Innovations: Speech Technology with Impact - Double Feature

Double Feature
We have a double feature this month. First up is an upgrade to stealthy, but steadfast Empirix, with a new release of their Hammer CallMasterTM testing tools, now tuned to testing speech applications. Second is the application of these tools in action at bridgeSpeak, a company that provides IVR voice self-service solutions to auto dealerships.

For anyone not familiar with Empirix (www.empirix.com), they are a premiere provider of integrated testing and management solutions for contact centers, Web and voice applications, and VoIP solutions. Formed in 2000 from Hammer Technologies, known for its voice and network testing and RSW Software, Empirix is deployed in thousands of companies to do monitoring and performance testing in a blitzing fashion to make up for what manual testing cannot do. In addition to load testing of an individual application, which means simulating a full peak-hour customer load to see if an individual application performs as designed, Empirix's suite of products provides fully integrated development-through-deployment testing across all customer touch points including contact centers, the Web, IVR, fax, and VoIP.

At SpeechTEK in August, Empirix announced Hammer CallMaster 5.0, the industry's first and only automated testing solution that supports both voice self-service applications and VoIP networks. Empirix's Hammer system allows companies to generate high volumes of both TDM and VoIP test calls to measure functionality and performance of communications networks and the applications running on them. Hammer CallMaster is a software solution that runs on top of Empirix's Hammer test systems to enable users to create test scenarios using a visual scripting interface. Scripts can then be used in a pre-deployment setting for testing or in production to proactively monitor and manage application performance.

What makes the Hammer CallMaster release unique is that companies can now test their speech recognition applications in addition to DTMF ones by having the system listen to prompts, speak input to the application and navigate through dialogs.

To get a feel for how this works, let's take a look at how bridgeSpeak (www.bridgespeak.com), a provider of voice applications for automotive dealerships, used Hammer CallMaster to test and debug their bridgeSpeak AR (automotive retail) application. Beyond being a stellar example of how Hammer CallMaster 5.0 works in a production environment, we chose bridgeSpeak because their focus and resulting applications should be noted in the IVR and speech industry for being duplicatable, with high return on investment (ROI) - both highly desirable qualities in a speech application. While the concepts driving their development are not particularly unique, the bridgeSpeak applications have proven to be high payback applications in both monetary and work environment terms.

Due to the fact that their target market - auto dealerships - have limited to no technical staff on board to tune and fix voice systems, when bridgeSpeak went to develop their application, they wanted one that would work out of the box, flawlessly, with no tuning. Adding to their desire to test every aspect of the system before deploying was the fact they chose a relatively new platform to deploy it on - Microsoft Speech Server 2004.  Hence the call to Empirix.

The Application
bridgeSpeak AR is a phone-based IVR solution for automotive dealerships. The solution consists of both inbound and outbound applications aimed at streamlining the dealer's business, improving customer service and their Customer Satisfaction Index (CSI) scores, a benchmark in the automotive dealership market. Using professionally recorded prompts and speech recognition, the system acts as an inbound auto-attendant and an outbound agent. By accessing the dealership's computer (DMS) system for customer records, customers are called proactively for:

  • Appointment reminders - Customers are called the day before an appointment to confirm, with the option to reschedule.
  • Missed appointment reminders - Customers are called if they miss an appointment, with a second opportunity to reschedule.
  • Parts notifications - Customers are notified that their special-order car parts are in as soon as the order is received.
  • Customer service follow-up - Customers are called after service to ensure that they were 100 percent satisfied with their experience.
  • Customer mining - Based on DMS customer data, the system can generate targeted business development campaigns such as scheduled service reminders, specials, recalls or sales events.

Using Hammer CallMaster 5.0, bridgeSpeak was able to test all aspects of the application from dialog flow to recognition accuracy of what callers spoke, mimicking the entire customer experience. During the process, Hammer CallMaster enabled bridgeSpeak to isolate a chronic, intermittent platform bug, along with some low level bugs, so that when the system was ready to deploy it was error free. In addition, Hammer CallMaster made it easy for bridgeSpeak to change dialog flow and do regression testing to see if the changes had impacted other parts of the application.

The Results
The Microsoft Speech Server and bridgeSpeak application performed flawlessly. In addition, here are some of the hard statistics on the benefits that bridgeSpeak customers have realized from using bridgeSpeak AR. The system has:

  • Received up to 30 percent better response rate for customer mining campaigns than similar postal mailer campaigns. In one customer instance, this led to more than $80,000 additional service business in just over six months.
  • Improved CSI by 3.6 percent, with traceable documentation of all CSI calls.
  • Expedited special-order parts turnover, with traceable documentation of all parts calls.
  • Produced a 75 percent reduction in the number of operator-handled calls, leading to better employee utilization.  For example, faster new car processing.

Beyond measurable results is the simple fact that the system improved the work environment and customer care situation. Before bridgeSpeak AR, the phone often would ring for a long time before it was answered. Now calls are answered promptly, customers aren't put on hold while a sales or service person is paged, and they get to the right party. An unintended side benefit showed that "silence is golden." The system has virtually eliminated the overhead paging systems of the dealerships, which had interrupted customers and employees alike by making people pause and listen to every page. The bridgeSpeak AR application with help from Empirix has really made the grade.

Have a cool, or noteworthy announcement? Please email me at nsj@jamisons.com

Nancy Jamison is the principal analyst at Jamison Consulting.  She can be reached at nsj@jamison.com .

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