The 2016 State of the Speech Technology Industry: Contact Center Outsourcing

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Ragsdale was especially excited by this year's acquisition of Telligent by Verint, which had previously acquired Kana in 2014. Verint, which already implemented speech recognition, social monitoring, and customer satisfaction in its Actionable Intelligence solutions for customer engagement optimization, now can add Telligent's community channel to its suite of context solutions.

"They can start mining community conversations," Ragsdale says. "They can detect trends through analyzing text in those communities, but they can also detect customers moving from one channel to another. For instance, if an outsourcer detects a customer is moving from the community or getting fed up, the outsourcer can trigger a phone call to the customer. So far, Verint is the only company that has all of those capabilities in a single platform."

When asked if any outsourcers were deploying natural language understanding to community and social channels, Ragsdale was intrigued by the prospect. "Coveo just came out with a machine-learning version of their product that can start predicting what people are going to ask, and regardless of how a customer phrases a question, it's going to give the right answer most of the time," he says. Though no speech or language technologies are currently being used to moderate communities, Ragsdale sounds optimistic. "If we can build these avatars that can anticipate and answer a question, then we should be able to do the same thing in the community."

The Evolving Role of Speech Technology

With omnichannel as the big trend and social and community incorporation as the enterprise frontier, the question of speech technology's role in contact center outsourcing remains.

"There are still billions of dollars spent on care, feeding, and maintenance of IVR platforms, and that's where Nuance, Avaya, Genesys, Cisco Systems, and Interactive Intelligence have been selling port-based IVRs," says Dan Miller, lead analyst and founder of Opus Research. "It's like a $3.5 billion dollar industry. There's serious money spent on speech in the enterprise contact center. And then there's this new model that moves the focus to natural language understanding and rendering either as chat or voice."

Jacobs asserts that the increased reliance on chat and other self-service channels by customers and clients alike is in turn increasing how competent traditional channels like call centers are required to be.

"Inquiries that actually do come into the call centers are actually more complex and customers seem to be a bit more frustrated because they already tried self-service and failed," he notes. "Our old idea of tier-two agents is becoming more what tier one is now. And tier three is collapsing into tier two."

And while most of the industry now seems to be focusing on leveraging natural language understanding to employ chat or voice artificial intelligence solutions, Ragsdale points out that speech as a channel is being left out of the omnichannel knowledge base. "Speech is really the lost channel," he says. "We've got text from the emails and the chat interactions, but so much of these voice interactions could be incredibly valuable information—the type of information that's in every call center conversation and we're not recording and leveraging today."

Tye Pemberton is a freelance writer based in Linwood, N.J. He can be reached at tyepemberton@gmail.com.

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