What the iPhone Can Teach Speech Technologists

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What does it take for a technology to gain widespread acceptance? Impressive features aren’t always enough. A technology has a better shot at adoption if it offers immense value with a short learning curve. Apple’s iPhone is a great example: sophisticated technology, incredibly simple user interface.

How did Apple do it? By committing to its guiding principle of creating valuable products that are really easy to use. In doing so, Apple forces technology to work the way people do and not the other way around. Intelligent virtual assistants (IVAs) and other speech technologies have an opportunity to do the same.

In our cover story, “Are Intelligent Virtual Assistants Ready for the Enterprise?”, Rebecca Jonsson, chief researcher at Artificial Solutions, states, “Consumers are overwhelmed with the different interfaces they need to understand in order to do what they want. They have had to learn the language of technology.”

The author of the story, Phillip Britt, continues, “Now with the conversational interface of IVAs, technology is learning the language of humans so that natural language is the means of interaction for people to achieve their goals.”

While impressive, this doesn’t mean that people will abandon other popular communication channels (such as email, chat, Web, etc.) and revert back to speech technology exclusively. Far from it. What it means is that speech technology should secure its place in what will likely become a unified, omnichannel environment.

Why build an omnichannel environment? For the same reason Jobs built an iPhone—so users can obtain incredible value with little effort.

Building an omnichannel environment might seem daunting, but companies should head in this direction incrementally. It would be silly not to, as millions of consumers are comfortable using the various channels on their smartphones. Read our feature story “IVRs Get Set for the Omnichannel Challenge," by Paul Korzeniowski, and Jim Larson’s column “In a Mobile World, Voice and Graphical User Interfaces Need to Blend” for insight on this emerging trend.

Supporting the migration to an omnichannel environment are solutions that make good use of smartphones’ multiple modalities. For example, visual IVR technologies from Radish Systems, Jacada, and Zappix enable organizations to improve customer interactions with visual customer service options. Over time, customers will likely grow to appreciate and even expect brands to offer a visual IVR as a customer service option. To find out why, check out our feature story “Can Visual IVRs Shift Popular Opinion in Speech Tech’s Favor?” by Tye Pemberton.

Like Steve Jobs, Theresa Szczurek, CEO of Radish Systems, says that companies implementing a visual IVR should focus on adding value. “It’s so important for clients choosing a visual IVR to make sure that it’s really getting rid of a specific pain—that it reduces frustration, confusion, or barriers to information for the end users,” she says. Solving these pain points would provide value to scores of people.

A smart organization will respond appropriately to existing and emerging customer behaviors, instead of forcing them to use clunky, disconnected systems. No one has to re-create the iPhone, but you can’t go wrong following the principles that guided its creation. Under the hood, speech technology can be part of a sophisticated interaction platform. Yet when it comes to the user interface, there’s beauty in simplicity.

Editorial Director David Myron can be reached at dmyron@infotoday.com, or on Twitter @dmyron.

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