A talk with Nuance's Lynda Kate Smith.

Position:SPEECH-WORLD[TM] - Interview
 
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The editors of Customer Interaction Solutions[R] recently spoke with Lynda Kate Smith, vice president and chief marketing officer of Nuance Communications (www.nuance.com), to hear her opinions on the present and future of speech technologies.

CIS: What needs do speech-based call center technologies serve that traditional touch-tone IVR systems do not?

LKS: More and more businesses, throughout a range of industries, are recognizing the business benefits of speech versus traditional touch-tone technology. Speech improves customer satisfaction and retention, reduces the overall cost of customer service and increases automation rates, as customers tend to stay within voice-enabled automated systems rather than opting out to a live agent. Analyst research indicates speech boosts customer use of automated systems from 20 to 60 percent, compared with touch-tone. On the business side, voice automation can dramatically reduce the cost of handling calls, delivering a return on investment in just a few months. Analysts at Cahners In-Stat and Giga report the average cost-per-call handled by agents ranges anywhere from $2 to more than $15. With voice automation, that cost is often cut to 20 cents or less per call.

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From a caller experience standpoint, speech technology shortens the duration of calls by eliminating on-hold times and providing more streamlined, round-the-clock access to information. Customers get where they want to be with fewer steps and hassles--something very important since today's customers have neither the time nor the patience to wait on hold or navigate through a myriad of touch-tone prompts to get what they need. Speech is intuitive and user-friendly (there's no need to memorize choices) and is more responsive to customers' needs. In fact, a 2003 Harris Interactive study we commissioned revealed that nine out of 10 surveyed consumers preferred speech recognition to touch-tone.

Another benefit of speech is enhanced security. It's been estimated by the Federal Trade Commission that identity theft and fraud affect nearly 10 million people and cost businesses upwards of $60 billion per year. Companies are searching for ways to secure their call centers while reducing costs and promoting customer convenience. Voice authentication (voiceprint technology) allows businesses to offer secure, personalized over-the-phone customer service. Many financial institutions have implemented voiceprint technology to verify...

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