With the global economy still on shaky ground, companies continued their emphasis on customer service, and that has led to continued adoption of interactive voice response (IVR) systems. But current changes in customer behaviors and technology improvements have given rise to more full-featured voice portals that support a much wider range of activities. Vendors of the technology have continued to incorporate new services that include multichannel support, a greater integration with the Web, reporting and analytics tools, proactive outreach, new development tools and interfaces, and even a broader range of tasks that can be automated.
The primary business driver for deploying these applications is to reduce the operating costs of supporting routine customer requests for information and assistance. Automated applications cost about one-tenth what it takes to hire a live customer service agent. It is for this reason that companies strive for high usage rates for their IVRs and voice portals by making them as functional and user-friendly as possible.
Also continuing to shape the market was growing demand from enterprises for hosted offerings with significantly lower start-up costs. Many vendors either brought to market their own hosted offerings or partnered with other vendors to make such offerings available to their customers.
Genesys Telecommunications Laboratories, which makes the leaderboard for the second straight year, led the field of vendors in features and functionality (scoring an industry-leading 4.8 on a five-point scale). The company also boasts a leadership role in the use and support of multimodal and multichannel interactions. In addition, Genesys scored high in the variety of its delivery methods. The one downside to Genesys, though, was a lack of support for smaller firms. While the company does extremely well with large enterprise customers, it isn’t as well-suited for smaller firms looking for low-cost, out-of-the-box solutions, according to Forrester Research principal analyst Elizabeth Herrell.
Microsoft, which moved up to the leaderboard after placing in the Vendor Contender’s spot last year, has come a long way in its integration of the Tellme Networks platform it acquired in 2007. It added an outbound IVR service, Tellme Platform Central, and a number of new partners. The company scored high in depth of functionality and customer satisfaction. Even on price, where the company fell short in the past, it saw a turnaround this year. Microsoft “is doing a lot on its pricing model as it moves into the small and midmarket [sectors],” observes Susan Hura, principal and founder of SpeechUsability. Adds Sheila McGee-Smith, principal and founder of McGee-Smith Analytics: “In general, though, [with Microsoft] hosted plays suffer from more limited customization and integration options.”
Voxify, a newcomer to the leaderboard, secured the top spot this year among a pool of more than 30 vendors. The company led the field in customer satisfaction and its ability to integrate, and was edged out only by Genesys in depth of functionality—Voxify scored a 4.5 in each of the three criteria, and also received high marks for its ability to customize.
The company was also recognized as a top speech application vendor in the Ovum Decision Matrix report “Selecting a Speech Applications Vendor in North America.” Voxify “continues to grow its business and provide innovative approaches to personalized IVR solutions, interactive outbound applications, flexible deployment options, and application portability,” said Daniel Hong, Ovum’s lead analyst.
Avaya’s acquisition of Nortel Enterprise Solutions earlier this year brought together two speech self-service powerhouses, creating a single entity that lays claim to more than half of the entire contact center infrastructure market and more than 50,000 customers with millions of self-service ports installed. Avaya, though, will be challenged with bringing the Nortel solutions into its fold. According to McGee-Smith, Avaya offers “a high-functioning product, but a significant amount of portfolio rationalization will occur in the next couple of years, potentially impacting innovation.”