The 2016 State of the Speech Technology Industry: Interactive Voice Response

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Delivering Omnichannel Customer Experiences

Another trend is integrating the IVR into the overall customer experience rather than have it operate as a stand-alone system designed to reduce call center agents' workloads. One seemingly never-ending challenge is having customers repeat personal information as they move from agent to agent or channel to channel. In fact, the Aspect Consumer Experience survey found that nearly one in five consumers think they get bounced around from agent to agent far too often.

To lower those numbers, tighter integration between the IVR and mobile apps, chat, SMS, and visual experiences is needed. "IVRs have begun transitioning from interactive voice response systems to interactive multimedia response solutions," says Joe Gagnon, senior vice president and general manager of Cloud Solutions at Aspect.

Businesses benefit from the change. "The younger generation is quite willing to figure out how to solve a problem themselves," Spraetz notes. "The challenge is providing them with the right tools on their mobile devices so they can take that step." Enabling them to fix their own problem on a mobile device reduces agent interactions and lowers operating costs.

Improving the Customer Experience

A richer customer experience is also possible if different channels are connected. Nuance Communications' Pal outlined a change that Delta Airlines made: Previously, a text message notified a customer whenever a flight was canceled, but when consumers called the contact center, the agent had no idea who they were; now, the agent knows that the client's flight was canceled and she needs to book another one.

The use of cloud technology is also becoming more common. "Two years ago, about nine out of ten of our customers bought premises-based systems," Gagnon states. "In 2015, the ratio was about fifty-fifty, and I expect it to shift to twenty-five percent premises/seventy-five percent cloud in 2016." Customers turn to the cloud to reduce their up-front costs and lower their deployment and maintenance duties.

Biometrics Gain a Voice

Voice biometrics, which uses voice exchanges to authenticate customers, is another hot area. Nuance marketed the technology for about a decade and generated $10 million in revenue. In 2015 alone, the company earned $10 million, according to Nuance Communications' Pal.

A couple of factors are driving the growth. First, new identification techniques have emerged. In an active voice biometrics solution, the customer recites a series of specific phrases, which are used to establish her unique voice print. In the future, the person must remember and submit the specific phrase to be authenticated. Passive voice biometrics does not require that the customer recite a specific phrase. Instead, this approach records the user’s unique voice print during an initial conversation, which typically lasts about a minute. Later, the voice print is compared to what is said the next time the caller dials into the contact center.

The growing problems with existing security techniques are another reason why voice biometrics is gaining traction. "Consumers understand that there are more individuals trying to illegally access their data," Pal says. Consequently, they are more willing to have vendors use new techniques to verify their identity. Voice biometrics is less intrusive and simpler to use than complex passwords and challenge questions, like "Tell us the name of your first pet." Voice technology is gaining traction in the financial services companies' fraud departments and working its way toward the contact center.

For decades, voice self-service was customers' only option when dealing with their supplier. Now consumers have more channels and choices, but vendors have improved their voice solutions and tied them to these other channels. As a result, voice self-service continues to be a viable self-service option, one not yet ready for retirement. 

Paul Korzeniowski is a freelance writer who specializes in technology issues. He has been covering speech recognition issues for more than a decade and is based in Sudbury, Mass. You can send him a note at paulkorzen@aol.com or follow him on Twitter at @PaulKorzeniowsk.

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