Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Can You Hear The Future?

Rhetorical questions do not require answers. The answer is always very clear. Such questions are becoming very commonplace around the subject of speech technology or voice recognition. That’s because such technology will play an increasingly large role in all our lives in the future.

For example, Victor Keegan, in the Guardian asked Has voice recognition finally come of age? He based his positive view on relatively simple examples involving voice technology for note taking. As he said results can be impressive. Indeed this blog post is written with Nuance NaturallySpeaking software and there is rarely need to correct the text produced from my dictation

Michael Sola, Director of IT at the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, wrote in a somewhat similar vein Can you hear me . . . again? He is pointing out that the world is going increasingly mobile. Different people want to handle their messages in different ways. A good proportion would certainly prefer to see them written out. So a speech technology service is inevitable.

Why is this groundswell of opinion on the inevitability of speech technology so strong? The more perceptive observers might point to the considerable efforts that Google seems to be putting into this area. That may well be justification enough for a bullish view. However the underlying reasons are much more straightforward.

David Mould, a Telco Consultant living and working in Thailand, has a keen interest in these emerging technologies. He lays out these reasons in a recent post on Ingredients for a good voice based service for cell phones. Here is what he says on this:

The impact then will be in services that are one or more of:
  • key intensive
  • time intensive

Key intensive activities are those that require many keystrokes, e.g. navigating IVR or text messages. Many handsets today (the Nokia E50 for one) have message readers that provide alternative methods for reading received SMS’s. With the growing restrictions on use of mobile devices whilst driving, a service that allows you to dictate and send an SMS through a voice interface, as opposed to keyboard strokes, could prove to be very popular and useful.
(A key) service, available from other providers such as Jingle Networks (1-800-FREE411), is directory services. You can use the voice interface to search for services and typically will be connected automatically.

A directory search would normally be a time intensive and/or key intensive activity. By creating an access channel via voice, this turns the interaction more into a conversation or discussion. This has the benefit of creating appeal in less technically able groups who look for a more familiar access path.

Key intensive or Time intensive applications are likely to be those most people like to avoid. Any such application based on speech technology with good functionality is likely to see a ready and rapidly expanding market.

Overall if you do not hear the future, perhaps you’re just missing out on the buzz that is all around you.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

When is an IVR system satisfactory?

Any company or service that must handle a large number of callers will inevitably install an IVR system. What factors does the owner of such a system consider in deciding whether performance is satisfactory? Here are some of the important ones:

  • the cost of running the system
  • the number of calls the system handles
  • the proportion of calls that must be handled by a human operator
  • the number of complaints about the system

Unfortunately the general level of satisfaction with IVR systems is low, so people may not complain even if they’re not completely satisfied. That’s why some IVR system owners adopt some of the ruses mentioned by Carl Turner in his recent article Tricking the caller to stay in the IVR. Here is a sample of what he is discussing:

I don’t think I’ve worked on an IVR project when the business people didn’t suggest using “tricks” to keep callers in the system. You know what I mean by tricks: disabling the zero key, or playing a routing menu when zero is pressed, or using a non-zero key for transfers, messages that falsely state long queue times, or putting the caller back in the system after they request a transfer. Often the tricks that are used in IVRs can create pure misery for the caller.
It’s all very well to try to reduce the cost of the operation but that’s not the whole picture. Callers are often customers. Without them the business is nothing. So when is an IVR system satisfactory. The only sensible answer must be when callers find it satisfactory. That’s why Carl Turner offers the following advice:
My recommendation to companies considering using tricks to keep customers in the automation: work on the quality of your IVR first. Monitor, survey, read the reports, improve. Once you’re satisfied that the IVR operates flawlessly you can consider using some small inducements (a nice way of saying a subtle trick) to keep callers in the IVR. If it’s done properly you might be able to increase your automation rate slightly with no cost to the user experience. However, it all depends on first getting the IVR right.

Business owners should not find this thinking difficult to accept. Customers are much more in control in this Internet age. It is very much easier for them to check out the competition and switch if they’re not completely happy. That’s why it’s essential to be customer-centric. You’ve got to see it from the customer’s point of view. So once more, what is the only possible answer to that question, “When is an IVR system satisfactory?” It’s when the customer tells you it’s satisfactory.

It’s True: Your Customer Can Love Your IVR (or at least be good friends)