When IVR (interactive voice response) solutions entered into the consciousness of the public in the 1970s, Americans began a love-hate (OK…maybe hate-hate) relationship with what is still one of the most disliked IT technologies today.
When, in the late 1990s, speech recognition promised to remake the IVR into a shining beacon of voice-enabled, artificially intelligent goodness, most people took the claims with a grain of salt. (I personally remember watching an IVR demo fail on a trade show floor circa 1999 because of background noise. I thought to myself…so how well is this technology going to work when a caller is in an airport, a mall or a busy office?)
While speech technology has assuredly gotten better, more natural and more reliable than its earliest iterations, we still haven’t reached the point where we’ll believe that we can speak naturally with machines: anyone who uses the iPhone’s (News - Alert) Siri and sees some of the (often amusing) mistakes it makes in recognizing speech knows this already.
For this reason, it’s still critical to ensure that any speech-enabled IVR solutions you deploy in the contact center will actually work. Nothing drives away a customer faster than an automated system that is perceived to be impossible to navigate, buggy or just plain ineffective.
West Interactive’s (News - Alert) Zachary Stanko recently blogged about where many companies go wrong in implementing speech in the contact center. In fact, these three factors could be said to be the biggest culprits of speech failure when it comes to IVR solutions.
Middleware. Stanko notes that given the number of “moving parts” behind a speech-enabled IVR -- data tables, API queries and hits, client-side systems, Web services and data centers — that it’s critical to get these middlemen right: if any one of them fails to perform properly, you’ve doomed your speech-enabled IVR to irrelevance.
Failure to update. If you’ve launched a new promotion, it’s critical to add the key phrases associated with that promotion to the speech solutions’ list of possible utterances. It’s pretty embarrassing if your own speech-enabled IVR can’t recognize your products, services or promotions.
User interface design. As with most tools, how you use it depends on how successful it is. This is doubly true of the IVR, whether speech-enabled or touch-tone. Stanko advises that companies ask themselves the following questions: “Is there a business rule getting in the way of a streamlined, confusion-free experience?” “Maybe the questions are asked in a confusing order. Do the response prompts fail to constrain possible caller responses by not giving clear instructions (e.g., please say yes or no)? “and “Is cognitive overload being caused by too many options in one menu?”
While customers like using speech to interact with self-service – it is, after all, the most natural way for humans to communicate – they don’t like interacting with a solution that gets it right some of the time: nothing will make them zero out to a live agent faster than a speech-enabled system that doesn’t understand them. While speech can do a lot for your contact center, it needs to be reliable and effective to work.
Edited by Rich Steeves