Larry Miller, President and CEO, and Steve Pollock, Executive Vice President, TuVox
Congratulations on your new position as president and CEO of TuVox. What brought you back to the speech industry?
Larry Miller Thank you. My roots are in customer service. I've spent nearly 20 of the past 25 years managing or delivering solutions to customer service organizations. This is my passion. I left the contact center industry four years ago because I saw tremendous potential in leveraging the emerging Internet infrastructure by creating next-generation technology to enable the delivery of enterprise-class applications over the Web. When I saw the conversational speech technology that co-founders Steve Pollock, Ashok Khosla and the TuVox team have built, I realized that they had developed next-generation technology for the speech and contact center industries and I had to find a way to become a part of it. It is a rare opportunity to join a company that will absolutely change an industry, which is precisely what TuVox is doing. That is why I'm here.
What is your current outlook for TuVox?
LM Very bright. My prediction is that the TuVox Conversational Voice Response (CVR™) solution will completely change the way companies think about, deploy and use speech applications. We are fortunate to have a number of highly referenceable, brand name customers, such as TiVo, Activision and others that are helping us prove this out. TuVox' unique (patent pending) technology has been called "disruptive" by some industry analysts. This technology enables us to develop and deliver high quality, conversational speech applications that have simply never been done in the industry. TuVox' applications exploit the self-service content that enterprises have already created for their web site and the customer service and support applications that their CSR's use. These applications go far beyond the current emphasis on automated transactions. Without TuVox' unique technology, building, deploying and supporting these types of applications would be impractical and unaffordable. For example, a typical TuVox application consists of several thousand dialogs, compared with a few hundred dialogs contained in typical speech applications today. TuVox' unique technology allows us to develop and deploy this substantial amount of content in one-tenth the time of other automated speech technologies.
What are your short-term and long-term goals for the company?
LM Short term, over the next 12 months, we intend to increase revenues by at least 10 times, establish 3-5 key strategic partnerships, deliver 2-3 new major product releases and achieve positive cash flow. Going forward, we will continue to capitalize on our current and future product capabilities, build upon our referenceable marquee customer base and establish a number of key partnerships to accelerate growth and expand our market presence. Long term, we intend to establish TuVox as the undisputed leader in providing affordable, high quality, next-generation conversational speech application software.
TuVox was the first company to sign up for the Speech Solutions CHALLENGE, an event that will take place at SpeechTEK 2003 on September 29. Why did TuVox decide to participate?
LM Let's see..."six hours to devise and deploy the most flexible and sophisticated solution possible for a pre-selected application." If that doesn't give us the opportunity to back up our claims of TuVox' "disruptive," rapid deployment technology, I don't know what will. As a relatively new company, we are not yet that well known. The Speech Solutions CHALLENGE gives us a very visible opportunity to tell the market that, before you make a decision on a speech application platform, you should call TuVox. We are confident that we can beat our competitors on cost, speed and functionality. In fact, TuVox guarantees quantifiable results to its customers. This is a great opportunity to demonstrate how we can do that.
You have been involved in deploying contact center solutions for a number of years. What technology challenges are impacting your customers today that they did not have to focus on in past years? What should contact center managers be doing to overcome these challenges?
LM First, the rate at which new technology is being introduced continues to increase, making it difficult to stay ahead of the curve, or just keep up. Second, the number of technology platforms and components (CRM, ACD, IVR, ASR, VXML, Knowledge Base, Web Apps, etc.) required to establish and maintain a high performing, cost-effective contact center can be overwhelming. Third, the number of players with similar technology and business value messages makes it difficult to determine which solution is truly best for a particular contact center. To overcome these challenges, call center managers should choose technology solutions that are based on open standards and are independent of specific platforms, rather than locking themselves into proprietary platforms. It is important to create a contact center architecture that enables rapid, efficient upgrades of individual technology components as newer technologies become available. In addition, new technology solutions should be chosen based on quantifiable business value and sound return-on-investment analysis. When choosing automation solutions, contact center managers should take the time to understand exactly how quickly they will see a return and how much of a return they should expect. Taking this a step further, I would recommend that they ask the technology vendors to guarantee results under a pay-for-performance contract. If the vendor has confidence in their solution, there should be no resistance to this model.
We hear a lot about how customers are not served when organizations automate customer service. What do you think is the right balance between great customer service and automation?
Steve Pollock For most callers, the ideal standard is a courteous, well trained (live) agent who is immediately available. However, shrinking product and service margins have forced businesses to shrink service budgets, and that 'live agent standard' isn't an option. The customer service manager needs to optimize a mix of live agents, outsourced agents, web-self service, service policies and fees, and of course voice self-service. Automation, done well, provides great customer service. Automation, done poorly, costs far more than it saves, particularly in how it affects customer satisfaction. In other words, it is both the quality and capability of the technology combined with the design of the application that determines caller adoption and acceptance. A key factor in automation design that contributes to caller adoption is choice. When designing an automation application, it is important to give the caller choices. For example, a caller who would not typically prefer interacting with an automated application may actually choose automation if the alternative is waiting in a queue for several minutes. Where it's possible, you can also offer the caller the ability to try self-service while waiting in the queue. Many times, simply providing the customer multiple options (waiting on hold, web self-service, automation, etc.) will accelerate utilization and acceptance of automated applications.
Please discuss a couple of examples of deployments and explain why your client was interested in speech and the results from the deployments.
LM One of our earliest customers, Activision noticed that more than 60 percent of their calls were from customers with problems that were relatively simple to answer. Since these frequent calls were tying up highly trained technical support professionals, they looked to speech technology to provide a solution. Activision wanted a filtration process to walk customers through a problem diagnostic tree and identify a solution that would then be given to them via the speech recognition system. If the solution to their problem didn't exist, the application would transfer them to a live technical support representative. Activision had investigated several standard ASR solutions, but found the total cost of the technology, application design and deployment to be too expensive to drive a return on investment that made sense. They chose the TuVox CVR solution because the feature set and rapid deployment capability drove a compelling ROI. The first complete application was delivered four weeks, with a second application delivered in just six weeks. The entire application consists of over 300 knowledge base articles and over 3000 dialogs. Today, the TuVox application handles 50 percent of all calls into Activision's contact center without ever reaching an agent. The TiVo application (discussed below) was deployed in 14 weeks, including complete CTI integration. After 60 days in production, the TuVox application is handling more than 30 percent of calls into TiVo's contact center without reaching an agent. TiVo is planning on automating additional applications on their TuVox platform, which will further increase their percentage of fully automated calls.
Tell us about your recent news concerning TiVo's automated knowledge base.
SP TiVo is an increasingly recognized brand in the home television services business based on their digital video recorder. If you've spent much time plugging together audio/visual components, you know that questions can come up even with basic installation. TiVo has done a great job with in-box and on-device help. Even so, many customers need help with a variety of tasks, from installation to troubleshooting. As with many other businesses, the customer's first inclination and preference is often to call on the phone, so TuVox built a system for TiVo that provides a substantial amount of self-service help to customers using speech-recognition based automation. The system is able to emulate a live agent for a wide variety of topics, helping diagnose problems and providing step-by-step instructions for troubleshooting and resolving problems. Depending on a customer's call, the call may be immediately transferred to a live agent, or the system will try to field the call. The system is available 24/7 and is an alternative to waiting in a queue. Callers are able to control the system with commands like "wait," "repeat," "new question" and so forth.
What separates the TuVox CVR from some of its competitors?
SP TuVox CVR is a fundamental re-think in how to build and utilize voice automation. It opens up a much wider range of information to be automated, extending beyond basic "transactional" automation and opens up knowledge-type interactions. This is made possible by a breakthrough in the cost and timeframe for application development that is ten times faster than traditional techniques for building dialogs and grammars. It allows TuVox to build 'smarter' applications, which have a richer set of interaction capabilities and to build application agents that know more. TuVox CVR creates voice application agents that have literally thousands of dialogs. These applications can then be deployed and managed on a variety of VXML platforms and ASR engines. The CVR design also allows for other significant innovations that we will be announcing over the coming quarters, which will continue to expand how call centers will think of and use speech automation.