There are many factors that influence the decision to implement a speech technology solution into a call center. Such things as ROI, ease of integration, methodology, ect., all way heavily on the ultimate decision-Do I need speech in my call center? Many vendors have established programs to make these decisions easier for the client, while outlining the major steps involved in the process. While there are many different means by which to tackle this goal, the primary focus is the same for allkeep it simple. SpeechWorks has been a proponent of this methodology since October of 2001 with its introduction of SpeechWorks Here S.T.E.P. (Speech Technology Evaluation Process). This customer program is, as the title suggests, an evaluation process to help the customer along the decision path, with one goal in mindsuccess. It is a process that is intended to help companies carefully select and implement technology solutions that will meet their specific objectives and ROI goals. S.T.E.P. 1 is the SpeechWorks Here Application Discovery phase, where SpeechWorks helps potential customers and existing customers identify the best, first - or next - speech application for their organization. In S.T.E.P. 2, SpeechWorks Here Monetization, SpeechWorks provides potential customers with tools for analyzing the ROI and other economic results. S.T.E.P. 3, SpeechWorks Here Connections, introduces prospects to SpeechWorks' partners and helps customers choose the best options for implementation, and S.T.E.P. 4 offers customers the opportunity to take part in the SpeechWorks Here Guarantee, a money-back commitment to deliver caller satisfaction and on-time delivery. In S.T.E.P. 5, the SpeechWorks Here Market Accelerator Program, SpeechWorks consults with customers about their speech service go-to-market strategies and launch tactics for their speech service. A unique aspect to SpeechWorks process is S.T.E.P. 4, in which they ensure a highly successful implementation and fulfilling caller experience, while meeting time-to-market requirements and caller satisfaction goals. Thrifty Rental Cars to Bob DuPont, the staff vice president of reservations, felt the process ensured the success of their deployment. He said, The S.T.E.P. process was a definite help to us as we went through the evaluation of our needs and capabilities. When asked why Thrifty made such a significant investment in this new technology, DuPont said, "We wanted to offer our customers a full range of call center services from which to choose. These range from traditional 1-800 number call handling, to leading edge, interactive voice technology that is extremely efficient and easy to use. This is really a win for the customer and a win for us, in that it provides a dramatic enhancement to the service we offer our customers, while reducing our costs at the same time." The reservation center now uses the voice recognition system 24/7 and 40% of the millions of annual calls are routed through that system. "The SpeechWorks Here Guarantee represents a contractual agreement involving precisely defined measurement practices. It is a time-proven process articulated and offered to dozens of companies, involving significant pre-sales support such as specific specification phases, UI drafts, and more," said Steve Chambers, chief marketing officer at SpeechWorks, when asked to comment on his view of this guarantee. Nuance has recently devised a methodology for approaching this customer service issue, as well, which they announced at their annual partner conference, V-World, this past spring. This is a three-phase process, which they call the Customer Success Program. Phase 1 they call Plan for Success. In the first phase, they explore the opportunities for speech in the customers market space. They help pinpoint the best speech solution for that customers business needs. They also quantify the financial benefits and return on investment one can expect from implementing speech. In Phase 2, they actually Build the Solution. This second phase provides the customer with a process for developing speech applications. Typically, this stage involves engaging a solution partner from the Nuance Partner Alliance, and choosing the right deployment strategy for the specific speech solution. In conjunction with a deployment partner, the Nuance VUI Development team will craft the application design and engage in the Nuance Project Method. In Phase 3 comes Launch the Service. In this final phase, Nuance will help you plan and will provide insight to best practices that support your speech application launch. In this phase they will also assist in establishing ongoing customer satisfaction metrics. For customers interested in working with Nuance to develop a fully customized speech solution launch plan, they offer the Spotlight Program. The Spotlight Program helps spread the word about the new speech solution through public relations, advertising and direct marketing campaigns. For large speech projects, where Nuance is directly engaged to design, test and tune the voice user interface, they, like some other vendors provide a guarantee of the service. This is called the Nuance Performance Guarantee. This guarantee is intended to assure Nuances commitment to meet and exceed the Transaction Completion Rate (TCR) that is unique to each application. When Ron Croen, president and CEO of Nuance, was asked about the primary reason they have decided to implement this program, he said, "Nuance has delivered many speech solutions to many companies, and we actively apply that experience to ensure the ongoing success of customers around the world. We created the Nuance Customer Success Program to further simplify the process for customers and help them achieve tangible business results such as reduced operational costs, revenue generation and increased customer satisfaction, faster than ever before." Edify Corporation uses a system similar to that of SpeechWorks, in that the process is outlined in detailed stages for the customer, with an aim of helping the customer maximize the potential of speech recognition. Edify's Natural Language Solutions Group (NLSG) has prepared a presentation to review the key elements of a speech recognition purchase decision, and this presentation is currently being given to Edify customers around the world during Edify's "Edifcation On Tour". The NLSG takes the customer through a six-stage process in which they will answer such questions as, What speech engine should I use? and Is there a clear ROI for the increased cost of speech? Step 1 is called Application Discovery, in which questionnaire information is gathered and the initial report, highlighting the opportunities, is prepared. Step 2 contains the ROI Analysis, to ensure that the ROI estimation incorporates the impact of maximizing the quality of user experience yielding maximized automation rate. Step 3 is called the User Experience Vision. Edify utilizes User Journeys and Audio Storyboards establish the future user experience quality. In Step 4 comes the Performance Guarantee. Here edify communicates how they will optimize performance, as well as how they will measure it. Step 5 consists of the Proposal. The proposal communicates a well-defined scope, which limits Edifys potential exposure. And Step 6 is simply a Statement of Work, although needed to help realize the benefits of the guarantee. When questioned about his take on the guarantee offered in Step 4, Ted Bray, senior product manager of voice at Edify, said, The guarantee is an option for any Edify speech customer. It is designed to provide measurable, attainable objectives as a part of a speech deployment. The guarantee places defined requirements on both Edify and the customer during and after the speech deployment. Sometimes the customer elects not to include the guarantee option in the overall process, and other times they do. Bray added, The bottom line for the customer is that the speech solution is deployed as effectively and efficiently as possible, and that their customers adoption rates are high. So far, we are seeing much more customer focus and energy on user interface and speech dialog design than we are on the elements around the guarantee option. InterVoice-Brite takes an educational and consultative approach to understanding how self-service automation technologies can address customer service delivery, retention and cost. This process is called The InterVoice-Brite Application Discovery Program. The Application Discovery Program has the goal of finding and focusing on Automated Customer Self-Service applications that will provide the greatest benefits in terms of cost savings and efficient use of resources. The process also provides educational information about the use of automated communications solutions including Speech Recognition, Notification, and Computer-Telephony Integration (CTI). The Application Discovery Program is a two-stage process consisting of an Application Discovery Session and an Application Workshop. Application Discovery aims to provide recommendations for self-service automation applications through an interactive discovery session. In the session, InterVoice-Brite Automation Specialist(s) work with customers on evaluating the customer-facing areas of the business in terms of the communications and transactions performed. With customers' help - drawing from specific experiences, needs and procedures - the process identifies and defines the top candidates for automation in the Enterprise. Some specific consultative questions and tips that InterVoice-Brite inquires about and emphasizes to prospective customers during the discovery process to ensure the success of purchasing decisions of speech technology are outlined in Figure 1. Once the customer has determined that automation is a good fit for their company, InterVoice-Brite moves to the second stage, the Application Workshop. During the workshop, InterVoice-Brite will bring in an Application Development Professional(s) to work in a collaborative session with the customer's business, marketing and technical Subject Matter Experts. The goal is to further refine the business and application requirements for the application recommendations made in the Discovery Session. During the Application Workshop, customers will receive an Application Scope of Work that documents the scope of the applications and the technical infrastructure. This document will define applications, and it will also provide information on the timeframes and the level of effort required to ensure a successful implementation. "As part of InterVoice-Brite's OneVoice Global Care Services offering, our Application Discovery Program is one of many exploratory measures taken during our Design Phase to ensure application effectiveness, resource maximization and identification of functional requirements for our customers' environments," said Bob Ritchey, president of InterVoice-Brite Enterprise Solutions. "Because of our strong heritage and expertise in voice technology, we work consultatively with our customers throughout each phase of the implementation process to design successful speech applications that will ultimately stimulate use and impact service levels." Syntellect has taken a slightly different approach to customer satisfaction and ease of implementation with the development of its Solutions Consulting Team (SCT). The SCT was developed to support Syntellects focus on its Vista IMR (Interactive Media Response) installed based clients. Vista IMR is a solution intended to combine the Internet, wired and wireless telephony, and the use of natural language voice commands to promote anytime, anywhere communication between the enterprise and its customers, employees, suppliers, partners and investors. The goal of the Solutions Consulting Team is to support the extension of speech technology into the enterprise and identify applications that will be most impacted by a speech application. The SCTs primary objective is to establish a "trusted business and systems advisor" relationship with senior client management and work closely with them to develop an understanding of their business strategy, identifying ways Syntellect solutions can be used to enhance the their overall competitive position. While meeting with the client, Syntellect walks them through IMR Strategy and Technology Planning, which involves periodic reviews and a roadmap. This is the perspective for the long-term. Then begins the Business Opportunity Assessment and Speech Technology Planning. This is where such things as business issues and impacts, high level business requirements and proof of the concept are addressed. Next, comes the Business Requirements Specification for Complex Solutions phase. This is where a detailed scope of the work is defined, terms of the engagement are agreed upon, and the project plan and resource requirements are outlined. This strategy is aimed at helping the client understand the impact changes will have on the organization, and incorporate appropriate suggestions for mitigating and achieving the desired transition to new systems. When asked about his thoughts on this system, Mark Skoog, director of corporate marketing for Syntellect, said, So many enterprises feel strongly that speech can offer great advantages to their organization but don't really know how to go about identifying the opportunities, quantifying the potential benefits and putting together a plan to implement a solution. That is why we formed our Solutions Consulting business. Our customers and prospects have found it very valuable. Making the wrong decision can be costly. According to USA today, tech spending accounts for 4.2% of gross domestic product. ("Companies squander billions on tech", Jim Hopkins and Michelle Kessler, USA Today, 5/20/02) In the same article Morgan Stanley estimates that U.S. companies threw away $130 billion in the past two years buying the wrong technology, buying too much or by not implementing technology properly. On the other hand, the right speech solution, properly implemented can reduce costs and improve customer service. Clearly, as demonstrated by the variety of approaches illustrated in this article, there is ample support from speech technology vendors to help any company contemplating the implementation of a speech solution avoid making the wrong decision. And while each has its own support methodology, it is also clear that the ultimate measure of success for all is a satisfied customer. Mike Terry is the editor for Speech Technology Magazine. He can be reached at email@example.com.