Naturally, It's About Customer Experiences

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What is natural language processing? Speech technology vendors claim they have it, but many industry experts can’t agree on its definition. It’s a common practice for vendors in many industries to expand or contrast—and sometimes completely twist—an established definition of a particular technology in ways that benefit them. This tactic is used as an attempt to set them apart from competitors, but often adds to industry confusion. 

“Vendors have used natural language to mean everything under the sun, and it has kind of lost its meaning now,” says one industry consultant in the cover story, “I’m Sorry, Dave, I’m Afraid I Can’t Do That” (page 14), by Editorial Assistant Adam Boretz. The consultant later states that most people assume it amounts to something like the intelligent and free-spoken HAL 9000 from the film 2001: A Space Odyssey—the inspiration behind this story’s headline. While the speech technology industry is nowhere near HAL 9000’s level of natural language sophistication, some interesting developments from Nuance Communications and SpeechCycle are featured in the cover story.

While these developments are available for commercial use, some people aren’t yet comfortable with open-ended prompts, and, when prompted to speak, they freeze. This is an important issue if your organization is considering a natural language system. Read the feature story, “But Is It Natural?” (page 20), by Editorial Assistant Eric Barkin, to learn some tips on avoiding callers’ “performance anxiety.” For natural language systems to take off, customers need to be comfortable with them. “Until this whole thing is seen as a total customer experience, what we’re able to do just within an IVR is going to be fairly limited,” one industry consultant in this feature states.

Thankfully, many companies already understand that they need to focus on improving their customer experiences. In fact, when Aberdeen Group recently asked survey respondents to state their top drivers for implementing speech analytics in their contact centers, 66 percent responded with “to improve the customer experience.” Read more about these findings in the column “Speech Analytics Delivers the Insight” (page 42) to see how speech analytics can help your organization. 

Naturally, in a challenging economy, it’s difficult to make a case for new technology investments. But when technology promises to cut business expenses, it’s definitely worth a look. Many speech solutions have matured to the point where they not only cut costs, but also improve customer experiences. To see these solutions firsthand, attend this year’s SpeechTEK conference, which will be held at the New York Marriott Marquis from August 24–26. (Visit www.SpeechTEK.com for conference updates and registration information.) You may not be able to get attendees—and especially vendors—to agree on the definition of natural language, but you can count on a lot of learning and networking opportunities. 

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