• February 22, 2016
  • By Leonard Klie, Editor, CRM magazine and SmartCustomerService.com

The 2016 CRM Service Rising Stars: [24]7 Adds Deep Neural Networks to IVR Systems

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Deep neural networking entered the consumer space with applications such as Apple's Siri and Microsoft's Cortana, but the technology's use in business contexts was limited until [24]7 brought it to the interactive voice response (IVR) realm.

[24]7, already an innovator in applying advanced predictive modeling and data analytics to customer engagement, in August integrated Microsoft's Deep Neural Networks (DNN) into its Customer Engagement Platform. That move has reportedly increased speech recognition accuracy to better than 95 percent, a 25 percent gain for some clients.

Pairing IVR with deep neural networking was "long overdue," says Patrick Nguyen, chief technology officer at [24]7.

Microsoft's DNN technology trains with analyses from more than 10 billion speech utterances collected by Microsoft's Bing search engine, Xbox gaming console, and Windows phones and applies that training to IVR interactions, helping to overcome challenges like background noise, accents, and dialects.

For customers dialing into the IVR, deep neural networking will decrease the number of out-of-grammar errors, mismatches, and no-matches, Nguyen says, which should reduce the need to zero out or ask to speak to an agent. "As a consumer, you'll find that the IVR understands you more reliably," he says. "DNN will make the experience much better for the customer."

Avis Budget Group was the first company to use [24]7's speech solutions with DNN technology across Europe. Gerard Insall, Avis's chief information officer, is excited about the prospect of clearer IVR interactions. "Our customers call from all types of noisy environments, and IVR systems have struggled in the past to make out the customer intent over and above the cacophony of airports and other busy public spaces," he said in a statement. "This new platform will help us to counter many of these issues and enable our customers to effortlessly complete their transactions in the IVR."

The integration of the two technologies continues the close relationship between Microsoft and [24]7. In early 2012, Microsoft turned over most of its enterprise IVR business to [24]7. As part of that deal, the two firms also agreed to a shared technology road map and a long-term intellectual property licensing agreement that provides broad coverage under Microsoft’s patent portfolio for speech-related technologies.

And though [24]7's IVR is the first to roll out deep neural networking, Nguyen expects such technology to be the future of IVR systems. "With the improvements in performance and accuracy we're seeing, it will increase people's comfort using speech self-service," he says. "People will be much more willing to use IVRs when dealing with companies."

The same can be said of intelligent virtual assistants—another technology where [24]7 brought a great deal of innovation in 2015. Using technology it gained in its November 2014 acquisition of IntelliResponse, the company in June launched the [24]7 Virtual Agent solution. [24]7 Virtual Agent combines digital self-service technology and live-agent assistance in a single integrated solution, ensuring that customers who cannot complete their journeys in self-service can escalate to live agents in real time.

Like its IVR technology, [24]7's Virtual Agents are automated customer service tools that can understand the intent of customer questions, using machine learning and natural language processing technology to map questions to the one, accurate answer.

Jeff Kagan, a wireless and technology industry analyst, calls the fusion of neural networking with IVR and virtual assistant technologies "one of the hottest areas of development today," noting that these modalities "will be the mainstream way we communicate with the world all around us."

The technology, he adds, is more effective and easier to use today than it was just a few years ago. "This kind of technology will grow and let us use it in an increasing number of things we do every day," he states.


CEO: PV Kannan

Founded: 2000

Headquarters: Campbell, Calif.

Projected Revenue in 2015: N/A

Employees: 12,000

Customer Count: N/A

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