Differing Perspectives

In preparing for a recent speech I was struck by the difference between how buyers of speech solutions believe their customers view automation and how research shows their customers actually view automation. It reminds me very much of the debate financial institutions went through when they began to consider deploying ATMs. Financial institutions implemented ATMs primarily to eliminate branches and tellers at existing facilities. However, after implementation, customers took control and demanded ATMs in more locations because they wanted quick, easy and hassle-free access to their money. The original ‘cost containment’ strategy soon became a necessary component of a customer service strategy that now generates significant revenues for financial institutions and other organizations that deploy ATMs.

What does all of this have to do with speech technologies? Research from Harris Interactive shows that 92 percent of customers surveyed were comfortable handling at least one customer service task on their own and that 70 percent were comfortable with a variety of tasks. Over 80 percent of customers liked the fact they could get access to information when they wanted it, not just when the business was open. And this is the number that excites me the most – over 50 percent of customers would feel comfortable PURCHASING using phone automation.

And yet, the number one reason call center professionals gave to Frost and Sullivan for not deploying speech applications was customer resistance to using automated services. This research highlights a disconnect between what organizations think their customers want and what customers actually say they want. I believe the real issue is that, while customers want services that make doing business quicker and easier, they won’t tolerate poorly designed applications.

With this issue of STM, we highlight how the County of Marin, California is successfully using speech applications. STM associate editor Stephanie Owens visited with the officials of County of Marin to learn how they are improving their outreach to citizens and improving government services with speech. Stephanie’s story begins on page 18.

This story was to be our cover story, but hurricanes Katrina and Rita interrupted our editorial plans and Stephanie scrambled to put together a story about how speech worked through these terrible storms. Her story, highlighting how weather services, travel services and other organizations used speech applications in their preparedness plans, begins on page 5.

Donna Fluss returns to STM on page 9 to provide her thoughts on the speech market place. Donna has been active with her new book, “The Real-time Contact Center,” and we appreciate her taking the time to write this piece for us and CRMXchange.

Speaking of CRMXchange, allow me to tell you about our new alliance. Speech Technology Magazine and CRMXchange are implementing a series of webinars for the contact center market place, round table discussions, training initiatives and other initiatives providing educational and marketing services involving speech. For more information, please go to http://www.speechtechmag.com/ and keep watch for our first round table.

Wyndham Hotels has been known for innovations and being an early adopter of technology in the hotel industry. Galit Desai describes how Wyndham is using speech technologies to improve their customer service beginning on page 13.

Tim Moynihan and Jim Larson led two workshops at SpeechTEK 2005 and the results of those workshops are found on pages 27 and 32. This follows Jim’s successful workshop last year on 10 considerations for VUI design.  This year Tim led a group discussing how to make speech mainstream and Jim once again focused on VUIs, but this time he highlights 10 criteria for measuring effective VUIs. Both articles are must-reads in this edition.

Melanie Polkosky examines speech usability beginning on page 21. Melanie does a great job defining usability, how it impacts business and how to use it to improve speech applications. Be sure you read her “four ideas to keep in mind” if you want to design a high-quality speech system.

Finally, I want to thank each of you for another very good year for Speech Technology Magazine. All of the folks here at AmComm really enjoy working with you and thank you for helping us grow by providing us with your comments, ideas and occasional criticisms. Our mission is to serve the speech community by providing quality, accurate and independent information to buyers and users of the technology. We genuinely believe speech is the most natural interface to break down communications barriers and improve the quality of life for all.

Again, thank you.

P.S. – Keep your eyes peeled for an exciting series of new Web initiatives that STM will launch in 2006.

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