Speech Technology Magazine Cover

July/August 2002

Magazine Features

"Smart" Call Centers

Call centers present a ripe opportunity for trying out intelligence-based natural language application software - that is, software that responds to intuitive voice commands, instead of depending on the menu driven, directed dialog approach in which a caller is asked a set of tedious questions one at a time (city of origin, destination city, date of travel, etc.). One obvious benefit of this kind of software is that fully interactive conversational dialog can provide a call center with enough information to assess whether the caller needs to be transferred to a human agent - a very important determination for making proper use of an increasingly scarce and costly resource.

Cost Justifying a Great VUI

With the cost of the Voice User Interface (VUI) accounting for half the total cost of ownership for a speech project, it is critical that enterprises evaluating speech better understand the value that a high quality VUI brings. One key hurdle to evaluating investment in the VUI is the subjective criteria that do not lend themselves well to financial analysis. It’s difficult to say how much creation of a persona, or a user-friendly application are really worth. A simple but powerful way to overcome this hurdle is to integrate the concept of Customer Life Time Value (LTV) into a traditional Return on Investment (ROI) analysis.

Crossing the ROI Chasm

If the first months of 2002 are any indication, this year may go down in history as the technology industry’s year of “Return On Investment”, or ROI. Sales reps across the country are becoming overnight financial gurus, Web sites are being updated with ROI calculators, and technology investment “hurdle rates” are the measuring stick for a “go” or “no-go” decision from chief financial officers across a myriad of industries.

Do People Want to Talk to Computers?

Do people really want to talk to computers? Let’s explore the question with a thought experiment that allows us to define “talking to computers” in a sophisticated, unrestricted sense. Ask yourself this: <@SM><@SM>If C-3PO, the fussy, fretful, Golden-Droid of Star Wars fame were science fact instead of science fiction, how deeply would I want to talk to him?

Improving Customer Service- One Solution at a Time

Organizations throughout the world are proving everyday that speech improves customer service, decreases operational costs and drives top-line performance. If you were fortunate enough, as I was, to attend Nuance’s recent V-World event you were exposed to many successful deployments of speech technology. Here are a few speech success stories:

Making TTS Real

Text-to-speech (TTS) technology is a computer system's ability to translate text into synthesized speech. Today's deployment of TTS can be divided into three segments: enterprise and telecommunications; automotive and mobile; and consumer applications. These segments in turn demand differing sizes of TTS footprint: large footprint is host or server-based, accessed by multiple remote clients, and small footprint is embedded. Large footprint TTS is ideal for high-volume enterprise and telecommunications speech services, while small footprint suits applications such as automotive, PDAs, cell phones and other devices. These deployments are reviewed here in order of both market and footprint size. Some compelling current integrated TTS systems are also described.

Microsoft Releases .NET Speech SDK

Microsoft recently released a beta version of the Microsoft .NET Speech Software Development Kit (SDK). This is a set of application development tools and speech controls based on the Speech Application Language Tags (SALT) specification. It integrates into the Visual Studio .NET development environment and is intended to make it faster and easier for developers to incorporate speech functionality into Web applications. Microsoft’s stated purpose is to create new opportunities for the speech technology community by leveraging developers’ existing Web programming knowledge and skills.

Purchasing Decisions

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 all—keep it simple.

Speech in the Call Center

Over the past several years, speech technology has evolved to become an integral part of companies’ customer service operations.The airline and stock brokerage industries led the way in adopting speech in their call center environments. Other vertical markets including health care, utilities, government, financial services and others are now following the early adopters. The need to reduce operating expenses in today’s economy is hastening this trend.

Speech Recognition and Accessible Education

Disabled populations are key drivers in many technological innovations. Many of these innovations are now so integral to mainstream markets that we can forget their historical roots. A fascinating list of a number of these innovations is chronicled by Steve Jacobs, of The Center for An Accessible Society.

Telephony Enable Your Web Site

VoiceXML has revolutionized the development of telephony applications, in that telephone users can call Web sites and converse with VoiceXML applications. The system uses a TTS synthesizer or prerecorded voice and users can respond by speaking answers to the questions. Currently VoiceXML is weak in telephony controls. About all you can do in VoiceXML is and , which are powerful enough for many applications, but not powerful enough for many others, such as event notification and conferencing. However, with the coming of new call control capabilities, many of these restrictions will be overcome.


Forward Thinking

Hocus Pocus

This is the second in a series of columns dealing with misunderstanding and misrepresentations of speaker authentication. In the first column (March/April 2002) I discussed the confusion regarding the difference between speech recognition and speaker verification and I decried the practice of marketing slightly-modified speech recognition as speaker authentication.

Industry View

First Let’s Kill All the Hardware

At a recent speech conference—Nuance’s excellent V-World—I was again struck by the combined power of speech recognition, voice-user interface (VUI) design, TTS and strong back-end integration for content delivery. At the risk of sounding fatuous, quality has become so much better that the applications are fooling people into treating recognizers like, well, other people.

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