Interactive Digital: The Effective Use of Adaptation in VUI Design

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In a previous column (Speech Technology magazine, April 2007, Voice Value), I mentioned how SpeechCycle vastly improved on a virtual customer service representative’s (CSR’s) ability to perform unstructured problem-solving within complex transactions. Another area of voice application design aimed at improving automation results is adaptive interaction, which simply is the speech application adapting to the preferences of the callers, along with conditions of the call and caller, to personalize and improve upon the interaction. To explain and demonstrate the value of such technology, I chose Adaptive Audio, a patented technology developed by Interactive Digital, of Smithtown, N.Y. (www.interactive-digital.com).

Even with well-designed scripts and call flows, personalization from caller history, more accurate ASR, and better grammars, most speech applications are still static and don’t adjust in real time to caller dynamics. Try as we might to design great systems, each individual has his own pattern of speaking, level of comprehension, and hand-eye coordination skills (used for entering touchtone responses). Each person also has his own level of concentration and willingness to use automated systems. Even the speed at which we speak varies widely, as the average English-speaking rate ranges from 130 to 200 words per minute. Comprehension rates similarly vary, with speed decreasing as complexity rises. The result is that, although we can really improve individual caller interaction, there still exists the opportunity to greatly improve results by having the system adapt to these real-time variables.

What Is Adaptive Audio?

Interactive Digital’s Adaptive Audio is overlay technology that takes into account the environmental variables of the call, the individuality of the caller, and her in-call behavior to tune interactions with callers. Just as a good CSR naturally adjusts to call conditions and the type of caller with whom she is presented, Adaptive Audio listens to how callers behave and adjusts the audio responses accordingly, thereby emulating effective human-to-human communication.

Using Adaptive Audio, the system can adjust the playback speed of a speech system and the caller response time thresholds that trigger a change in speed or message content. Thus, with experienced callers, playback speed can be increased, and with inexperienced callers, speed can be decreased. Similarly, inexperienced callers can trigger the system to slow down the prompts and provide a greater level of detail. In essence, Adaptive Audio listens for signs from the caller that she understands what is said and is comfortable with the speed of the dialogue.

Interactive Digital’s Adaptive Audio is software used with existing speech systems. The software works with both VoiceXML and proprietary IVR solutions, and doesn’t rely on information gleaned from customer databases, Web-based profiles, or caller automatic number identification (ANI). Adaptive Audio continuously monitors caller behavior, including speech and DTMF input speed and accuracy and the length of time it takes for the caller to reply to a prompt.

Initially, the software listens to callers to gather a calibration sample to profile caller behavior. After gathering sufficient data, it applies that data to automatically adjust the number of words per minute or the voice message content delivery to callers of particular skill levels, in real time. Profiles are built for different types of callers against which caller behavior can be matched.

Adaptive Audio provides its greatest payback in applications with longer length and complexity. Interactive Digital customer studies have shown that for these types of applications, average handle time rates dropped anywhere from 7.8 percent to 15.3 percent. Average handle rates also
increased as power users stuck with the system longer, providing savings of 1 percent to 5 percent.

Interactive Digital already partners with many IVR and speech vendors that tout the benefits of personalization in applications. For those of you who have not checked it out, if you believe in the cost savings and customer service gains that can be achieved through personalization, you should think about incorporating Adaptive Audio into your toolkit.

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

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