Speech Needs to Get Personal

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Now that advanced speech recognition has secured its position in the mainstream, the time for evolution has come. One of the logical areas for evolution is personalization, which I will define as the use of data to identify callers and/or caller attributes or locations intelligently, leveraging this information to enrich automated applications and pass on to an agent if necessary. 

That said, to use a personalization strategy successfully, it is imperative that you have accurate, relevant data about your callers. Three common data elements that are frequently leveraged in successful personalization deployments are: 

  1. caller demographic or scoring/valuation data; 
  2. historical caller data; and 
  3. caller transaction data. 

In most cases, this data can be leveraged to enhance your application.

Caller Demographic and Scoring/Valuation Data

Generally, demographic information is among the easiest to acquire and leverage. By and large, most of your clients’ marketing departments will have a decent idea regarding the demographics of their caller bases. Similarly, marketing groups will frequently have some sort of valuation assessments associated with caller demographics or account types. True, this data is high level at best, but it does enable you to perform some basic personalization, such as menu customization and tailoring the pace and tone of your user interface. While these functions might seem esoteric and intangible, callers have shown positive reactions to even the most subtle personalization elements.

Historical Data

If you are starting your automated systems from scratch, then you will more than likely not have historical data at your disposal. Assuming this is the case, two very useful areas to look for historical data are call centers and client billing systems. These two areas can provide you with data that will cover everything from call pattern trending to the most common reasons why people call. This information can be leveraged in your automated application for features like caller identification and customized menuing. 

Studies have shown that callers like and appreciate automated systems that recognize, at a minimum, the fact they have previously called, their reasons for calling, and what services they have. If you use only one data source in your personalization strategy, then historical contact data is one of the most powerful and easy to implement in your automated solution.

Caller Transaction Data

Caller transaction data, simply put, is a detailed accounting of every transaction an individual caller has had with your automated system. This data element has generally not been leveraged in automated systems due to complex data logging requirements and the large amount of data generated. Fortunately, through the standardization provided by VoiceXML and the reduction in cost of data storage devices, this strategy is becoming a realistic possibility. 

This information typically is collected in your automated system and potentially merged with other data sources, such as Web and live agent data. Leveraging detailed transaction data can significantly change the way you manage your automated system, enabling you to perform such functions as resuming transactions that were disrupted on a previous call or tailoring menus for callers based on their specific historical usage patterns. Detailed transaction data is the most powerful element in a personalization tool kit, enabling you to transcend the stereotypes of traditional automated systems. 

Personalization is no small undertaking, so it is important that your organization is committed to the effort. That said, several points should be considered prior to embarking down the personalization path. First, you need to ensure that personalization is a priority within your organization. If, in fact, you have that commitment, then it is time to perform a complete return on investment assessment to ensure this strategy will pay for itself in the end. If ROI is positive, then the last point you need to consider is the resourcing required to support this project. Though personalization is very powerful—and its benefits plentiful—this strategy requires a lot of care and feeding for it to reach its full potential.

Aaron Fisher is director of speech services at West Interactive, where he oversees the design, development, and implementation of speech applications for the company. He can be reached at asfisher@west.com.

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