Speech Technology Magazine

 

Mitch Mandich, CEO, Edify

Mitch Mandich, CEO of Edify, explains that a company's main motivation to invest in speech is the pain that exists for customers and companies alike who suffer from poor customer service.
Posted Dec 1, 2004
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Q. You've been CEO of Edify for over a year now, what has impacted you the most during your tenure?
A. It's become clear that improving customer service through automation and lowering operating and development costs is critical for most companies worldwide. As a result, we have seen increased technology spending focused on these areas. These factors, combined with an incredibly strong and loyal customer base -- including some of the most recognized brands in world -- have impacted Edify positively over the last year resulting in continued profitability and 25 percent revenue growth. 

We've worked closely with our customers to determine their issues surrounding customer support.  Based on this feedback, we believe that self-service is integral to improving the overall customer experience and the continued improvements in speech technology have allowed us to architect new solutions that deliver tangible benefits to our customers. These self-service solutions have helped our customers reduce costs and enhance customer service.  Over the last year we have been involved with significant speech deployments which have raised the bar for self-service excellence.
 
Q. What is your current outlook for Edify?
A. Edify will continue to develop strong products contributing to our own IP yet remaining open and standards based.  The recent announcement of Edify's Voice Interaction Platform has continued our commitment to standards including VoIP and VoiceXML, as well as, support for leading speech engines. We provide our customers with strong IP to take these standards to the next level.  The degree of product choice we provide our customers is one of the broadest in the industry allowing customers to mix and match the best products for their needs. We will continue to focus on our strong software voice platform, application development tools, vertical application packages, client services, and strategic partners.

Q. Discuss your new product releases and what is new about those products?
A. We recently announced our Edify Voice Interaction Platform (EVIP) 9.0.  We have disaggregated our solution into two components: a voice browser and an application server. Our voice browser is priced separately and is a pure-play VoiceXML solution. Some customers want to have a choice of application servers, which we support, and they want to provide the backend data integration and business logic development on these servers.  For these customers our VoiceXML browser is an excellent choice.  Furthermore, our VoiceXML browser is capable of supporting a variety of VoiceXML development tools - giving our customers the ability to use virtually any technology they want.  On the other hand, our application server and tools bring very strong IP to the market and this is proven by their use in thousands of deployments.  With EVIP 9.0 customers have the choice to mix and match environments on a single platform, use the best tools for their need, and deploy fully integrated applications regardless of the tool used.  This flexibility combined with network choices with either public switched telephone network (PTSN) or VoIP all on the same platform provides a strong choice for our customers.

We also have been focusing on applications and recently announced Edify Voice Banking. Our strong domain experience in banking has allowed us to deliver a consumer banking application that is fully supported through licensing and includes both technical support and licensed upgrades.  Edify Voice Banking provides customers with 14 modules including account history for savings, checking, and investments; stop check and check reorder; branch hours and more.  It also has complete reporting, documentation, and configurability. Furthermore a professionally recorded persona is provided. This application sets the bar for the industry and is much more than a module or component. It is the most fully featured licensed speech application in the industry. This application is VoiceXML-based which means it will run on any VoiceXML-certified platform.  We are excited about this application and look forward to continued innovation throughout the next year in both platform and applications.

Q. Share with the readers a recent customer deployment and provide some statistics of the speech deployment.
A. Edify worked with our partner Viecore to provide Alliant Energy with a comprehensive call center solution focused on speech self-service. The project went from requirements through design to implementation in five months. 

Alliant recently highlighted their success at SpeechTEK and they and their customers have been very favorably impressed with the results.

Alliant Energy serves more than 1.4 million customers in Iowa, Illinois, Minnesota and Wisconsin and covers a service territory of 54,000 miles that includes 9,700 miles of electric transmission lines and 8,000 square miles of natural gas. Alliant's self-service application provides access to account information, outage reporting, payment arrangements, moving information and more simply, by verbalizing the request.  Customers are quickly able to obtain the information they seek and are able to successfully complete their call with an automated speech system.

The new system handles up to 115 calls per minute at one location and 69 calls per minute at the other. As a result, there is a significant decrease in the number of customer service rep- (CSR) assisted calls in normal periods and alleviates need for additional CSRs during high call volume periods such as Mondays and outage situations.

Additionally, overflow calls or calls that a customer "opts out of" are accurately routed to CSRs who utilize screen pop applications that displays information the caller has provided thus far, eliminating the need to ask customers to repeat information.

Successful implementations, such as these, help to educate the market on the value of speech self service from both an ROI and customer satisfaction perspective.

Q. When you look at your customers what are they finding that speech is doing for their organizations?
A. As the Alliant experience shows, speech technology can improve customer satisfaction by allowing the customer to self-serve, getting their information or executing their request quickly and efficiently.  With a well executed self-service solution, end users feel the company they called took the time to think about their needs.  When used proficiently, speech technology can strengthen a company's brand.  In the end, the company has reduced costs through a well thought out application, but they have also helped retain a customer and have differentiated themselves from their competitors through better customer service. Our customers who are deploying speech are finding these same benefits.
 
Q. Are your customers that currently deploy speech continuing to invest in more speech initiatives and if so what is the motivation?
A. We have customers who have deployed an initial speech application and have not done a second.  Others have looked beyond.  Depending on where the initial application focus was targeted, there are many places in an organization where automation can be improved -- whether it is customer-facing solutions or internally focused solutions.  We have developed over 100 speech applications with a wide breadth in the enterprise, all the way from rather simple auto attendant solutions through our ability to use Statistical Language Modeling to help one customer deploy one of the most comprehensive speech applications in the industry, which catalogs thousands of products in a technical support environment.  A company's main motivation to invest in speech is the pain that exists for customers and companies alike who suffer from poor customer service.  Edify has the experience and results to help our clients provide world-class customer service.
 
Q. What are Edify's five 'best practice' deployment considerations that you could share with our readers?
A. Edify's five 'best practice' deployment considerations are:

  1. Leverage speech technology to meet business objectives - Make sure that your speech vendor discovers every way speech can be leveraged throughout the enterprise to increase process efficiency and drive down costs.  For example, speech can be used in internal employee-facing applications to offload non-revenue-generating calls from the call center. Speech can also be used strictly as the front-end to customer-facing applications -- collecting information from the customer -- to save agents time and make agents more efficient and focused on what they do best: selling. 
  2. Deploy a scalable, open and flexible platform - It is important to deploy a system that can meet your future needs as well as being the best solution for your current projects. As your deployment is successful you will want to add new functions to automate an even larger percentage of your calls and provide enhanced services, some of which you may not even envision today.  You may need to connect into more enterprise applications and data sources in order to create these new services.  For example, an initial self-service system might need to connect to an ERP system, but future applications may need access to a CRM system, datamart, or third-party information service. A highly scalable, open platform that can grow with your application and be easily upgraded to support new standards and technologies will preserve your current investment and improve time to market of those new services.
  3. Enhance your company's brand with speech - Speech opens up opportunities to capitalize on and build up a company's brand in the call center.  With speech, companies can leverage existing work done by their marketing department to ensure consistency of brand at all customer interaction points and enhance customer satisfaction.
  4. Knowing your audience is the key to a successful user interface design - It's not enough just knowing the demographics of the typical caller, you have to know the different kinds of callers and their mental state when they place that call.  Some companies have a group of customers who prefer using the phone and conduct all their business that way, while other groups of customers prefer to use the Web site and only call in on occasion. For example, a customer who pays their credit card online would never use a Web site to report their credit card stolen, they'd place a call.  That particular caller is not ready for a friendly, relaxed experience -- they want speedy assurance their account is locked-down.  A good understanding of your phone customers will ensure that a single system is both friendly for calls where customers want an engaging experience, but efficient when there's a crisis to resolve.
  5. Monitoring and tuning is essential - Having comprehensive performance monitoring and reporting capabilities is imperative in maintaining a high level of customer satisfaction.  By monitoring several aspects of the system (speech-recognition, transaction-completion rates, data-base latencies, etc.) call center managers can pinpoint problems early on in the process. A system that's working well can have a hiccup if a database starts intermittently failing or if the marketing department changes the name of a product but doesn't tell the call center to update what the speech recognition system is listening for. Good monitoring will reveal these problems fast and ensure customer's the highest level of customer satisfaction.

Q. Any last thoughts you care to leave with us?
A. This is a very exciting time in our industry.  It's great fun and rewarding to help our clients become more successful and it's mutually satisfying.  Our primary focus at Edify is to help our clients change and enhance the way customer service is delivered.  Our solutions have been successful worldwide and we are excited to be a leader in this endeavor.

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