Speech and the future of the contact center.

Author:Tehrani, Rich
Position:High Priority!

Without question, speech technologies will change this decade for the better. Speech is the first mode of communication we learn when we are children and it remains the most natural communication interface for humans. I'm not saying that speech technologies will make keyboards disappear anytime soon, but there are a host of applications that lend themselves to speech, and this is where the excitement lies for the industry.

The first area in which speech is a necessity is IVR enhancement. My wife couldn't find her American Express card today. I called American Express and tried to get a live operator on the line as soon as possible, as my mind was busy running through lurid scenarios in which the card, in criminal hands, was being taken on a spending spree up and down Fifth Avenue. In a frantic state, I attempted to reach the correct department. I had to hang up and start again three times during the process because I kept pressing the wrong buttons. I was angry and frustrated by the time a human answered. This is a prime example of a process that cries out for a next-gen speech recognition application.

Speech technologies have the potential to change the way we interact with businesses and other organizations. Agents are on the front lines of our companies, yet we pay them just over minimum wage and expect them to present the polished image of a Fortune 1000 company. (Please don't send me nasty letters, I'm not implying that minimum wage workers can't project the right image. Most of them certainly can. It is the ones that can't who destroy customer relationships forever.)

Speech technologies allow us to be notified if a conversation contains profanity, competitors' names or even voice stress that is higher in decibel than a certain preset threshold. These are the conversations that every company must know about so it can rectify the damage done immediately or, better yet, escalate the calls to a supervisor before they get totally out of control. Speech will change the way contact centers operate over the next decade.

If you think that Indian contact centers are a threat to American call center jobs, just wait until speech comes fully into its birthright. At first, speech will take away some of the repetitive, boring jobs ("What's my balance?"), allowing agents to migrate up the food chain and take more interesting calls. Many companies will allow customers talking to speech systems to immediately connect to a live agent for the purpose of answering more complex questions or even for cross-selling and upselling purposes. Other companies will just reduce headcount.

Still, we need to look at speech as an opportunity in the same manner we looked at...

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