Speech Technologies: More Than Just Talk?

Speech technologies are poised to finally make the big jump toward common usage by contact centers, according to a recent Forrester Research report. The report, “Speech Technologies: Ready For Prime Time,” by John P. Dalton with Harley Manning and Hwasun Lee, contends that while even basic speech recognition apps are having a hard time gaining a foothold today, faster processor speed, open standards, and network-based deployments will boost adoption by contact centers.

A Forrester survey of 600 contact center managers at $1 billion-plus companies showed that the most basic speech recognition applications have made some inroads. One-third of respondents are rolling out, piloting, or have implemented a directed speech recognition app. These limited apps, which need to recognize only a handful of specific commands, achieve accuracy rates up to 95% as a result. For example, floor manufacturer Armstrong has an app that recognizes spoken product numbers. This lets floor reps at retailers like Lowe’s verify stock availability.

But advanced speech apps have few takers. In-depth interviews conducted by Forrester with contact center managers indicated that those who have no plans to deploy automated speech solutions in the next two years think the technology is immature, which translates into painful implementation and low customer satisfaction. Additionally, they perceive the costs to be significantly higher than today’s touch-tone apps.

Still, Forrester thinks it’s a good time to bet on speech, pointing out that consumers have already become accustomed to completing routine tasks with speech apps, through solutions deployed by major brands like American Airlines, United Air Lines, FedEx, and Charles Schwab. These let users track flights, shipments, or up-to-the-minute account information without live assistance or touch-tone menus. The success of these apps has fueled a second wave of innovation: Firms now turn to speech for interactions that could not be handled by a touch-tone system, such as change of address and other tasks requiring heavy alphanumeric input.

NEXT WEEK: More benefits – and pitfalls.

Forrester Research, Inc., based in Cambridge, MA, may be reached at 617-613-6000, or found on the Web at www.forrester.com.