Why Speech Now?

Speech technology has seen its fair share of fits and starts over the last few decades. Skeptics are still asking, "If speech works and is a mainstream technology, why is speech deployed today in less than 10 percent of call centers in North America?"

A good question that is still being asked even as we saw momentum begin to build in 2003 and continue in 2004.

"Is the momentum real and is it going to continue?" is the question I am asked more than any other. Has speech technology’s time finally arrived for good?

I say it has. Why things are different this time is the subject of several articles in this month’s magazine.

Companies are realizing substantial ROI when deploying speech technologies and the word is getting around. John Cootz of AIG VALIC, one of the world’s largest insurance providers says many companies are meeting ROI expectations earlier than projected. In his article beginning on page 10, Migrating from Touch-tone to Speech, he discusses how to deliver a strong business case for deploying a speech solution. John provides solid proof from a customer’s point of view on how to deploy speech for increased ROI.

Advancements such as packaged applications, more robust tool capabilities, and improved platform deployment options are just a few areas that have lowered the TCO of deploying speech technologies. Dr. Bill Sholtz examines ways that make it easier for companies to develop and deploy a speech solution in Building Speech Applications beginning on page 14. In this story Bill discusses what it really takes to build a successful speech solution.

There are more deployment options today. Nancy Jamison offers a comprehensive discussion of available options and addresses the strategic question of deploying speech in an on-premise environment or as an outsourced service provided by a hosting provider. Nancy’s feature begins on page 32 and presents best practices for each option, reviews recent deployments and analyzes what is working best for several clients.

While Microsoft has been involved in this space for years, they begin marketing their high-volume/low-price model in earnest this spring. I believe their presence is good for the entire industry, including their customers, partners, and even competitors. I’m seeing reenergized competitors becoming even more focused on the value proposition they provide their clients. In turn, the competitive environment will offer customers many more deployment options, helping to expand the opportunities for speech solutions. For further reasoning behind my position read Mark Plakais’ Speech Business column that appears on page 22. Mark also offers his thoughts on new opportunities and a few words of caution.

Personally I believe customer (end user) satisfaction is the most compelling answer to ‘Why speech now?’ Put simply, speech works for your customers and your employees. Numerous industry studies have shown that speech improves customer completion rates up to 50 percent and provides up to a 75 percent increase in the use of automation. Speech technologies are being embedded in many different devices providing a compelling and dependable user interface. From mobile phones to automobiles, speech is effectively allowing users greater access to data and more options in communications. The body of knowledge on how to enhance your speech deployment to meet the demands of customers and employees grows deeper each day.

As speech technology becomes more mainstream, the opportunity for speech companies is illustrated in the story of the owner of a shoe manufacturing company who sent his sons to scout for new markets. One son came back and said, "Father, no one wears shoes so there is no market". The other son reported back, "Father, no one wears shoes. What a great demand we will have for our shoes!" The second son saw the needs of a marketplace and could not wait to fill his customers needs.

How the industry responds to the opportunities available in today’s marketplace will determine the long-term future of speech technology. The breadth and depth of successful speech deployments over the past few years have proven that speech can succeed and meet market needs. It is now incumbent upon companies in the space to continue to provide solutions that meet the real needs of their customers, not just sell them technology. This will further solidify speech as a mainstream technology that works for all of us.

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