Speech Recognition Comes of Age

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It seems like every year we hear, “This is the year for speech,” and yet the promise has failed to be realized. Now, finally, we think we can say with confidence that speech recognition has arrived as a mature technology delivering business value into the global market.

Why now? A convergence of technology, improved design capabilities, and business opportunities during the past few years have allowed for the implementation of a range of quality speech recognition solutions providing value for both business owners and their customers, and thus proving the inherent value in the technology when deployed appropriately.

The ability to implement a quality natural language speech solution is now a real possibility for businesses across industries and of various sizes, from the enterprise to the local small business. Solutions are built to agreed-on industry standards, eliminating the traditional lock-in associated with proprietary hardware and software solutions, further taking away some of the risk in implementing speech.

In fact, we are excited that speech recognition has matured to a point where it is a new option for advertisers and marketers to leverage when connecting with their customer bases and raising positive awareness of their brands. We are seeing businesses with creative marketing departments starting to use the technology to build systems that really engage their callers, promote their brands, and increase brand loyalty.

A call to a business to collect information or process a transaction does not have to be bland and boring. It can be quirky and funny or serious and somber, whichever mood best reflects the company and its product set. This ability to really engage the caller can be taken one step further by personalizing the call for each individual based, for example, on what is already known about him and what he inputs into the system.

So how do you ensure you are deploying a quality, next-generation speech solution? Here are some key considerations when evaluating your options:

1. Does the solution use natural language as a standard?

Next-generation speech vendors automatically deploy natural language speech solutions. Don’t accept single-word, directed speech systems that just replace your old touch-tone interactive voice response system with single word options. That is now old technology. Instead, demand something that is going to offer callers a better experience and service.

2. Are you being offered the ability to control your own speech service via a Web portal or interface?

All next-generation speech systems include the ability to put day-to-day control of the service in the hands of the business if required. As a business, you should be able to control many aspects of this important customer interface simply and in real time.

3. Are you given the ability to tune your own application?

Tuning...argh! It used to be that speech vendors would come into a business, shake their heads, utter the “tuning” word, and present the business with a very large invoice for the service. New technology allows you to semiautomate the tuning process, thereby dramatically reducing the time and cost involved. Tuning is vital for a system to continue to perform at its optimum, but it is not that hard if you have the right tools.

4. Is the vendor willing to share its knowledge with you?

Speech recognition technology is not a secret black box that you cannot understand. Next-generation speech recognition developers and vendors can explain that it is not a black art, but a combination of the right tools and technologies used by qualified and experienced practitioners. Ask the speech specialist to explain how it is done.

So, if you are looking to deploy speech in the short term, why not get a next-generation natural language speech system that you can manage, monitor, and control yourself? Very exciting possibilities await. Not only will you be able to cut costs and improve customer service through the smart use of the technology, but it is also possible to use the technology in a way that your marketing and management teams will love. Make the telephony front door to your business as attractive and engaging as the brick-and-mortar front door. Use speech recognition technology to engage and delight and you’ll reap the rewards.

Alan Knipe is founder of StarNet Systems, an Australian software development firm specializing in telecommunications management and residential living communities in higher education. He can be reached at alank@starrez.com.

Kirsty McCarthy is co-founder and vice president of sales and marketing at Inference Communications, a speech recognition technology and solutions company. She can be reached at kirsty.mccarthy@inferencecommunications.com.

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