Do You Hear What I Hear?
Who needs to surf the Web when you've got a telephone handy? Sure, this rings of heresy in today's new-new economy or whatever they're calling it these days. But make no mistake: The human voice is coming back in a big way.
At least this is the message being bandied about by Genesys Telecommunications Laboratories, which unveiled a voice portal today at the International Call Center Management Conference (ICCM) in Chicago. Rather than punching touch-tone numbers when dealing with customer-service centers, customers can actually speak to an automated, natural voice-recognition system that pulls information from the Web. Genesys Voice Portal acts as an extension to Genesys Suite 6 contact-center solutions and is based on Telera's voice-and-Web application platform.
Customers, however, won't be able to chat casually with a computer just yet. Voice portal applications are only for simple commands that enable customers to perform certain tasks, such as obtain account balances, transfer funds, request literature, check flights, order products, or schedule services, claims Genesys. "There's no reason for a [customer-service representative] to field and handle these kinds of requests," says Lawrence Byrd, CRM evangelist at Avaya, another provider of voice and data networks. Call-center software provider Aspect Communications' voice-recognition system even identifies callers by voice inflections, offering another layer of security.
On the heels of the Genesys announcement, Avaya delivered
the latest version of its flagship interactive voice-response system and development tools, called Avaya IVR 9.0, which supports Voice Extensible Markup Language (VoiceXML) 2.0, an open protocol for enabling speech recognition technology to be embedded in certain applications. And rival Aspect Communications is also planning to unveil a self-service solution supporting VoiceXML 2.0 this week.
At least one industry watcher understands the technology's upside. "VoiceXML is clearly gaining credibility as a leading protocol for customer service voice applications," said Bern Elliot, research director at Gartner Group, in a statement. "And because it enables companies to leverage existing Web applications, VoiceXML-based self-service provides the framework for a more integrated customer contact management solution."
By leveraging existing Web technologies, companies can reduce startup and application development costs, according to Genesys. It's all about cutting costs anyway. An agent-assisted customer-service telephone call averages $6 and can even run up into the $50 range. A self-service telephone call, on the other hand, averages less than $2 per call, Genesys claims.
Tom Kaneshige also writes for Line56.com
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