Dial In and Speak Up

“Hello and welcome to Acme Financial Services. What information can I get for you today?” “I need my account balance.” “Sure thing. Please say your name or account number?” “Jamie Smith.” “Thanks. Now in order for me to access that information, I will need the last four digits of your social security number.” “Oh… OK, that’s 8756.” “Your account balance is $3,456.99.” Speech recognition is changing the way companies “talk” with customers, relay specific information and express their brand. This basic fact prompts the questions: Why are more companies implementing voice-driven self-service solutions? And How is speech changing the face (or voice) of customer service? One of the greatest challenges facing companies today is managing the everincreasing volume of interactions with customers, prospects, employees, vendors and partners. At the same time, companies are struggling to reduce the cost of these interactions, improve customer care, satisfaction and retention, and differentiate themselves from the competition. Enter speech recognition. Speech delivers significant business value to enterprises and telecommunications carriers worldwide including reduced operational costs, increased automation rates, increased customer satisfaction and retention, additional revenue opportunities and enhanced security. Speech solutions are widely deployed in a range of industries including financial services, government, healthcare, insurance, retail, telecommunications, travel and utilities. Speech provider Nuance has seen many of its customers including UBS, Charles Schwab and Bell Canada, implement speech to connect callers with needed information. UBS banking and investment customers in Switzerland can access account information in four languages, anytime — with speech. Charles Schwab automated more than 25 million calls in 2002 using speech recognition, and more than 50 percent of speech users rate the speech-enabled service a five out of five for customer satisfaction. And Bell Canada’s 310-BELL customer service line, which handles 26 million residential calls each year, rolled out a speech recognition system in the form of a persona named “Emily.” The results: $3.2 million saved in misdirected calls, a reduction by 87 percent of touchtone system customer complaints, and ROI payback in less than a year. Speech saves customers the time and hassle of waiting on hold or navigating through complex touchtone menu trees. Speech allows customers to get information, conduct transactions and make phone calls — all with voice commands. But just how prevalent is speech these days? And how are U.S. consumers adapting to and benefiting from speech? Nuance commissioned Harris Interactive to examine consumers’ comfort level with speech systems to answer these questions. The survey, conducted in March 2003, included a sample of 326 individuals that accurately reflected the general population/demographics of the United States Participants were screened to include only those who have completed a transaction via a speech recognition program within the last three months. The study was not limited to any particular speech vendor’s system; thus, it provides an objective and comprehensive picture of consumers’ experience with speech-based systems. One of the survey’s first findings was that the number of speech users in the general population is growing. Nearly one of every two people surveyed had reported using a speech system during the past three months, and among this group, 66 percent encounter speech regularly. When asked what industries respondents associated with speech systems, telecommunications, financial and utilities ranked at the top of the list, along with retail, health care, shipping and travel. Those surveyed reported the most common types of applications they encountered were those that connected callers with customer service or specific account information. Other speech system types that registered on respondents’ radar were telephony directory assistance, airline flight status information and automated bill pay applications. Not only are consumers recognizing various speech system types, they are experiencing a greater comfort level while interacting with them. Sixty-one percent of those surveyed are highly satisfied with their most recent speech encounter. Also, speech users’ current satisfaction levels can be correlated with their likelihood to use speech in the future: 56 percent of users indicated they will “definitely” or “probably” use the speech system again, while only seven percent said they would avoid the speech system in the future. Speech functionality also proved to be an integral part of consumers’ comfort level with speech. More than 70 percent of users agreed that speech systems were easy to use, while two-thirds concurred that speech systems were efficient and provided the information they needed. More than 75 percent of those surveyed stated that speech was “convenient” and “easily accessible,” and two-thirds agreed that speech provided accurate information and eliminated time spent waiting for agents. Companies deploying speech are seeing both boosted customer satisfaction levels and a high percentage of repeat speech system users. Respondents also reported a clear preference for speech over keypad and touchtone entry. In fact, nine out of 10 users said they derive greater value from using a speech system versus a traditional keypad system. And 70 percent said their overall customer service experience would be improved if speech were used instead of touchtone. Overall, consumers recognized speech as a fast and efficient means to needed information, providing greater speed and accessibility over Web/online access or “live” support. “The industry will see an even greater saturation of the consumer marketplace with speech as companies identify more creative applications for speech technology; basically, wherever there is consumer data to be automated, you’ll find speech,” said Judy Levine, marketing principal, Nuance. “And with worldwide investments in speech recognition accelerating (predicted to jump from $695 million in 2002 to $1.4 billion by 2004 according to Datamonitor), both companies and customers are voicing their approval of speechbased speechbased systems.” Clearly, the Harris Interactive speech satisfaction survey affirms that a sizeable, broad segment of the U.S. population encounters speech on a regular basis — and consumers’ responses indicate they are comfortable and confident using speech. This satisfaction with speech carries over into respondents’ perceptions of those companies deploying speech systems; descriptors such as “progressive,” “contemporary” and “innovative” were used to describe those companies using speech. Also, companies deploying speech are seeing quantitative and qualitative benefits; a friendly, easy-to-use speech interface resulted in a stable, satisfied customer base. And, user acceptance of speech systems resulted in increased automation rates, reduced call volume and reduced costs of handling customer calls. In other words, both businesses and consumers are reaping the rewards of speech.
Karen Chiarelli is a senior research director at Harris Interactive. She can be reached at 877-919-4765.
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