Re:Tooling -- Interactive Voice Response (IVR): Dial-Up Innovation

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One of the central ideas behind speech-enabled interactive voice response (IVR) systems is that, instead of having to narrow your inquiry down to a button—”Press ‘3’ for your tangentially related issue”—you could speak a word or phrase that more succinctly captures whatever you’re trying to accomplish.

Sometimes, though, best practices have been thrown out the window. The resulting backlash led to Web sites such as GetHuman.com, which helps you find a way to bypass an IVR and speak immediately to a live person. There is no excuse for that, says Donna Fluss, president of DMG Consulting. “People blame IVRs, but [the systems are] not truly at fault,” she explains. “It’s the people who don’t design the user interface properly. We have enough domain expertise to build good voice user interfaces…. There’s no excuse for poor ones anymore.”

Fluss finds that sales of speech-recognition software—key for a well-deployed speech-enabled IVR solution—hit an all-time high in 2007 and remained steady in 2008, which is a positive sign, given the economic recession. This, she adds, accompanies increased acceptance of what’s known as guided IVR—in which humans are more involved in directing the decision-making.

As far as the leaders in this space, Datamonitor Lead Analyst Daniel Hong says it’s important to break up the three parts of what he deems the voice business chain: the IVR platform, the enabling software, and speech-enabled applications. Hong says leaders in IVR platforms include Avaya, Cisco Systems, Genesys Telecommunications Laboratories, Holly Connects, Intervoice (now owned by Convergys), Nortel Networks, Syntellect, and Voxeo. “The bottom line is it’s getting harder to differentiate on a feature-and-functionality level,” Hong says. “It doesn’t seem like it’s about best-of-breed anymore, but rather best-in-class technology suites within the contact center.”

Atop the platforms are enabling software tools, such as automated speech-recognition engines, text-to-speech, and development and analytics tools for managing speech applications. Hong is quick to point out that many of the platform players have their own powerful tools, but specifically cites Nuance (Recognizer v9), IBM (WebSphere Voice Response for AIX, V4.2), Loquendo (Loquendo TTS), Vicorp (xmp 5.0), and OpenMethods (openVXML 3.0) as major players when it comes to enabling software.

With prices in the realm of enabling software currently hovering around $1,400–$1,600 per port, Hong foresees a price war when feature differentiation alone is not enough. “We can expect those to be around the sub-$600 range per port,” he says. “Speech in a way is more mature—and slowly but surely becoming more pervasive in the market.”

Hong says to expect an increase in hosted speech solutions, which he claims have infinite promise, particularly in a recession. Hosted speech sales were approximately $590 million in 2008, according to Datamonitor statistics, and are expected to reach $1.1 billion by 2013. Hong explains that beyond simply moving capital expenses to operational ones that are easier to pass through the executive suite, this puts the onus on the provider to manage and tune the application. “More often than not, the pricing model and ability to delegate the functions or management to a third-party provider turns companies to hosted [service],” he says. “By doing that, it frees up resources internally to work on other projects.”

Steve Cramoysan, research director at Gartner, also believes that speech will soon no longer be an island, but rather incorporated into other common customer touchpoints, namely the Web. “It’s time for companies to recognize that a customer is a customer,” he says—and customers want to see an organization treat them in terms of a single holistic relationship rather than as a series of six or seven different transactions.

>> Speech strategy

  1. Do your research
  2. Create a plan
  3. Pick the right vendors
  4. Select the right deployment model (premises-based traditional, premises-based managed services, or hosted)
  5. Start small and scale up
  6. Focus on life cycle management

Source: Datamonitor

>> Development tools short list

  • Avaya Dialogue Designer 4.1 - Vendor: Avaya | http://tinyurl.com/AvayaDialogue
  • Cisco Unified Call Studio 7.0 - Vendor: Cisco | http://tinyurl.com/CiscoUnifiedCallStudio7
  • Envox VoiceXML Studio 7.0 - Vendor: Envox | http://tinyurl.com/Envox7
  • Loquendo TTS Director - Vendor: Loquendo | http://tinyurl.com/LoquendoTTS
  • VoiceObjects 7 - Vendor: VoiceObjects | http://tinyurl.com/VoiceObjects7
  • VoiceXML Orchestrator - Vendor: Ajax Weaver | http://tinyurl.com/VoiceXMLOrchestrator
  • Voxeo Designer 8 - Vendor: Voxeo | http://tinyurl.com/VoxeoDesigner8

>> Testing and anlysis short list

  • Lumenvox Speech Tuner - Vendor: Lumenvox | http://tinyurl.com/LumenvoxSpeechTuner  
  • VocaLabs Usability Survey Reports - Vendor: VocaLabs | http://tinyurl.com/VocaLabs  
  • Voiyager – Dynamic Automatic Application Discover - Vendor: Syntellect | http://tinyurl.com/Voiyager

Contact Assistant Editor Christopher Musico at cmusico@destinationCRM.com.

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