From foe to friend.

Author:Read, Brendan
Position:CALL CENTER Technology

Automated voice systems, both DTMF, a.k.a. TouchTone IVR and speech recognition, a.k.a speech rec-based, have had an unfortunate reputation as customers' foes thanks to too many poor implementations. They have driven customers to "zero-outs", resulting in higher expenses and risking decreased loyalty and lowered sales from them and from their friends and followers and others via social media, thereby clawing back the tools' cost savings. Some firms have capitalized on these poor customer experiences by trumpeting that they do not use these technologies; they connect callers to live agents instead.

This does not have to be the case though, for automated voice systems contain elements that also make them customer-friendly through providing quality service that is often superior to that delivered by live agents. These include speed through queue-elimination, consistent, accurate and clearly-delivered responses, confidentiality--these "agents" are not going to blab about so-and-so--and privacy. Advances made with these solutions have made reaching both efficiency and service/retention goals possible and affordable.

Joe Outlaw, principal analyst at Frost and Sullivan ( is seeing that firms are getting the message that it pays to make automated voice the customers' friends. So much so that there is a growing segment of the population that actually prefers self-service both automated voice- and- web-based. His firm estimates that up to 41 percent of inbound and outbound customer interactions will be handled by voice as well as by web self-service by 2015 from as low as 30 percent today.

"The message here for enterprises is that self-service applications must be done well," says Outlaw. "They must be fast, easy-to-use, have intuitive interfaces, accessible 24/7 from a variety of devices and always offer live assistance when requested, so that customers and prospects will appreciate and use them."

The Speech Trend

Making automated voice approachable is a slow but gradually shift to speech rec from DTMF-based IVR. While speech rec currently accounts for only 16 to 23 percent of IVR and voice portal system ports, depending on contact center size, its share, says Frost and Sullivan will steadily increase to climb to 28 to 36 percent by about 2015.

The reason is that for most interactions speech rec can be easier and more intuitive for customers to use. As speech applications improve and with this become more widespread, there will be greater customer comfort with them.

"Customers have been exposed to speech for some years now; most every vertical has a speech interaction to offer," Jeff Foley, Nuance senior manager of solutions marketing points out. "For example callers moving from one bank to another have come to expect speech self-service."

The speech rec technologies have become sufficiently powerful, functional, practical and affordable to be developed into and deployed for mobile self-service applications. These tools are becoming critical in enabling quality customer service as more customers port landlines to their wireless devices or go wireless only.

A key driver has been the advent of all-you-can-call plans. They have unshackled users from counting the minutes, making them freer to talk more...

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