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SmartAdvice: Voice-Recognition Technology Can Extend Call-Center Reach

Used to augment but not replace call-center staff, voice-recognition technology can make for better customer service, The Advisory Council says. Also, efficient modeling of processes is key to successfully automating sales orders; and getting technical staff to work with offshore outsourcers depends on how they've been treated.

Editor's Note: Welcome to SmartAdvice, a weekly column by The Advisory Council (TAC), an advisory service firm. The feature answers three questions of core interest to you, ranging from career advice to enterprise strategies to how to deal with vendors. Submit questions directly to smartadvice@tacadvisory.com


Question A: Is voice-recognition technology mature enough to help us reduce our customer service call-center overload without causing its own customer-satisfaction problems?

Our advice: The short answer is that if you think that you can replace your call-center staff with this technology alone, think again. The long answer is probably yes, you should incorporate it into your call-center solution, if you can effectively integrate it into your operations. The use of this software in call centers is increasing as the technology becomes more sophisticated and more tightly integrated into call-center application systems. Speech recognition can be used to augment the efficiency of your call-center staff, but it doesn't replace the need for your customers to speak to a real human being.

Related Links

Technically Speaking

Speech Recognition's Next Iteration

Microsoft Begins Broader Test Of Speech Software



Speech-recognition software has come a long way in the past 30 years. The Holy Grail of speech-recognition software has long been the ability for computers to understand unrestricted continuous speech or, in layman's terms, an ordinary conversation. That problem hasn't yet been solved and may never be; but discrete, context-specific speech recognition--the ability to understand individual words--is heavily used in the call-center world. It's commonly used to preload customer data for the call-center staff so that they can spend more time resolving customer issues.

How you incorporate the technology into your call center will depend on your customers' tolerance of the perception that they're speaking to a computer, and on your needs. In a highly interactive call center, it would make sense to use it to route the customer to an appropriate representative. As a replacement for the hated touch-tone menus, it may be seen by your customers as an improvement. When you implement voice-recognition software into your system, make your customers feel that you're actually using the information that you've just asked them for. There is nothing more annoying for a customer than to have waited on the phone 10 minutes after giving the computer identifying information, and then being asked to repeat it when they finally reach a live operator.

In summary, you can successfully integrate voice-recognition technology seamlessly into your operations if the customer is either barely aware of its use, or it makes them feel that it has enhanced their experience. By being clever about how you use the technology, both you and your customers win, because you're providing better customer service more efficiently.

-- Beth Cohen

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