The use of speech recognition technology in telephone call centers is about to enter the mainstream, thanks to falling costs and growing user acceptance of the technology, says a newly published white paper from Datamonitor.
Despite a large number of skeptics who say that speech recognition is difficult to implement - as well as costly and unreliable - it is now a viable alterative to interactive voice response (IVR) systems, Datamonitor reports.
Rosa Ibragimova, one of the authors of the paper, told Newsbytes that IVR systems tend only to be used by call centers to perform relatively simple tasks over the phone.
"IVR is still unpopular with telephone callers, who prefer to talk to an operator," she said. In many cases, callers listen to the audio menu and then hit zero to talk to a call center agent. "This reduces the cost savings of using IVR instead of an operator," she said. What is worse, some customers may even hang up when they encounter an IVR system on the phone, she said.
"That reduces their perception of the company providing the telephone- based service. Speech recognition, on the other hand, is more acceptable, as it allows callers to interact with the computer system more naturally - by interacting verbally," she said.
Speech recognition is also a lot more cost-effective in large call centers, Ibragimova said, since it can handle a wider range of tasks than simple IVR systems, and so reduce the number of calls handled by (human) agents.
"Two-thirds of call center operating cost is the cost of the agent, so switching more calls via a speech recognition system can greatly reduce the cost of handling customer inquiries," she said.
One classic example where speech recognition has been widely accepted by users is the 4-1-1 directory assistance service in the U.S., which is now almost entirely automated, she added.
"Most users are quite happy interacting with a computer on this service," she said. She predicts that speech recognition systems similar to the directory assistance service will be common in the near future.
The white paper says that speech recognition technology will help to drive the growth of the "global voice business value chain" from $650 million in 2000 to $1.2 billion in 2002.
The new generation of voice portals, as Datamonitor calls the speech recognition call center services, are also finding new markets, such as support for spoken word access to the Internet for car drivers.
These new type of portals are also likely to help wireless carriers just as much as the fixed-line networks, the white paper says, since they will allow carriers to develop third generation style services, but without the associated development costs of 3G.
--Reported By Steve Gold, Newsbytes.com, http://www.newsbytes.com .