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Omnichannel Contact Centers Embrace Speech

Suddenly, the technology is everywhere.
By Nancy Jamison - Posted Nov 15, 2013
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Amidst a fractured customer care landscape resides the rapid movement of new channels entering the customer interaction space. Multichannel, a term used for more than a decade now, refers to providing multiple channels of interaction for customers to contact and interact with a company. Typically, many of these channels were added over time, without an overarching plan for getting them to work together seamlessly. Mobile and social media engagement have recently exacerbated this issue, and, as a result, companies often have silos of customer interaction with resulting data silos to match. This leads to an incomplete and disjointed customer experience.

While we are still ironing out the break point between channels, the industry is moving from the relatively simple concept of multichannel to the richer, more encompassing concept of providing an omnichannel customer experience. Omnichannel is ensuring a consistent, high-quality customer experience regardless of how and where a customer chooses to interact with an organization, and no matter the purpose. It ensures that data and context from the initial contact carries over to subsequent channels, reducing customer effort, improving the customer interaction, and enabling the business to tailor the customer journey. Omnichannel also eliminates silos of data so that there is a single view of the customer journey and ongoing improvements can be made to customer interactions and the business.

Speech technologies are part of the glue that holds this together. Where speech used to be relegated to voice input to IVR with text-to-speech output, with omnichannel it is everywhere. Consider the following:

  • speech recognition and natural language processing–enhanced user interfaces in IVR and mobile applications;
  • speech-enabled mobile customer care applications;
  • voice search for customer self-service;
  • speech-enabled virtual contact center agents;
  • speech- and text-enabled virtual chat agents on the Web;
  • text analytics used to analyze interactions and formulate further question-and-answer pairs for virtual agents;
  • speech analytics to mine customer interactions historically and in real time to improve agent performance and gain insight into the customer experience and how to improve it; and
  • voice verification for security in self-service and mobile applications.

In particular, speech technologies are being bundled into specific vertical market applications within the contact center. For instance, companies are using speech analytics as a tool for regulatory compliance in debt collection. A number of solution providers have developed products or suites tailored with speech technologies aimed at these markets. Nexidia Live Collection Assistant, part of Nexidia Interaction Analytics, triggers alerts and delivers information to agents and supervisors during live debt collection calls for help with compliance. Verint's Contact Center and Retail Branch Regulatory Compliance solution helps organizations comply with government requirements to record interactions with customers across multiple channels, and tags interactions with specific data for later retrieval and analysis. CallMiner Redactor uses speech technology to automatically remove payment card industry (PCI)–sensitive authentication and cardholder data from incoming call recordings or call recording archives, maintaining compliance with PCI regulations.

Similarly, speech technologies, such as voice authentication, are being used for fraud detection within financial services. NICE Contact Center Fraud Prevention uses voice biometrics to create voice prints that are automatically cross-referenced with a watch list, and uses NICE Interaction Analytics to identify fraud patterns. These and other solutions are helping to target specific issues within vertical markets and will continue to grow in use to provide that seamless customer experience the contact center industry aims for.

However, while speech technologies may be the glue, there's more work to be done. The use of speech and text analytics, along with big data and other tools, is only the tip of the iceberg. The real work is in integrating back-end legacy systems, attaining cross-organizational support for the customer experience, and creating a solid plan for enabling customers to seamlessly traverse channels. In the meantime, however, the use of speech technologies, as demonstrated in the above vertical markets and others, is providing powerful and immediate benefits within disparate interaction channels.


Nancy Jamison is a principal analyst for customer contact at Frost & Sullivan. She can be reached at nancy.jamison@frost.com, or follow her on Twitter @NancyJami.


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