

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