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Publisher's Outlook
November 2004

Nadji Tehrani

Speech Technology
Analysis And Justifications - Part II



In the October 2004 Publisher’s Outlook, I provided some information regarding the benefits of implementation of speech technology. In the same editorial, I presented the views of several industry leaders and finally, we concluded that contact centers are by far the key to the growth and prosperity of speech technology.

As a follow-up to that study, we conducted further research with the capable assistance of David R. Butcher, assistant editor of Customer Interaction Solutions® magazine. We contacted several major providers of technologies and solutions to the speech industry and asked several pertinent questions.

The questions that we asked the above esteemed companies were as follows:

  1. What are the specific cost benefits for speech technology in contact centers and enterprises?
  2. Why is the implementation of speech technology slower than one would expect?
  3. What do you see as the current industry trends and market potential?
  4. What sectors can benefit the most from speech technology?
  5. What do you see as the most effective way to market speech products and services?

Before I proceed, I would like to extend my deepest gratitude to the following companies for their valuable contributions to this editorial.

LumenVox (www.lumenvox.com)
Syntellect, Inc.
Sterling Audits
Vicorp UK Ltd.
Fluency Voice Technology Ltd.
Voxify, Inc.
Vocent Solutions, Inc.
ClickFox, Inc.
Phonetic Systems, Inc.

Why So Much Focus On Speech Technology?
As this publication pioneered the call/contact center and CRM industries in 1982, it is our vision that the future and survival of contact centers hinges heavily on the successful implementation of speech technology and IP contact center technologies within the call/contact center and CRM industries.

Reference To My Publisher’s Outlook In The August 2001 Issue
The title of this editorial was, “Go Inbound Young Man...And Keep An Eye On India.”

Once again, my prediction has come true; namely, that at that time, I predicted the fact that offshore was becoming a reality with heavy emphasis to be placed on Indian call centers. As we all know, this matter has become a very important topic, so much so that John Kerry brought it up repeatedly during the presidential campaigns. He had stated that as president, he would do everything in his power to stop the outsourcing of jobs to India and other countries. In addition, Lou Dobbs, the eloquent anchorman of CNN, has a regular and nightly edition opposing offshoring and outsourcing.

In the first portion of the above editorial (August 2001), I stated, “Go inbound, young man.” I predicted that the future will also hinge heavily on the advancement, adoption and expansion of inbound, including CRM and related customer care, customer support, customer relations, etc. Looking back, we find once again that this prediction has also come true. Having said that, we are now prepared to make yet another prediction, as follows:
“To survive, go speech technologies and IP contact center technologies today and for the future to come.”

We feel very strongly that, without exception, once the above new technologies penetrate deeper into the call/contact center and CRM industries, those who do not embrace and adopt these technologies may not survive. In fact, I would go as far as to say that those who do not adopt these technologies won’t be around.

Analysis And Justification Of The Current State Of Speech Technology
As a result of the recent survey and response to the first question, “What are the specific cost benefits for speech technology in contact centers and enterprises?” from the above companies, we found an unparalleled similarity between the vendors’ predictions and the largest users of call/contact center and CRM technologies. In other words, what the vendors should have said was, “Contact centers in the following areas stand to benefit the most from speech technologies.” Having said that, here are the sectors that the vendors predicted as benefiting the most from speech technologies. They are described in order of importance:

  1. Financial Services
  2. Travel
  3. Healthcare
  4. Telecom
  5. Utilities
  6. Retail
  7. Call Centers
  8. Insurance
  9. Also: Cable, entertainment, carriers, high tech industries, pharmaceuticals, education, etc.

Specific Cost Saving Benefits
While each company had a slightly different view about potential cost-savings from implementation of speech technology, it seems that the presentation by Syntellect was most impressive. As you will see in Figure 1, as the volume in the call center increases, so do the cost savings and profitability. As plotted in Figure 1, Syntellect indicates that, “For every one percent shift in call volume from live service to self-service, the savings to the enterprise can range from $50K per year (for a call center handling 10K calls per day), to over $500K per year (for a call center handling 100K calls per day).”

Common Benefits
Most companies indicated substantial cost-savings, as indicated below:

  • Reduced labor costs;
  • Quicker answers to customers’ questions, via automation;
  • 24/7 service availability;
  • Natural and “pleasing” automated speech-based dialogs (versus touch-tone-based dialogs);
  • Compelling ROI, still through the phone;
  • Savings on return postage for mail-in surveys and data entry;
  • Reduction in average handle times and increased IVR containment;
  • Generation of incremental revenue by guiding callers toward new products and by advising them on appropriate services they previously did not consider; and
  • Order processing and entry via speech recognition can simplify costly input devices.

The Reason For Slow Adoption
A logical question to ask is, “With so much going for it, why have speech technologies not been adopted faster?” Our survey participants, in my opinion, did a remarkable job of explaining some of the important reasons why speech technologies have not yet been fully adopted even though there is a unanimous industry-wide opinion that “it is only a matter of time before speech applications become as mandatory to enterprises as the Web site.” We fully agree with this statement, which came from Apptera Corp. The bottom line is that with the significant cost savings that one can realize from the implementation of speech technologies and IP contact center technologies within the call center and CRM arena, there will be no company that can exist without them. It is only a matter of time — not if, but when, everyone adopts these technologies — we will have reinvented the contact center industry to start the next generation of growth and prosperity.

Lack Of Proper Marketing And Positioning
In my humble opinion, one of the most crucial problems with the speech technology, as well as with the IP contact center market, is a lack of effective marketing and positioning. In these editorials, I have mentioned on numerous occasions that “the only effective way to market high-technology products is marketing through education.” For without, no one has any reason to change and adopt a new technology. In other words, without featuring practicality, proper positioning and making a strong case of value-proposition, the speech industry will never realize its market potential.

I had a recent conversation with Mike Khalilian, chairman and president of IPCC (International Packet Communications Consortium), and he re-emphasized the need for the following to attain successful marketing of speech technologies:

  1. The solutions must be practical;
  2. We need to educate enterprises regarding the benefits of adoption of speech technology; and
  3. We must position and market far more effectively.
    Mr. Khalihan further pointed out the following example:
    “We all know that the Mercedes is a better car, but Lexus has a much larger market share because they market more effectively.”

More Reasons For Slow Adoption
Here are some of the other reasons for slow adoption of speech technologies, as offered by the above companies:

  • Lack of scalable and affordable solutions;
  • Lack of visibility among the general public;
  • Most voice response interfaces are mediocre; very few systems were designed with human factors in mind, and even fewer were subjected to usability testing before launch;
  • Typically slow and difficult implementation of traditional speech systems, requiring heavy investment in professional services and extensive system integration work;
  • Initial complexity and proprietary nature of speech systems have meant expensive systems and long implementation times;
  • First-generation speech technologies have been unable to deal with the exactness of human conversation;
  • Lack of education as to how speech recognition can benefit enterprises and the historically high costs of implementing speech;
  • Concern over lack of visibility into how speech helps specific user outcomes; and
  • In the past, an initial lack of standardized technology.

It goes without saying that with so much going for it, speech technology is here to stay and the savvy companies are those that begin adopting it as soon as the above problems are solved. Companies that ignore this vision will not, in all probability, be around once their competition adopts speech technology along with IP contact centers technologies. The above opinions can be best exemplified by the following comments, which were offered by the companies with which we spoke:

  • Speech is becoming more pervasive — not only in telephony-based applications, but also, notably, in hand-held computers, kiosks and mobility applications;
  • The need on the part of organizations to reduce customer service costs without reducing service;
  • Voice authentication;
  • Speech technology is inevitable. “The market is still young, and companies are still discovering how to implement a solution that matches their customers’ needs and wants and delivers on their business objectives. They are getting smarter about what questions to ask of speech vendors and service providers and are not adopting speech blindly. This is what should be happening at this stage of the evolution and heralds a solid, strong market. However, the market can be greatly en-hanced if companies were more aggressive in their demands for a systematic, fast-paced, behaviorally driven, iterative approach to speech implementation;” and
  • Speech tech is being used in-creasingly by enterprises to handle routine customer service requirements without involvement of a large and costly call center workforce; the industry is responding by moving from a tools-and-technology orientation to a solutions focus and full-service offerings. Speech has moved from “proof of concept” and pilot phases inside enterprises to production deployment requiring mission-critical reliability.

Let Us Meet At Speech-World™ — May 24-26, 2005, at The Westin Park Central Hotel, Dallas, Texas USA. Please join us at the Speech-World™ conference, where we intend to provide a full and comprehensive conference program and major exhibitors that will showcase the brightest solutions for this burgeoning industry. Speech-World™ will be co-located with IP Contact Center Summit™. I look forward to welcoming you all to this event. For more information or to exhibit, please e-mail Dave Rodriguez at [email protected] or call him at 203-852-6800, ext. 146.

As always, I welcome your comments…please e-mail them to me at [email protected].

Sincerely Yours,

Nadji Tehrani
Executive Group Publisher

[ Return To November 2004 Table Of Contents ]

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