Spring-Cleaning or a New House? Voice User Interface Designers Can Help

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When organizations consider outsourcing their IVR, most of them review their existing applications to seek opportunities for improvement. However, this activity is much like spring-cleaning in your house: When you are finished, you feel good but you still have the same home with which you started.

With additions and major renovations over the years, this is the house that now resembles something a 7-year-old child might build out of Lego bricks. For starters, you have the “really useful” addition to the back of the house designed by your eccentric uncle (the IT telephony manager who stuck around for less than a year) and the various “travel rooms” featuring different languages that do not match the rest of the house.

Don’t forget the confusing and unfriendly foyer, where all guests hate having you force them through it. Shouldn’t they feel grateful that you have added to the house, to the point where they should quit asking to come in through the less formal side door? Why do some of them listen to that annoying man who posted a map on the Internet that shows people how to get inside your house without going through your elaborate foyer?

Perhaps outsourcing your IVR should be more like building a new well-designed home, rather than a daylong spring-cleaning of your house. If you agree with that hypothesis, then to whom should you turn for help in determining what your real requirements are? And who will help you sketch out a high-level perspective of your new home?

Voice user interface (VUI) designers are excellent resources to help you define your true requirements. Why call them “true requirements”? Well, requirements come in many forms; if you are building a new home, you want to ensure that you are fulfilling your current requirements, as opposed to imagined or outdated ones. Bruce Balentine, of Enterprise Integration Group (EIG), uses the term “never asked question”: “What problem are we solving, and how important is it to solve it?” Moreover, you want to ensure that your house is welcoming and has a good flow throughout.

The responsibilities of VUI designers require understanding the problem the IVR will solve, from both the caller’s perspective and the goal of the owner of the IVR application. Furthermore, designers must maintain a consistent theme across multiple applications in an IVR (think decor in your house).

Customer experience designers and interaction designers are similar to VUI designers, but they all don’t play identical roles. The speech technology industry isn’t as well defined as others, hence the confusion over small degrees of difference. Given that the discussion centers on speech-enabled applications, a VUI designer is the correct choice for these activities.

If you believe you own a house that is already in good order—meaning it would not require many changes before you outsource your applications—you might consider having a VUI designer perform an audit to provide an external perspective. By doing so, you would quickly confirm whether your belief is correct. And the audit would clearly provide examples that you may have never heard before, unless you called into your IVR regularly as you made changes over time.

Seldom are speech-enabled applications in good shape before they are outsourced. So, to set the proper application budget expectations, do yourself and your organization a big favor. Don’t call a cleaning crew until you have thoroughly reviewed your existing applications with an experienced VUI team. A dust mop, pail, and broom would be better placed in the broom closet of your new, well-designed house that should serve you well for years to come.

Kevin Brown is an architect at Hewlett-Packard Enterprise Services, where he specializes in speech solutions design. He has 18 years of experience in designing and delivering speech-enabled solutions, and he can be reached at kevin.c.brown@hp.com.

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