Speech Poised to Dominate Mobile Market

In Bill Meisel’s vision of the future, the main interface modality with your phone will be your voice.

Meisel, president of TMA Associates, laid out a fairly positive assessment of speech technology’s future at this year’s SpeechTEK conference, claiming that in the future visual and textual modes will be “alternative and supplementary” to speech, and that the largely negative view the masses have of speech is dissipating and will continue to dissipate.

Meisel acknowledges that in its early contact with mainstream users, speech saw bad implementations and bad design—particularly in the interactive voice response (IVR) space—that hurt public perceptions of its abilities. However, he points to a number of recent high profile speech applications like Google’s free directory assistance, Goog411, or the multi-vendor collaboration with Ford Motors on the Ford Sync as products that are proving useful and likeable to a wide swath of consumers.

“Impressions are changed by more friendly applications,” he says. “People are now seeing speech recognition in more places, like the car, and they’re getting more familiar.”

He points out that Ford sells twice as many cars with Sync than without and that Apple Computers has made the speech capabilities on its iPod one of its main sells in promotional materials

With regard to his claim that phones will be operated primarily via voice in the future, Meisel explains that phones are becoming integral parts of everyday life. He waves his over his head, telling the crowd that it’s his personal assistant. As he and others expect phones to do more, graphic interfaces on phones—largely mobile analogs of Web-interfaces in his estimation—are going to get visually cluttered with their own multifarious functionalities. They will, in short, become untenable to maintain.

“Voice is going to be the dominant interface instead of navigating 28 icons,” Meisel insists.

Moreover, he adds that users aren’t looking for a personal computer in their phones. “They have enough trouble with that,” he says.

Meisel was joined by Philip Hunter, the principal strategist and designer for Design - Outloud, in the session. Hunter had his own vision for the future of speech and the end user. His focus was directed at contact center and IVRs. Hunter, however, left technological issues aside and fixed his sights squarely on user experience.

“I think we’ve done a lot [on the technology side] over the past few years and maybe enough for the time being. I want to focus on how were using it,” Hunter says.

He argues that advances in technology are, for most intents and purposes, pretty invisible to end-users.

“Speech is the same as DTMF,” he says. “The interaction style is the same, but our customers don’t really care when it comes to interaction. Interaction modalities are the same as others.”

What makes a difference in customer experience is how useful and easy a system is, not the underlying technology. Too often, Hunter says, enterprises focus on technological solutions to problems that might be handled more effectively with better design. He takes the problem of callers becoming frustrated and angry, for instance, and asks why an enterprise should spend a significant amount of money to install emotional detection capabilities to route callers to an agent when they get angry, rather than trying to figure out what the problem generating the hostility is and deal with it head on.

He points to a statistic that Paul Greenberg, president of the 56 Group, noted in his keynote address at SpeechTEK on Monday: only about a third of contact center callers expect to be satisfied.

“That’s a horrifying statistic,” Hunter says.

Both he and Meisel agree that contact centers that don’t work hard to give customers a quality experience are missing out on major opportunities to build customer relationships. These disaffected callers are also customers, Hunter declares. They’re already buying from a given enterprise and if they were handled properly, they might be enticed to buy more.

Meisel, for his part, goes as far as suggesting that maybe a portion of an enterprise’s advertising budget and creative staff ought to be allocated to the contact center. He points out that these centers are getting billions of voluntary calls that remain largely unexploited.

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