What Callers Really Want from VUIs

NEW YORK (SpeechTEK 2008) -- Customers don't care about technology; they want service. That was the prevailing topic of the VUI Design Principles and Techniques track at the SpeechTek Conference at New York's Marriott Marquis today. 

"Your callers, really, if you had a bunch of mice running your technology, your callers would not know," said Moshe Yudkowsky, president of Disaggregate Consulting. "Your callers do not care about your technology. Technology is not what your customers want—what they want is service."  

Speakers in this track addressed often the importance of VUI designer's thinking about not only what a company may want, but what a customer may want when calling that company. The trick is figuring out how to make both happy.

During his talk, Yudkowsky asked his audience what they would want if they called someone and couldn't get through. The unanimous answer was: to talk to a personal assistant. What you're most likely to get, however, is a voicemail.

"The reason you made the call was something else entirely," he said. "There is a huge disconnect between what you want and what we're actually offering you."

When a person was trying to get a hold of someone 100 years ago and couldn't reach him, the personal assistant would take the message. Voicemail, he said, is simply a cheap solution to a personal assistant.

"We have to think about how this task was handled 100 years ago, and that will bring us some interesting solutions," Yudkowsky concluded.

Jenni McKienzie, a VUI designer for Travelocity, spoke during the same session about balancing what business owners want when designing IVR systems with what will make the experience easiest on the caller. In other words, mediating between giving a business what it wants and giving customers the service they want when they call.

"You have to figure out the actual problem beneath the solution you've been presented by the company," McKienzie said. "Does the caller actually share in this problem, or is it purely driven by business needs?"

If, as a designer, you decide that the caller has no problem and the business just wants to add things, McKienzie said, argue like crazy against it or minimize the impact if you lose. To do this, come up with a solution to the problem. Then present your new solution to the business owner along with the logic and data that drove you to it.

"Emphasize the caller experience over and over," McKienzie said. "It's your best argument."

"Sometimes we forget that we, or the people we're married to ,or our friends, use these solutions as well," David Martin, a principal consultant at Avaya, said during another session. He pointed out that oftentimes, VUI designers are more versed from the vendor's side than the client's.

"Sometimes less value is placed on what people don't understand," he said, adding that VUI design is really the fabric of vendor/client relationships.

In an example of how to balance business goals and caller needs, Martin talked about a U.S. newspaper's system to handle delivery issues. The current VUI process consisted of 13 steps because the newspaper was asking questions such as, "Was your paper missing a section? What section?" The questions, he said, were not always important because "all delivery issues resulted in a new paper being delivered." The new process trimmed the steps to six, which made both the caller and the business happy.

The secret when trying to address both the needs of the company and the customer, Martin said, is trust. "It's really about forming a trusting relationship with vendors and customers."

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