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May - 2005 - issue > Technology
Using speech automation strategically
Amit Desai
Saturday, April 30, 2005
Excellent customer service continues to be a key business differentiator. The challenge businesses and call centers have historically faced is that increasing service levels involves high costs.

In addition, as businesses strive to differentiate themselves, they seek to introduce new call center services. These new services; that notifies customers when a flight is delayed or that which handles inquiries about frequent flyer account details, often don’t produce revenues, and such call centers are pressured to introduce these services without increasing costs.

Enter the promise of speech applications. Speech applications came to the market in the late 1990s with the promise of liberating call centers from the age-old dilemma of service levels versus costs. The promise of speech automation was to improve both service levels and costs simultaneously. And while the applications have improved over the years, traditional speech applications never delivered on this promise.

According to Gartner Research, “Call centers around the world are using speech recognition solutions to automate customer interactions.

Most of these are point solutions.” The real value of speech automation, however, cannot be gained with point solutions. It can be derived when an application can be deployed strategically in the call center, by servicing the full spectrum of call types with performance and efficiency.

Applied strategically, speech has the potential to materially impact the business and deliver significantly higher customer acquisition and retention rates at significantly lower costs. Applying speech strategically requires that a single solution — presenting a consistent voice and persona – be able to serve all caller needs, from greeting callers to giving them information; from conducting transactions to transferring information and calls smoothly to live agents, that too in a cost effective manner.

Recently, a new generation of speech applications emerged, which can deliver on this strategic vision. These new generation applications are fully deliverable on the promise of improving both customer service levels and costs simultaneously. This technological breakthrough allows the new generation speech applications to be deployed strategically across the spectrum of call types and has the potential to dramatically affect business in a way traditional speech applications cannot.

Requirements of Strategic Speech
For speech automation to serve a strategic function in your organization, it must have the following critical attributes:

Critical Attribute #1: Speech Application Performance
It should be able to serve your needs across a broad spectrum of call types while giving callers a consistent and satisfying experience. Speech application cannot have a fundamental impact on the business if it just handles, say, store locator calls. It needs to be able to also service customers calling to request a catalog, check order status or place an order, among other things.

Critical Attribute #2: Speech Application Efficiency
It must make business sense. The time and cost of implementation must be less than what would be required to hire and train a new group of agents. It can’t take three months to prepare the solution to service each new call type. It can’t take six months to reach payback for each call type. The operation cost must be significantly lower than the expense of a live agent. It must allow for immediate action on insights into customer behavior and on the constant flow of changes made to tune and improve customer service. In order to keep up with the pace of business, a strategic solution will accommodate these changes in terms of days— not weeks or months.

Strategic Speech in Action
Such speech solution demonstrates an appealing vision for a business. Imagine having a high performance application that cost-effectively expands your call center capacity precisely when you need it. Imagine new groups of virtual agents that can step in and handle any call type. Imagine being able to introduce a new service that increases customer satisfaction and your brand image at a fraction of what it would cost to do so using live agents.

Imagine having the option to offload all information calls from live agents, keeping wait times down for revenue-generating calls while at the same time increasing agent morale and having a high-performance application so economical that the more the speech application is used, the more costs are reduced. This is the promise of strategic speech, but it takes a different approach to deliver on this vision.

The New Approach:
Navigation Skills to Traverse Call Paths Dynamically

Vendors with a radically new approach to tackling the conversation challenge are dramatically improving both customer service levels and costs simultaneously. Instead of viewing the problem as the clarity with which all the possible call paths are predicted and the tools to then build these paths, this new approach calls for building the skills required to gracefully handle the conversation no matter what path it travels.

This new approach involves building the skills needed to respond to any turn the conversation may take. As such, these new applications focus on the equation’s leverage point. In this new paradigm, flexibility of navigation rather than custom-coded call paths allows the application to gracefully handle any call. The application simply needs to be tuned to the processes that constitute your brand image, and configured to find your data.

Applications that use this new approach not only offer the highest performance, but they are extremely efficient, quick to deploy and easy to change. This allows them to be applied strategically in the business, across the spectrum of call types.

New generation applications are delivering on the promise of improving both customer service levels and costs simultaneously. These applications change call center economics because the more the application is used, the more service levels and costs improve. The distinguishing factor of these applications is the possession high levels of both performance and efficiency.

Amit Desai is Vice President of Products and one of three founders at Voxify; the first company to create Automated Agents for call centers.
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