Utopy's Killer App?

A 20-minute conversation between two people -- a customer and call-center agent, for instance -- may get emotional and even testy. Wrong information might be passed. The conversation grows in complexity with each passing minute. Moreover, a national call center records hundreds, if not thousands, of conversations daily. It's no wonder unearthing business intelligence from these conversations is a giant hurdle. Now Utopy, a speech-mining software company in San Francisco operating in stealth mode for the past two-and-a-half years, believes it has the answer. Its browser-based, patent-pending SpeechMiner product is being used by large financial institutions and call centers. "We identify the important topics and issues going on inside a conversation," says Roy Twersky, president and CEO of Utopy. "We knew it could be done." Here's how it works: SpeechMiner integrates into a call center's recording system, breaking down conversations into multiple linguistic and non-linguistic "events." Using a complex set of algorithms combined with a company's specified business logic rules, SpeechMiner identifies certain words, phrases and even emotions -- automating what essentially was massive man-hours required to manually comb through the recordings. In the U.S. alone, companies spend more than $100 billion annually in contact-center labor expenses managing billions of telephone conversations, according to Robert Frances Group. APAC Customer Services, a call-center outsourcer with 9,000 agents serving seven industries, claims SpeechMiner has improved customer service and retention. "We're in the business of providing clients with complete solutions for optimizing customer relationships and customer loyalty," said Carlos Galarce, CIO at APAC, in a statement. "We believe that Utopy's SpeechMiner will further enhance our ability to offer the most flexible, highest quality customer care and acquisition solutions available." Call centers must capture interactions via voice, email and Web self-service. The latter two are relatively easy to store and search. But voice has been a moving target, says Ken Landoline, vice president and director of telecom research for Robert Frances Group. For this reason, "Utopy's SpeechMiner technology is revolutionizing the CRM industry," he says. Other small vendors are building similar systems, "but Utopy is the only one with real customers." Indeed, understanding voice-based data has taken a back seat to the fast-growing email and Web trends. This means giant CRM vendors are putting their research dollars into analytics and online capabilities rather than the old-fashioned telephone call, Twersky says. But he also contends that call centers are actually hiring more agents for fielding telephone calls this year, probably because companies are hoping the personal touch will help improve customer retention. Landoline agrees, adding, "SpeechMinor absolutely affects customer service and satisfaction and retention rates. It's an excellent and subtle way to differentiate yourself with customers who may not even know what's going on." Landoline says SpeechMiner is a very strong contender for application of the year in a call center -- that is, if Utopy can overcome the sales hurdle facing any new product segment. The biggest problem, says Landoline, is getting customers to understand the technology. Says Twersky: "Our major challenge is convincing people that it works." Tom Kaneshige also writes for Line56.com
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