Calling the Web
Computer, are you there? The days of talking directly to the Web are fast approaching. Earlier this week, Avaya, a provider of voice and data networks, delivered the latest version of its flagship interactive voice-response system and development tools, called Avaya IVR 9.0. The big upgrade is that it supports Voice Extensible Markup Language (VXML) 2.0, an open protocol for enabling speech recognition technology to be embedded in certain applications.
Simply put, Avaya IVR 9.0 lets customers telephone customer-service centers and get answers to their questions over the Web. This requires sound speech-recognition technology integrated into CRM call-center systems. Speech-enabled self-service is growing in popularity because it lets customers simply say what they want in order to get information or complete transactions," said Jim Smith, vice president of CRM solutions at Avaya.
Voice-to-Web is part of a larger trend calling for the convergence of different mediums, such as automated response systems with online chatting and email, in call centers. Companies hope to reduce costly telephone calls with customer-service professionals through the use of the Web and automated responses.
In addition to VXML 2.0, Avaya IVR 9.0 integrates with Siebel 7 CRM software and various communications switches, Avaya claims. The offering is available worldwide today as an upgrade or standalone solution. More than 4,000 companies use the Avaya IVR system, and 60 customers are planning to deploy speech applications, ranging from AT&T to Armstrong World Industries, says Avaya. Rival Aspect Communications is also planning to unveil a self-service solution supporting VXML 2.0 next week.
There are three elements to making natural-speech response systems possible, says Lawrence Byrd, Avaya's CRM evangelist. The first is the evolution of open standards such as VXML. The second is the development of natural-speech recognition engines from Avaya partners Nuance, SpeechWorks and AT&T. Lastly, natural-speech applications must talk to back-end data; Avaya IVR 9.0 contains an enhanced Java layer for this purpose.
Indeed, speech recognition has come a long way since the early days of monotone interactions. And for many uses, the technology is very capable, say industry watchers. Byrd, for instance, claims companies spend too much having customer-service representatives handle customer-address changes instead of using a natural-speech recognition system. "The time is now for certain applications," he says. As for general and more complex purposes, "It doesn't quite work like Star Trek."
Tom Kaneshige also writes for Line56.com