• December 2, 2003
  • By David Myron, Editorial Director, CRM and Speech Technology magazines and SmartCustomerService.com

Outsourcer Got Your Tongue?

The use of outsourced automated voice solutions is on the rise, according to a Datamonitor report released yesterday. The report, "Creating Demand for Outsourced Voice Services," estimates that companies may spend as much as $76 million on outsourced voice solutions by 2005, which represents an 80 percent jump over 2003 investments. For enterprises, outsourcing voice services negates the heavy hardware costs associated with on-premise systems and delivers high-end technologies without requiring additional training and expertise, the report states. "There's a strong element of technical expertise required to run voice solutions," says Tom Pringle, associate analyst in the CRM practice at Datamonitor. "If a company wants a voice solution it needs the applications and equipment to run it, and the experience and linguistic skills to operate the voice solutions." He adds that creating, testing, and adapting the system for a high level of accuracy to include different grammars and kinds of interactions with users can be cumbersome. As an alternative, he says, outsourcing provides a lower up-front cost. Only recently has the industry been able to get voice solutions to an acceptable level of accuracy. Previously the problems appeared mostly in the systems' inability to understand all of the various dialects and colloquialisms associated with a language, as well as background noise on the customer's end. This had a negative effect on customer satisfaction, says Katherine Lam, a technology analyst at Datamonitor. However, new technologies are changing old perceptions. "We're at a point right now where companies have made those investments and have very sophisticated solutions out there," she says. The automated voice solutions industry has been surging since the late 1990s, with North America leading the way in sales. However, Datamonitor expects Asia Pacific and the Caribbean and Latin America to experience the fastest growth due to these locales' higher propensity to outsource, the report states. Some of the most popular uses of outsourced voice solutions include information dissemination, such as providing an airline's departure and arrival times, as well as call steering, where the voice system prompts callers for a name and routes the caller, according to Pringle. Leading the efforts to outsource advanced speech recognition capabilities include call center outsourcers such as Convergys, Teletech, Sykes, and others. Yet Pringle points to some companies that are specializing in outsourced voice solutions, including Eckoh, Tellme Networks, SRC (in the U.K.), and BeVocal. "Rather than doing everything, these companies will do things that suit particular business needs, as opposed to being generalists," Pringle says. The report acknowledges that low market awareness and lack of understanding of modern voice business solutions are current inhibitors to voice outsourcing. Nonetheless, Datamonitor analysts expect these bottlenecks to be overcome. "People don't understand the benefits and what's available from a product standpoint, but voice solutions have only been around for a few years and we're starting to see positive feedback from those deployments," Pringle says.
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