Views from SpeechTEK 2011: Smartphones Set to Revolutionize Self-Service

NEW YORK (SpeechTEK 2011) — In the future your smartphone will be your indispensable guy or girl Friday. At least that’s what Bill Meisel, president of TMA Associates, predicted at SpeechTEK 2011.

“We’re already dependent on computers to do some of our thinking for us,” he said during Tuesday’s “The Role of Speech in Smartphones” breakout session.

Meisel pointed to a word-association study published in Science that asked participants to say the first word that came to mind when asked to name the biggest state in the United States. A sizable number of people responded, “Google.”

In the past five years, the mammoth explosion of smartphones has been hard to ignore, carrying big implications for self-service domains and contact centers. In the “IVR + Mobile = Better Customer Care” breakout session, Graham Allen, senior director of market and portfolio strategy for Convergys, said that 35 percent of U.S. cellphone users have smartphones—or 65 percent of those who earn more than $75,000 a year. Worldwide, the less affluent are buying the devices, too.

“People considered poorer are actually buying smartphones at the same rate as wealthy individuals,” Meisel said. “These things relate to whether they’re going to get work or not. Some call it a human right. The developing world accounts for half the sale of smartphones.”

The growth will only intensify. As much as 50 percent of the U.S. market is expected to have smartphones in 2012, according to Laura Bramschreiber, senior director of creative business solutions at West Interactive, who also presented in the “IVR + Mobile” session.

More targeted in its implications for speech, though, are Convergys’s findings from an internal survey of callers to the interactive voice response (IVR) systems they manage. The company found that 62 percent of customers who zero out of an IVR right away—who immediately demand an agent—would rather use a smartphone to complete a task than deal with an automated voice system. If this were to bear out in production, it could have a big impact on self-service and cost savings within the contact center.

Businesses don’t seem to be positioning themselves to reap the benefits of those findings, though. Convergys also did an informal and unscientific poll looking at vendors across verticals. They found that in several markets, such as finance/banking and real estate, nearly 100 percent of major vendors had smartphone apps. The numbers were dramatically lower in self-service: about 12 percent.

“I’m going to go out on a limb and say that part of the reason you’re not seeing take-up in self-service is tension between marketing and customer care divisions,” says Bramschreiber, conjecturing on the numbers in Allen’s presentation.

She suggests that while customers see the enterprises with which they deal as a unified, single voice, internally department lines don’t mesh with consumer expectations. So while smartphones present tremendous opportunities for speech, they’re also a harbinger of serious growing pains.

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