1401 — Voice Technology – The way forward for cost-effective customer servicing?

Aug 9, 2004 | Conteúdos Em Ingles

An Edify Customer Service Insight Paper that looks at the past, present and future of speech technologies in the call centre.

In the early days of call centres, many operators extended their agent offering by developing self-service solutions based on Interactive Voice Response (IVR) technology.

However, these first generation IVR solutions gained a poor reputation for delivering customer services. Callers were often frustrated by poorly designed DTMF-based touchtone systems that simply didn’t deliver on perceived benefits such as speed of access, speed of transaction or 24/7 availability.

Even today, despite the claims of IVR specialists that a touchtone system can capture caller details, the reality is that, faced with multiple layers of complex menus, customers will all too frequently give up and press zero to speak to an agent.

The next development was the expansion of self-service onto the web, with web cobrowsing or assisted-service environments. This innovation allowed agents to log onto the same web page as a customer and talk them through a web-based transaction.

In the event, many of these initiatives failed to take off – largely because web users were perfectly happy to handle core transactions such as e-business, trading stocks and shares and booking flights on their own! Websites make a very effective way of supporting all aspects of pre-sales and sales, but when it comes to post-sales and potential problem resolution, the natural medium for resolution is still voice and the telephone.

Natural language solutions – a growing hit with the customers
Over the last few years
, organisations have increasingly come to appreciate the advantages of adopting new natural language technology to address many of their customer service challenges. For example, one natural language approach – from Edify – can help improve the quality of service from fixed agent head counts by automating up to 20 per cent of contact centre operations. A particularly attractive feature of the Edify solution is its ability to reduce call queues and offer improved service by asking key questions (such as ‘What are you calling about?’), by automating agent talk time and by filtering out non-critical customer calls.

Significantly, customers already seem to be responding favourably to voice technology….

  • A Zelos Group study (2001) found an average increase in call completions of 40 per cent when touch tone apps were migrated to speech automation.
  • A survey conducted for SpeechWorks by Gartner (November 2002) found that 47 per cent of users were much more satisfied with speech automation than by touch tone automation.
So – although there’s still a lot of room for development – we’ve already reached a stage where it seems fair to say that speech applications and the automated selfservice options they enable are preferred by many customers at least some of the time, and by some customers all of the time.

Delivering big cost-reductions
In today’s business environment the need for cost reductions is a key driver for technology projects. And there’s now little doubt that speech automation can deliver really attractive savings – as the following findings show….

  • A 2001 study (Zelos Group) found that average annual savings for an advanced speech recognition of ASR implementation was $1.02 million – with half of all such applications generating savings of more than $1 million per year.
  • Calls handled by speech automation typically cost between 60 and 90 per cent less that the costs of calls handled by live agents. (Center for Customer-Driven Quality, Purdue University)
  • Live agents cost $1 to $5 per call as opposed to 20 cents per call for a speech recognition system. (InStat/MDR research study)
Of course, hugely impressive though such figures are, simple cost savings are far from being the full story. It’s important to remember that speech can also deliver improved service and higher satisfaction for customers, and greater productivity for live agents.

Open standards mean more customer choice – with less need for expensive customisation
Leading the way in the growth of speech applications is Voice XML, a powerful mechanism which separates an application from an underlying platform – and which has opened the way for a whole new industry focused squarely on application development. Because Voice XML applications are built around the open Voice XML standard, they should be able to execute on any Voice XML-compliant platform.

The practical significance of this new portability and openness is that it creates greater customer choice, and the opportunity to create more repeatable application processes across the industry. This in turn promises to drive down application costs, improve application reusability, and increase overall application quality and completeness.
As application revenues grow, market players are focusing on reducing the amount of customisation required for the successful deployment of voice applications. This is leading to a strong market move towards packaged applications. And building a speech-enabled Web application is easier to do than one might imagine… Using the Speech Application Language Tags (SALT) specification (a royalty-free specification recently submitted to the World Wide Web Consortium), Web developers can add an easy and intuitive spoken dialog interface to any Web application or Web service.

2004… Is speech set to go mainstream?
With companies worldwide moving to Web-based applications for many traditional business functions, speech-enabled Web applications and services are set to become mainstream in the very near future. Already, access to speech-enabled voice-response applications, auto-attendants, directory services, customer relationship management systems, Web portals, calendaring and messaging applications are possible on existing wireless networks.

To tap into this burgeoning market, and make SALT and XML-based applications more accessible to Web developers, technology organisations are increasingly partnering to develop the technology necessary to make speech a mainstream technology. (A good example would be the recently released Microsoft .NET Speech software development kit (SDK).)

SALT has the support of more than 50 industry-leading companies, many of which are also developing SALT-based products. This will help accelerate the development of a wide range of new speech-enabled applications, giving businesses and their mobile workers – even those without access to a PC – increasingly more convenient ways to access online goods, services and business applications.

This standardisation and commoditisation of speech technology will be a key market driver during 2004. One example of this approach is Edify’s sector-tailored solutions which combine industry-leading experience of speech technology applications and best practices in user interface design. This approach helps companies to rapidly deploy speech applications that support their voice self-service initiatives for customers and partners, and accelerate ROI gains by delivering fast, high-quality implementation.

The opportunity to make speech truly cost-effective
If the speech industry is to realise its potential in 2004, it is vital that initiatives like these – aimed at removing cost-barriers and improving simplicity – continue to be developed.

Today’s cost structure is driven by complexity – complexity derived from proprietary systems, non-standard integration scenarios into telephony infrastructures, custom application development, etc.

The more that open standard speech platforms can remove or reduce these complexities and allow industry players to add value focused on a customer problem rather than add value on connecting disparate IT systems, the better off the industry and the customer will be.

Four key market areas – and some specific benefits
The speech market is evolving into four distinct areas where we’re already seeing real-world deployments….

  • Automated contact centres: Interactive Voice Response (IVR) technology in call centres allows consumers to gain access to account information without being subjected to long hold times or having to respond to rigidly structured menus.
  • Telematics: Using speech technologies in cars and home appliances can significantly enhance user-friendliness. For example, the 2003 Honda Accord in the US offers drivers a voice-activated mapping system that provides driving directions to and from any specified address or location in the country.
  • Voice portals: Using a speech interface to access enterprise data, consumers and mobile workers can access information and transactions without being tethered to their desks. By voice-enabling items such as movie listings and local events, through Web and voice portals, wireless customers have an opportunity to access enterprise-level information while on the move.
  • Speech technology for wireless applications: Another key area of voice and speech development is the deployment of speech technology for mobile and wireless applications. Wireless connectivity is giving companies even more options for serving up the data that drives business, getting that information out into the field, and optimising the productivity of mobile work forces by using speech to simplify everyday ‘in the field’ activities.

All these areas are ripe for growth – given our earlier caveats. The area where the benefits are perhaps least well understood is wireless, so it’s worth looking at this topic in a little more detail….

The natural interface for mobile work-forces
The business case for a wireless, mobile work force is simple and compelling. But what is the case for enabling those wireless connections with speech?

Wireless connectivity has made things much easier for field workers. With a mobile device such as a personal digital assistant (PDA), Tablet PC or Pocket PC connected through a wireless connection (whether wLAN, Bluetooth, GPRS or one of the new 3G networks) a vandriver, for example, has immediate access to information on all his or her customers – inventory, order status, credit status and more. Information is entered once, organised automatically and synchronised with the back office. Updates, changes and alerts can be pushed out to the field in an instant.

But the driver – or service engineer, or sales rep – probably still has to spend a few minutes at every stop retrieving each customer’s invoice on his/her laptop, or several minutes filling out sales reports or invoices or other forms at the end of the day.

And that’s where speech technology can really speed things up. Because it’s a natural human interface, speech provides an expressive and convenient way to enter and send data, work with applications, and access information and services through just about any device. So, if a company’s forms, for example, were Web-based and speech-enabled the representative could fill them out while driving to the next customer’s location simply by speaking to the application. The application responds just as if the user is typing in the data, displaying the information as it’s filled in, or reading it back if she desires.

Speech is also the only user interface mode capable of providing a consistent user experience across all devices, large or small. As mobile devices, wireless networks and Web services become standard tools for mobile workers, speech technology will undoubtedly put more power behind the benefits that wireless devices inherently provide.

Summing up….
In a pervasive computing world, where millions of people are connected to billions of devices, the user interface will be key. Speech is one such interface – and a crucial one. The following stats offer some compelling evidence not only that voice technology is here to stay, but also of the extent to which the market is set to expand in the near future…

  • The worldwide market for speech recognition projects is on track to reach $130 million for 2003 – up slightly on 2002. (Gartner)
  • In 2003, applications in the voice market (IVR and speech) will yield over $200 million in revenue. In 2004, that figure’s expected to rise by over 40% to nearly $300 million. (Datamonitor)
  • In 2004, revenue derived from voice applications is expected to represent nearly 28% of the total voice market. (Datamonitor)
  • In total, the Voice Business marketplace is forecast to grow from an estimated US $632m in 2001 to $4.3bn in 2007, representing a healthy compound annual growth rate of 38%. (Datamonitor )
Those figures show strong, steady growth. Instead of one big ‘eureka moment’, there has been steady, sustained progress based on strong R&D, marketing and customer project development.

There’s clearly some real customer demand – and with good reason. Businesses are focused on immediate ROI and implementing new technologies to drive revenue. And during the past 18 months, speech technology has been delivering against those requirements. As one example, speech-enabled automated contact centre agents are becoming increasingly common, and, as another, conversational navigation systems are no longer limited to luxury cars.

In our increasingly mobile and wireless world, speech is an essential tool in the quest for new and improved ways of accessing information and completing transactions. Speech technology will provide greater flexibility to communicate with smaller and more versatile mobile devices, and this in turn will allow us to combine graphic and speech user interfaces to access and manage information anywhere, anytime and in a way dictated by the situation.

While competitive and economic pressures increase the value of immediate access to information, ROI is the end goal. A speech-empowered mobile work force will be more efficient and more productive, with a positive impact on the company’s bottom line. In this age of convergence and mobile devices, the freedom to use and deploy voice interactions sets the stage for truly pervasive computing.

Source: Edify


Em Foco – Projecto