Voice Is Changing, Not Disappearing

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change agent, it will become a transformational tool.

Visual IVR

IVRs have been the workhorses of customer service departments and contact centers since the 1980s. In many companies, they typically handle anywhere from 65 percent to 95 percent of incoming calls, and are mission-critical applications. (They are also increasingly being used to interact on an outbound basis with customers or constituents.)

Although IVRs have proven themselves to be a highly effective way of communicating and doing business with customers, they are still loved by almost no one, including frequent users of these applications. There are a number of legitimate complaints about IVRs, many of which are the result of companies failing to make adequate or appropriate investments in these powerful applications. But even with wonderfully designed and managed IVRs, there are criticisms of the amount of time it takes them to communicate with callers. (Of course, they usually allow users to fast-forward if they know the scripts, but most callers don't.) This is where visual IVR comes in.

Visual IVR is a relatively new concept that allows companies to create menu-driven interfaces for their IVRs from Web sites and smartphones. They translate the IVR script into a visual display of options, and present them to users via the Web or a mobile device so that customers can touch or click an option. As most people can read a sentence much more quickly than they can listen to it spoken, this affords them the power and capabilities of IVR in significantly less time. The technologies are designed to allow companies to build the visual interfaces without rewriting their IVR applications. Visual IVR allows companies to realize even greater benefits from traditional voice-related applications.

Voice Biometrics

Voice biometrics, also known as voice recognition, is a practical science whose time has finally come. This technology, which uses the characteristics of each speaker's voice to identify him, has been commercially available since the late 1990s, but until recently was too cumbersome and difficult to use to be a practical business application. While it still requires a significant amount of time for each user to establish a valid voice print for verification purposes, more people are now willing to put forth the effort because of growing security concerns. Companies are also finding that there are certain types of uses where voice biometrics can significantly reduce the time agents have to spend verifying the customers willing to set up a voice print. This reduces enterprise costs and improves the customer experience.

The primary use for voice biometrics today is to fully automate the process of verifying callers so that they do not need to answer specific security questions with information that could pose a significant risk of identity theft, such as their address, last few credit card transactions, or even a personal ID number. Because each person's voice has unique characteristics that are extremely difficult for a thief to replicate, voice biometrics is considered the most accurate and least intrusive way of verifying callers. As companies get better at rolling out voice biometrics programs, the adoption rate of this technology will improve. Therefore, doing business by phone will become one of the most secure ways to interact with a company, as well as increasingly simple and quick.

Final Thoughts

Improving the customer journey, speech analytics, visual IVR, and voice biometrics all take advantage of voice-related activities to enhance the overall customer experience and improve enterprise performance. Voice may not be the sexiest channel, but it remains an important one that should be used to a company's advantage. Companies should invest in alternative channels in order to interact with each customer in his or her channel of choice, but the voice channel is going to remain an important one for years to come, and deserves ongoing innovation.

Donna Fluss (donna.fluss@dmgconsult.com) is the president of DMG Consulting, a provider of contact center, analytics, and back-office market research and consulting.

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