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February 1997

Telephony-Based Natural Voice Recognition Offers Promise For Our Industry


In my January 1997 "Publisher's Outlook," I pointed out that advanced technology and customer service are two of the main ingredients comprising a company's competitive advantage.

The more I learn about the explosive growth of advanced technology, the more I become convinced that it is only a matter of time before today's call centers become obsolete. When I say it's only a matter of time, I don't mean the next five years - I mean within the next 16 to 24 months.

Natural Speech Recognition Seems Promising, Indeed
During a recent visit to Philips Speech Processing, a division of Philips Corporation, I was intrigued by the impressive telephony-based natural speech recognition technology they have developed. Natural speech technology allows users to speak as they would normally, without pausing between words.

This technology is potentially most useful in an inbound call center. With traditional speech recognition IVRs, callers are constrained by the inability of the IVR to comprehend words more complex than "yes," "no," or spoken numerals. To resolve a problem, a caller had to wade through an oftentimes cumbersome menu in order to reach a live agent or to find the necessary information.

Natural speech recognition, in its ideal form, relaxes these constraints. A caller can speak his or her problem in his or her own words ("naturally"), while the computer intelligence driving the application parses out the key words, compares those words against its knowledge base and then routes the call to the agent best able to resolve the problem. Properly deployed, this technology will potentially decrease the length of time a caller is on hold, eliminate the time the customer needs to negotiate the IVR menu, and thus reduce the company's 800-number service bill, all while increasing the customer's satisfaction at having their problem dealt with in an expeditious manner.

I learned that the research department at Philips employed the services of approximately 20,000 volunteers during the development of this technology to ensure that the software recognizes any and all accents and phraseologies. This software, when fully implemented and executed, can potentially carry out intelligent conversations with callers and actively handle travelling personnel, training, hotel and theater reservations, not to mention database building and cleanup.

We applaud Philips Corporation for taking this major leadership role and paving the way for enormous new product and application opportunities in the call center industry. For more information on this technology, please refer to Telemarketing & Call Center Solutions™ magazine and call Linda A. Dunlea or Bruce Cooperman of Philips Speech Processing at 516-921-9310.

In many call centers similar functions are currently being conducted by live operators. Given the severe shortage of talent at all levels in our industry, and the unacceptably high turnover rate, telephony-based speech recognition (when fully developed and implemented) offers great promise for all call centers.

Call Center Operations
The call center is the part of a company (whether outsourced or in-house operation) that directly interacts with customers. Call center agents must have the proper technology (and training) to be able to satisfy customer needs swiftly and effectively.

When one speaks about the call center industry, there are two basic subjects - people and technology. People refers to a company's customers and representatives. Technology refers to CTI, the Internet, multimedia, and telecommunications equipment - the media agents use to interact with customers. When talented and knowledgeable people have high-quality tools to deploy in satisfying customers' needs, synergy is achieved. This synergy can be defined as a company's competitive edge, or, that which distinguishes it from others offering similar products or services. The maintenance of that edge is of the utmost priority.

Maintain Your Competitive Edge By Attending TCCS™ SPRING '97
To help you maintain your company's competitive edge, for our TCCS™ SPRING '97 conference and exposition (May 6-8 at the Los Angeles Convention Center West Hall B, Los Angeles, California), we have assembled some of the finest minds in the industry to provide an in-depth look at the various aspects of call center operations, from the technology involved, to the management practices that create the synergy between people and the tools they employ. As the leading source of call center information and technology, we see it as our corporate mission and responsibility to supply you with the information you need to maintain your company's edge.

Call Center Management
Many of the topics within the TCCS™ SPRING '97 conference have been designed to provide all managers and executives with a solid foundation upon which to make tactical business decisions. The sessions were designed to provide the participants with the most up-to-date information available on the issues involved. Some of the topics are:

Benchmarking - What are the various industry standards for inbound and outbound telemarketing campaigns? How can you design your call center to meet or exceed them?

Reengineering - Call centers are poised for major changes; why are they going to change and how? How will the new technologies such as e-mail, IVR, faxing and interactive services affect the development and evolution of the call center?

Multimedia - Call centers must be able to accept data from customers in a wide variety of forms.

The Right Solution - Today's sales managers must know how and when to blend technology with selling skills. It is vital that a company utilizes the proper software package for their business-to-business or business-to-consumer needs.

Customer Service - Customer call-tracking applications, automation practices, IVRs, ACDs, intelligent call routing, skills-based routing; these solutions are essential for a company that wants to maintain its competitive edge.

Help Desk - Not only is it necessary for you to understand your clients' requirements, but it is also vital that you examine the help desk from within, i.e., optimum staffing configuration, operational audit process, performance measurements, maintenance of service level objectives and help desk metrics.

The Internet - The use of Internet-enabled call centers as a two-way communications tool for agent/user collaboration will have a significant, positive impact on sales and customer responsiveness.

Crucial CTI Technologies
Computer-telephony integration (CTI) is a broad term referring to the application of computer intelligence to telecommunications devices. Its two most basic goals are to enhance business-consumer relations and corporate productivity. Some of the sessions at TCCS™ that incorporate this topic are:

Streamlining - Advances in CTI have provided a new generation of support automation solutions such as ANI, DNIS and screen synchronization which companies use to streamline support and increase customer satisfaction.

Maximizing ROI - CTI technology is expensive; it is very important for a company to make certain that the investment contributes positively to the bottom line.

Videoconferencing - The advent of low-cost technology allows users and corporations to equip personal computers with video cameras: when your customers get used to dealing with video, every call center will support it.

Unified Messaging - The ability to blend fax, voice and e-mail into a single unified interface will make every person in a company more efficient.

Telecommuting - Not only is daily physical commuting inefficient, but it pollutes the environment and has caused government legislation. Telecommuting is made easier with the implementation of CTI technology.

Application Generators - New programming tools make it possible for even the novice programmer to quickly develop complex IVR, fax-on-demand and other interactive CTI applications.

For those of you interested in further exploring the benefits and potentials of these explosive new technologies, for all qualified subscribers we are offering a free, one-year subscription to our groundbreaking new publication, CTI™ magazine, the authority on computer, Internet and network telephony. To take advantage of this limited offer, please call 800-243-6002, or subscribe online at http://www.ctimag.com/cti/csub.htm

The Internet and Call Center Expo™
We have created a new industry event, dedicated to this fascinating and ground-breaking arena - The Internet and Call Center Expo™ (ICC™). This conference is designed to provide you with in- depth information not only about every aspect of integrating your call center with the Web, but also how to make money in the process. Some topics which will be featured at the ICC™ SPRING '97 conference are:

Site Creation - From vision to rollout, learn from the experts about the pitfalls and rewards.

Online Database - Take your online presence to a new level by integrating your Web site with your customer and product databases. Not only will this increase customer satisfaction, but the automation will decrease expenditures.

Web-Enabling - The first "call me" buttons can already be found on many Web sites. This technology allows your customers to answer their own questions and then call upon you for the resolution of specific questions.

I hope that even after a discussion as brief as this one, you can see how the people who employ the technology and the technology itself are inextricably intertwined. The most advanced technology is useless without the properly trained individuals to bring it to life. The reverse is also true: for a dedicated service representative the goal is to help a customer as efficiently as possible, but it is an impossible task without the proper advanced technology.

If you feel overwhelmed and perhaps a bit confused by this blitz of information, the best advice I can give you is to take a breath, relax, and then resolve to avail yourself of every scrap of data pertinent to your needs. The TCCS™ SPRING '97 Conference and Exposition is the place to come to not only learn about the technology and applications of that technology from acknowledged experts, but it is also the place to exchange views with your colleagues, the leading service agencies, and the vendors who produce the technology. I look forward to welcoming you to TCCS™ SPRING '97, located in the Los Angeles Convention Center, West Hall B, Los Angeles, California, May 6-8, 1997.

Nadji Tehrani
Publisher & Editor-in-Chief

TCCS™ MONTREAL '96 Conference And Exhibition - A Resounding Success


Sponsored by the Quebec government, Bell Canada and Technology Marketing Corporation, the TCCS™ MONTREAL '96 exposition and conference was the first such event for the call center industry to be held in Montreal. It offered attendees an opportunity to network with international colleagues, learn about the latest technology, reach more potential clients and garner more knowledge from global industry experts who conducted the conference's educational seminars. The sponsors' hopes for a successful conference were far exceeded, with double the expected number of participants in attendance.

The attendees came from 22 American states, Canada, New Zealand, Israel, Japan, Trinidad and Brazil. All in all, over 1,000 attendees and delegates, speakers and sponsors met, networked, learned, sold and purchased services and goods, discovered Montreal and had fun in one of the safest cities in North America.

The wide array of vendors in the exhibit hall represented all the major necessities of a call center: human resource staffing firms, human resource training, emerging technologies, hardware and software for the traditional call center and the help desk, network, CTI, the Internet, call center consultants, telemarketing service agencies and site selection agencies, to name a few.

During the day, while executives roamed the convention center, their spouses visited Montreal and went shopping in some of the most exclusive fashion stores.and discovered the real power of a 40 percent favorable exchange rate.

Unforgettable Reception Honors MVP Award Winnners
On Friday, November 8, 1996, the mayor of Montreal, Mr. Pierre Bourque, invited a few honored guests to City Hall for a cocktail reception. The Mayor invited the guests to sign the City Gold Registry and then guided his honored guests through this historic building.

Later that evening, at the Montreal Musuem of Fine Art, which was closed to the public for the occasion, the owners and/or senior executives of the largest and best call centers in the world were invited to see, hear and be recognized by the publisher and editor-in-chief of Telemarketing & Call Center Solutions™ magazine, Mr. Nadji Tehrani.

In association with the Quebec government and Bell Canada, a black-tie gala was held to honor Telemarketing & Call Center Solutions™ magazine's 16 1996 MVP Quality Award recipients.

The MVP (Marketing Via Phone) Quality Award is the most prestigious award for quality available to service agencies in the teleservices industry. Each of the 16 companies, through its MVP application and essay, has demonstrated a true commitment to high ethical standards, stringent policies and challenging goals. Each of the award recipients is involved in a quality process that stretches from its human resource development to its implementation of technology to improve quality to taking a leadership role in promoting a positive public image of telemarketing.

The award recipients and their spouses, along with Mr. S. Menard, Quebec's Government Minister of the Montreal Metropolis, Ms. Josee Goulet, Bell Canada's vice president, and Claude Boivin, Teleforce's general manager, and other Montreal business community members, were treated to a five-course meal, prepared by one of Montreal's finest chefs. Each course was accompanied by a specific wine, which was selected by one of the world's leading oenologists, who provided guests with a history and explanation of the wine and answered any questions the guests had about the vintage. The evening came to an end at 3:00 a.m. at the Montreal Casino.

There was still more, as many extended their stay over the weekend. A Montreal tourist guide was available specifically for TCCS™ conference attendees, who discovered what people from Quebec call "La joie de vivre." A bad but appropriate translation of this saying could be, "Now that we've worked hard, let's play hard!" Outstanding food at Les Halles, Old Montreal's historic sites, concerts, museums and an underground city containing over 4,000 stores awaited the adventurous.. Night life, the French flavor, memories. we invite you to discover these again at TCCS™ Montreal '97, which will be held November 11-13, 1997.

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