On Good Speaking Terms

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Measuring Results
Implementinga VUI is not a situation where you put the system in, turn it on andwalk away. Rather, the rollout is an iterative process that involvesrecording and observing how people are using the system, Van Gordonsays.

It's critical not only to tracespots where a caller may be getting confused, but also to recognizeways the system can become more efficient.

INI suggests that VUIs getre-examined every 12 to 18 months. The systems have progressivelyimproved as the technology has become more cost-effective andorganizations have become more familiar with best practices.

"The tools have madeit easier, but they don't provide inherent knowledge," Van Gordon says."It's rare to hit a home run right out of the gate."

There continues to be a wedgebetween a company's intent with its VUI systems and what real peopledo. "Most companies have no idea what people are doing in theirsystems," says Walter Rolandi, founder of The Voice User Interface Co.

Behind the technology, there is a psychological element involved in creating successfulVUI systems. Rolandi says VUIs should not sound too human because itsets unrealistic expectations. Pretending that a machine has a peppypersonality will irritate customers. Instead, he suggests a structureddialogue approach.

Matt Wright, president of RightVoice, a company that specializes in making the information andservices of enterprises, telecommunications networks, and the Internetsound crisp and professional, agrees that VUIs can't be too over thetop. "A lot of user interfaces can be too happy or cheery, and thatquickly goes from cute to annoying," he says. "Between each message,changing pitch is an important way to introduce a new idea in a waythat doesn't fatigue the listener. Less is always more."

For nitty-gritty transactions suchas getting prescription refills, users don't need a warm and invitingvoice. They want to complete the call quickly and effectively. Time ismoney. In a huge system fielding millions of calls, every secondimpacts the number of ports needed. Changing tone or inflection can cutcosts.

While customers have grownaccustomed to getting basic service on the Internet, the telephonepresents different expectations. "On a telephone, the precedentculturally is to talk," Rolandi says. "If they are calling with aproblem, like an error in their [electric] bill or too much money beingtransferred from one account to another, and they are not happy aboutit, they often need to talk to a person. But people will gladly usespeech automation if it is quicker and easier than doing the same thingwith a person."

Setting the appropriate tone iscritical. The decision to use a male or female voice may depend on thebrand or service. If a company is selling cosmetics, it may want to usea woman's voice that is slow and deliberate and puts the customer atease, Stern says.

"The voice, grammar, andterminology you choose all have to be aligned around the existing brandor it will be confusing to customers," he says.

"If you want to increase usercomfort level, you need to implement a system that accounts for dialectissues," he continues. "While you need to be focused on bottom-linenumbers, you also have to focus on customer retention and loyalty."

Rolandi suggests that if any ofthe call center reps are not doing anything, a service call should getrouted to that person. "People today are better informed about thelimitations of technology," he explains. "But in a lot of instances,they need to talk to a person. In these circumstances, the thing to dois to quickly get them to one."

That's as true of VUI as it is forhuman interactions. Successful decision tree construction comes down tothe details. Decisions need to be limited to a few choices or thecustomer will get frustrated and hang up. Conditions need to be splitinto the appropriate categories, such as ordering, billing, repair, andservice. Creating the right algorithm is the difference between successand failure. "It's about creating a natural call flow that delivers asmoother experience for the caller," INI's Van Gordon says.

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