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Publisher's Outlook
October 2004

Nadji Tehrani

Speech Technology...Next Generation Contact Center Part I



Innovation Is The Key
Since 1982, when this publication laid the foundation in a pioneering act for the current multibillion dollar customer interaction, contact center and CRM sectors, our industry has been blessed with countless innovations that have kept this industry flourishing and surviving while many others have come and gone. In other words, our industry was blessed enough to have numerous visionaries and competent leaders that helped us to continuously reinvent ourselves and take the industry to the next level.

Over the last 24 years, we have come from rotary telephones and 3x5 inch index cards in 1982, to sophisticated telecommunications technology, database management, IP contact centers and fully monitored home agents, to sophisticated modern speech technologies.

I recently attended a speech technology conference that reinforced my views about the benefits of the implementation of speech technology in contact centers. More than ever, I am convinced that speech technology will not only enhance the quality of customer care, customer service and CRM (inbound technologies) but also certain parts of outbound contact center projects. Speech technology is no longer a luxury, but a necessity for survival.

I informally interviewed several exhibitors at this conference and always asked the question, “How long does it take before a company will see return on investment?” The unanimous answer was, “A six month ROI is a definite possibility!”

All Major Vendors Were Represented
To name a few, here is an abbreviated listing of some of the major corporations that were offering speech technology solutions for which contact centers, customer interaction centers and CRM centers are the #1 beneficiaries. The companies included such prestigious organizations as Aculab, Aspect Communications, AT&T, Avaya, Brooktrout Tech-nology, Cisco Systems, Convergys, Edify, Envox, Genesys, Hewlett-Packard, IBM, Intel Corporation, Intervoice, Lucent Technologies, Microsoft, Nortel Networks, Nuance, LumenVox, ScanSoft, Syntellect, TuVox, Unisys Corporation, Unveil Technologies, VoiceGenie Tech-nologies, SER Solutions and West Corporation. Conventional wisdom dictates that Fortune 500 companies, such as some of those mentioned above, would not even entertain the idea of developing products or solutions for technologies that have less than billions of dollars of market potential. To be sure, speech technology, which has just begun to explode with growth, has now come of age and has attracted global attention not only because of its considerable enhancing capabilities in customer service and customer care, but also because of a tremendous cost savings potential.

Major Cost Savings
Regarding the cost savings aspect of speech technology implementations, during the conference I was able to discuss this matter with several senior executives of companies that offer speech technologies, and the feeling is that the actual savings amount would depend on the application. However, some executives rated the potential for labor savings as high as 85 percent. For example, a vendor called Fluency was promoting the concept of speech technology while offering 85 percent lower cost per call minute in labor savings. The same company also promoted rapid ROI (six months) and reduced call center overhead, reduced queue time and strong branding, among many other benefits.

Contact Centers Are The Key To The Growth And Prosperity Of Speech Technology
Vendor after vendor emphasized the fact that by far the biggest beneficiaries of advanced speech technologies are contact centers, customer interaction centers and CRM centers. Indeed, many companies recommended a prepackaged application for simplicity and outsourcing possibility. For example, a senior executive from West Corporation indicated that fully managed outsourced speech technology applications are available from West via a hosted model.
As it has become more and more clear to us over the last several years, speech technology is in the right place at the right time. I am now more convinced than ever that speech technology is not only the key to profitability and the success of the enterprise, but also vitally important in the contact center industry. It is unthinkable, going forward, that any contact center can survive without the adoption of these extremely important speech technologies within the contact center.

The Unbeatable Formula:
Use IP Contact Center Plus Speech Technologies To Save 175 Percent
As indicated in my April 2004 editorial, titled “Discover The Huge Benefits Of IP Contact Centers” (www.tmcnet.com/cis/0404/po.htm), the adoption of IP contact center technology can, in fact, reduce the cost of multimedia telecommunications by as much as 90 percent.
On the other hand, as I indicated above, the adoption of advanced speech technology can result in 85 percent cost savings from labor costs for a total of 175 percent cost savings when both IP contact center and speech technologies are adopted! No business person worth his or her salt can ignore this type of cost savings.

New Editorial Column And Speech-World Announced By TMC
Recognizing the enormous benefits of speech technologies for customer interaction, contact centers and CRM centers, the editors of Customer Inter@ction Solutions® magazine have developed a new monthly column, entitled “Speech-World,” which will cover these vitally important technologies by providing comprehensive information for understanding and purchasing the right technologies. It will also offer success stories to help you prevent pitfalls and mistakes.

Speech-World™ Conference And Exhibition Announced
TMC is also pleased to announce a pioneering conference and exhibition, titled Speech-World™ (www. tmcnet.com/speech-world) to be held November 30 – December 2, 2004 at the Westin Park Central Hotel, Dallas, Texas. In addition to featuring the latest technologies and applications of speech, we will also co-locate an equally important conference titled IP Contact Center Summit at the same time and, of course, in the same location. Hopefully by now it has become clear that the above conference and trade show are both a “must attend” for all progressive business executives regardless of their type of business. Obviously, contact center executives (outsourced or in-house) will also find this forthcoming conference and exhibition vitally important and necessary. Please join us in Dallas, Texas, from November 30 – December 2, 2004, so we can brainstorm together and meet the new vendors and pioneers of speech technologies, which are about to revolutionize the contact center industry. For more information on Speech-World, or to exhibit, please contact Dave Rodriguez at drodriguez@ tmcnet.com or call him at 203-852-6800, ext. 146.

Industry Leaders Share Their Views
In order to provide you with additional information on this extremely important matter, we have contacted several industry leaders who were willing to share their views exclusively with us, indicated in the below list. I urge you to read them and contact these companies as necessary for more information. Please be advised that the following excerpts are simply an abstract of the vision of these corporations. However, for more complete information, please see below for the full range of information provided by the above industry leaders. Note: Part II of this important topic will be featured in the November 2004 issue.

Please remember where you read this pioneering effort before the copycats copy us (as usual) and pass it off as their own.

For the entire texts from the contributing companies, please visit www.tmcnet.com. As always, I welcome your comments. Please e-mail me at [email protected].

Sincerely yours,

Nadji Tehrani
Executive Group Publisher
[email protected]

The following are the actual quotes/descriptive paragraphs from companies contributing to Nadji’s October editorial:

The future of speech technology in the contact center is greatly dependent on the perceptions of those looking to deploy it and gaining acceptance by end users .  Demonstrating that voice is more intuitive than cumbersome DTMF IVRs is essential.  Speech technology has great potential and in the call center has already been put to creative use either as a cost saver or a means to generate additional revenue.  There is yet more room for creativity, which will increasingly see speech technology as an intrinsic part of future communications - further aiding the productivity of agents and adding value to the consumer; seeking a speedy route to gain/provide information or complete a variety of transactions or tasks.

Speech has already proven its ability to reduce costs in call centers by automating many routine customer interactions.  However, to fully take advantage of the opportunities, we believe call center managers should look primarily to packaged speech applications in order to avoid costly custom development and lengthy rollout schedules.  For applications handling less than 200,000 calls per month, the only way to truly receive the desired rapid ROI is to go with a packaged application that can be rolled out quickly with minimal up-front fees.   
Angel.com is uniquely positioned to provide that immediate ROI by offering packaged speech applications that can be deployed quickly - literally in just a matter of days - and connect to existing call center initiatives such as CRM through a web services / XML architecture.  Our new Enterprise Voice Sites are a suite of applications for automating many common call center tasks, most of which can be rolled out in 48 hours or less and integrated seemlessly into an existing call center.  Once deployed, customers manage and modify their applications and access real-time reporting through the Web, giving them more control over their application than a custom in-house solution in just a fraction of the time.

Over the last few years, we’ve seen speech evolve from a novel, yet rudimentary, technology into real applications that deliver true business value to the contact center. Applications like speech recognition, text-to-speech and voice authentication have enabled contact centers to replace touch-tone interfaces with natural language prompts that simplify the experience for callers and handle more complex transactions than traditional IVR. Speech is a great tool for contact centers looking to minimize the expense of using agents to handle repetitive tasks, while still offering a customer-friendly experience. Common examples include airlines using speech recognition to provide flyers with basic flight status information, or financial institutions that allow their clients to complete simple transactions without the need to speak directly with a CSR. And for a small-to-midsized organization, even some basic customer self-service capabilities can give a company a larger than life image to the customer without the expense of adding actual agents.

Customers have also grown more accepting of self-service, with most coming to expect anytime/anywhere access to phone and web interfaces to place orders; activate credit cards; check account balances; pay bills; conduct stock trades; etc. All these factors have combined to make the time ripe for contact centers to leverage speech to meet customer demands for easy, 24x7 access to the services they require.

Aspect expects advanced speech technologies -- recognition, text-to-speech and speaker verification -- to be the foundation of voice-based self service in the future. Human agents aren’t going away, of course. Since Aspect’s vision is to offer a complete, unified contact center platform, we will continue to devote considerable energy to providing leading-edge agent-based functionality like skills-based routing, blending queues, etc. However, we expect that every contact center will offer at least some self-service functionality, and that the functionality will be based on speech technology. The particular strength of Aspect’s “Uniphi” architecture is it provides a single set of tools for managing all customer contacts, whether they require speech-based self-service, human agents, or a combination of the two.

Speech recognition is now broadly accepted as part of the contact center in a way that makes it a lucrative market to be in. One interesting area that is just emerging in the speech industry involves multimodal applications and hand-held devices. With the emergence of multimodal standards such as SALT and H+V, in addition to work going on in the W3C, it is possible to build applications that combine graphics, handwriting recognition, speech and other technologies. In addition, the availability of powerful hand-held devices means that recognition and synthesis will not need to be done remotely. Much can be done on the device, or else in a distributed manner. Over the next five years, it will be interesting to see how speech comes to combine with other technologies and where it ends up living in the network in the long term.

Speech applications make it easier for businesses to design, deploy and benefit from communications solutions that expand operational efficiency in the most cost-effective way," said Eileen Rudden, vice president and general manager for Avaya's communications applications division. "In today's fast-paced world, speech applications for contact centers are critical to help enterprises gain a competitive edge through enhanced customer service and improved organizational productivity.  As speech applications are embedded into the fabric of global enterprises, they help ensure that high-quality access and service is delivered from any location.

Avaya is focused on making it easier for businesses to design, deploy and benefit from communications solutions that expand efficiency and productivity in the most cost-effective way," said Eileen Rudden, vice president and general manager for Avaya's communications applications division. "In today's fast-paced world, speech applications can help enterprises gain a competitive edge through enhanced customer service and improved organizational productivity. With these solutions, Avaya is helping enterprises rapidly incorporate speech into the fabric of global enterprises - ensuring high-quality access and service is delivered from any location.

Automated speech solutions are moving into the mainstream and driving significant enhancements in call center operations and customer service offerings.  With the advent of standards like VoiceXML and SALT and support from major vendors, more and more companies are looking to speech to revolutionize the way they interact with their customers.  Of particular importance to call centers is the use of natural language interactions for routing and information gathering. By routing calls to the correct agents and attaching information about the reason for the call, product or service information, and customer identification, agents can efficiently spend their time helping the customer with complex problems for which they are trained.  This increases customer and employee satisfaction while reducing call hold times and decreasing costs. And as companies continue to realize significant cost savings on their current speech-enabled solutions and extend that automation to more complex transactions, the yield is even more profound.  Traditionally viewed as an IVR replacement market, the speech industry is driving to new heights offering robust technologies, open standards support, operational efficiencies, and more importantly the ability take customer satisfaction to greater levels. 

According to Ken Waln, Chief Technology Officer of Edify Corporation, “Speech automation is a business imperative.  The technology is proven and more robust than ever and the benefits that can be gained from an operational and customer satisfaction perspective are extraordinary and can not be overlooked.”

“Speech technology has the potential to save organizations a lot of money, while enabling them to provide better, faster service to customers – but only if the technology performs well. When customers run across speech applications that don’t work well, their inclination will be to zero out to an agent – and they probably won’t try the speech application again. That’s why testing speech applications prior to deployment and managing their performance in production is so important. The good news is that we’re starting to see a groundswell of interest in testing and managing speech application performance, and that should result in a marked improvement in quality over the coming year.”--Sandra Tise, Director, Contact Center Application Testing

The implementation of speech technologies in contact centers allows companies to reach more customers, offer consistent, high-quality customer care and reduce the cost of customer service. These applications tie Internet technologies with voice self-service, allowing customers to conduct business over the phone in a new and intuitive way. Technologies like the Genesys Voice Platform leverage open platforms and VoiceXML allowing companies to leverage enterprise data, integrate with network systems and existing infrastructures, and seamlessly transfer to agent assistance whenever necessary. This Web-IVR integration results in a user-friendly, self-service platform that provides more information up front for the agent and reduces talk-time. Speech technologies will continue to be adopted at an increasing pace, as the trend toward managed services grows. While Genesys estimates that approximately 90% of companies currently operate on-premise technologies; 10% operate on a managed services basis, but the growth of managed services is evidenced by vigorous customer demand for IVR upgrades.

"The benefits of self-service voice are becoming more obvious every day," said Arnab Mishra, senior manager of product marketing. "Technologies deployed as agent extensions that enable high quality round-the-clock customer service not only support increased profitability for the call center, but also decrease customer frustration by giving customers more control over the service experience."

Microsoft's vision is that speech will become a mainstream, pervasive technology that is accessible by any device, at any time, and from any place. This means that speech-enabled applications should be accessible by standard telephones and cell phones, and by GUI (Graphical User Interface)-based devices like PDAs, Tablet PCs, smart phones, and desktop PCs. The Microsoft vision includes enabling the convergence of the Web infrastructure and voice systems into one infrastructure. With this convergence, speech-enabled and visual-only Web applications will become one unified application, developed using standard Web programming tools, based on Web standards, and running on your existing Web infrastructure. -- James Mastan, Director of Marketing, Microsoft Speech Technologies.

For many businesses, the primary interface between the company and its customers is the contact center. One negative customer experience can forever jeopardize the relationship between the customer and company. According to research from Cutting Edge Information, a business intelligence firm, 65% of customers switch companies because of poor contact center customer service. While many contact centers use call recording to support their quality assurance initiatives, it is still impossible to review 100% of the calls for quality assurance. Until recently, the challenges faced by contact centers to increase call handling quality and customer satisfaction while maintaining the costs associated with manually monitoring agent activities was virtually impossible. However, SER Solutions, Inc. believes that using speech technology a set of new “killer applications” is possible. One such killer application is a quality assurance application that enables contact centers to go beyond call recording and simple call mining technologies to analyze and score 100% of all recorded calls for script adherence, achievement of Key Performance Indicators (KPIs), and overall call quality.

West: Importance of having speech in the contact center
The goal of most contact centers is either to provide customer care or customer acquisition. West believes customer acceptance of speech technology has sufficiently evolved to make speech one of the most important tools available for customer interaction. While many companies are evaluating speech solutions as replacements for live agents, West believes that companies are better served by examining a “blended” solution that incorporates automated speech technology with live agents to maximize effectiveness.

The benefit of a good speech program in a contact center is that it provides a low-cost ability to automate a recurring process currently being performed by a live agent. Companies can use automated speech programs to handle most “data entry” processes, like recording a caller’s name and address. Live agent time can then be re-focused to handle more complex sales or problem solving, thereby boosting individual agent productivity while the reducing organization’s costs.

Speech can also be used for outbound calls. For example, let’s say a customer is late on a monthly payment – it could be for cell phone service, a utility, or a credit card. By front-ending the calls with an IVR, the company can be best prepared to handle outbound calls with maximum efficiency, even if that call is answered by a machine. A pre-recorded message could be left on answering machines, alerting customers to the missed deadline and driving calls back into the contact center. Recipients who answer in person could be transferred to a live agent, who can offer to process the transaction in real time.

Live agent interaction will always play an important role in the customer service process. But West believes that companies that incorporate blended solutions will benefit the most in terms of improved customer service and cost efficiency. These companies will also have the most flexibility to take advantage of future improvements in speech technology.

[ Return To October 2004 Table Of Contents ]

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