Why Make It So Hard?

In a hilarious Seinfeld episode, George asks for movie information and Kramer pretends to be an automated response system. George ultimately ends up frustrated even as "the system" finally gets to where "the customer" wanted to be in the first place. When Kramer says, "Why don't you just tell me the movie you selected?" we laugh because one, it is just funny, and two, because we've all been George.

The whole scenario begs a question -- unless we are creating a script for a comedy show, why design systems that make a media star out of a guy like Paul English who is on a crusade to give people shortcuts to get what they want?  By the way, many of his "shortcuts" don't seem too short, which says even more about the system designs. OK, I know I'm not a designer and supposedly there are legitimate business reasons for designing systems the way they are, but why not let customers decide if they want the speed and convenience of automation versus waiting on hold for an extended period of time to be assisted by an operator?

Jim Larson and Ahmed Bouzid published a very good article on this subject that can be found at www.speechtechmag.com/issues/industry/12707-1.html. In it, they provide five tips on "designing your IVR with customer satisfaction in mind" and other reasons why forced containment is not a productive business strategy. I really encourage you to read that story, and a story we published last January called "Ten Guidelines for Designing a Successful Voice User Interface" (www.speechtechmag.com/issues/9_7/cover/11311-1.html). Making it easier for the user to get what they want should be what any design is all about. Complicating it beyond this fundamental point just makes the user's life and your business more difficult.

Emotion plays an important role in communications and this issue of Speech Technology Magazine examines how systems are being designed that can take emotion into account.  With over four million calls coming in every year, the Wisconsin Physicians Service (WPS) needed to understand why certain things were happening and what was likely to happen to their customers.  John Kaiser reviews how WPS is using emotion detection to assist in providing improved customer service on page eight.  STM technology editor Judith Markowitz further explores how emotion impacts speech and reviews the first generation of commercial systems that are automating emotional, expressive speech. Judith's fine work begins on page 13.

On page 18, Debbie Dahl interviews five of the leading VUI designers in speech technologies on the topic of personas. As you will see, this group has strong and sometimes divergent opinions but they broadly explore this topic area and offer some very good insights. Knowing the participants as I do, I really enjoyed reading this Q & A.

One of the folks that I consider an "unsung hero" of speech is Ken Rehor, who provides his thoughts on how Internet technologies are impacting the contact center beginning on page 27. Ken has worked tirelessly producing standards and other initiatives to make speech technologies easier and better to deploy.  I've known Ken now for over five years and cannot thank him enough for the support and advice he has shown our organization. I think you'll appreciate his introduction to contact center architecture.

Philip Brit reports on how VoIP impacts the deployment of speech beginning on page 52. Much like Ken's article, this story describes the changes currently happening within the contact center and how speech is impacted.

STM associate editor Stephanie Owens reviews how Clarkston Chrysler uses speech technologies to enhance customer self service. One of the aspects of this system is that the fixed operations director, Bob King, insisted that customers have easy access to an operator. As a result, he gets extremely high customer satisfaction AND containment rates. Mr. King proves you can have it both ways as long as you let your customers have their say. Very good job, Mr. King.

On a final note, I want to encourage you to pick up a copy of Moshe Yudkowsky's new book, "The Pebble and the Avalanche." Many of you know Moshe as the chair of the Midwest Speech Technology Association, and while this book is not exclusively about speech, it makes you think about how breaking things up can provide a much greater impact than leaving a large behemoth in place. Moshe offers many examples to support his theories and the book is well worth reading.

P.S. You'll notice a new design for the magazine's logo and a new feature with this edition, Contact Center Update, brought to you by CRMXchange. We hope you like the new look. Be on the look out for a new Web site coming soon.

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