Speech Shows Its Worth in a Down Economy

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Amid the gloomy economic forecasts and endless press coverage of layoffs and business closures, IT spending, no doubt, isn’t top of mind at many firms. But there is a definite reason to be optimistic when it comes to speech technologies. In talking with vendors, it’s apparent that customers are being cautious and have put some projects on hold, but they aren’t halting projects entirely. In most cases, the nature of what customers are asking for has, instead, changed. 

What customers want in cash-strapped times are applications that increase customer service while using fewer resources. Customer retention on a shoestring is a theme that has been raised over and over again. Applications now filling the sales pipeline are those that:

  • can be quickly deployed; 
  • pay for themselves;
  • have an immediate revenue impact;
  • are very tactical;
  • are quantifiable; and
  • provide high customer retention.

Voxify, a provider of integrated speech solutions, is seeing high demand for applications that have an immediate revenue impact, particularly interactive outbound applications that increase customer retention and revenue. In the insurance and healthcare verticals, which remain strong for speech deployments, Voxify has deployed outbound speech applications to remind customers of prescription refills, for example. Pharmacy customers view the courtesy calls as a convenient service and are refilling their prescriptions soon thereafter. With conversion rates of more than 20 percent, pharmacies are increasing customer retention and capturing revenue from customers who might have gone elsewhere. 

Voxify also has implemented speech applications to provide test results to patients, another convenient customer service that increases loyalty and revenue. Voxify notes that demand exists across many verticals for interactive outbound applications to regain lost revenue through automated bill collection. 

IP telephony, contact center, and unified communication purveyor Avaya has seen similar interest in outbound applications, particularly for alerts and notifications, which are costly if done with live agents. In a recent customer service deployment, Avaya set up automated appointment reminders for service calls that resulted in a 25 percent decline in no-shows. At an estimated rate of $50 to $400 per truck roll for a service technician, this can add up to a significant savings.

In the current economy, companies are also putting voice verification projects on hold unless the immediate business impact is apparent. Password reset applications fall into that category, with Softel, a systems integrator and professional services organization for contact centers and unified communications, seeing strong demand for them in particular. With estimates of between $9 and $40 per customer call, resetting passwords is a costly burden to IT support staff and is ideally suited for automation through speech.

Security’s a Concern 

And even though the finance sector is  showing reluctance to engage in new projects, interest is still high in using voice verification to help prevent identity theft, according to Convergys. Convergys also says that voice verification is a boon to the insurance industry, which can enroll new policyholders over the phone with their voices as their signatures, ensuring that their policies go into effect that same day rather than the typical 10 days it would take to send out paperwork and have the customer sign and return it. Such delays leave the door open for a customer to change his mind in the interim. 

Don’t count out the impact of speech technologies on emerging solution areas either. Despite the economy, unified communications, which uses text-to-speech, speech recognition, and speech-to-text for reading information, providing choices of message delivery to users, and enabling users to command and control applications or search for information using their voices, is a growing area too. 

Finally, speech analytics is being added to contact centers to bolster customer retention, save costs through higher first-call resolution, pinpoint potential areas for agent training, improve service quality, and increase agent productivity.

Nancy Jamison is the principal analyst at Jamison Consulting. She can be reached at nsj@jamisons.com or at www.jamison-consulting.com.

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