Calls Are Not Going Away – Invest in Your Voice Self-Service Infrastructure

Calls Are Not Going Away – Invest in Your Voice Self-Service Infrastructure

By Donna Fluss

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Self-service applications are increasingly essential components of call center operations. Voice self-service applications handle a large percentage of the calls received by enterprises, usually from 25% to over 90%, depending upon the type of business and the effectiveness of its IVR system. Web-based self-service applications are being used in many types of organizations – corporate, not-for profit, higher education, government. As popular as Web service has become, customers keep on calling. Like it or not, enterprises must continue to invest in voice self-service applications. While customers complain about touch-tone and speech-enabled IVR applications, often for good reason, they still want to have this servicing option available, whenever they want to use it.

Market Innovation Drives Investment

Speech recognition and Voice Extensible Markup Language (VoiceXML) are two technologies that have dramatically improved IVR offerings. A growing number of speech self-service platforms are incorporating non-proprietary hardware and development environments to enable enterprises to cost effectively upgrade their legacy IVR solutions and reduce their total cost of ownership.

The voice portal platforms are intended to be open and standards-based, using a non-proprietary development environment that is similar to Web-based technologies. These platforms typically support VoiceXML 2.0, Media Resource Control Protocol (MRCP), Call Control XML (CCML), Voice Over Internet protocol (VoIP) and Session Initiation Protocol (SIP). Some of the platforms also support Speech Application Language Tags (SALT).

Speech recognition technology has been around for years, but it is finally being recognized for its ability to enhance and simplify the self-service interface for callers. Many years ago I wrote that speech recognition software was “not IVR with a voice.” Rather, it is a much more flexible user interface that enables enterprises to conduct user-friendly interactions with their customers. No matter how good the technology, the effectiveness of speech recognition applications continues to depend upon the skills of the voice user interface (VUI) specialist. In the past two years, many enterprises have started to invest in this area and there are now a number of well-received speech recognition applications in the market. (Enterprises have also realized the importance of making it easier for their customers to request an agent when live support is required.)

The Market Place

There are quite a few players in the voice portal platform market offering premise-based and hosted offerings. All of the vendors listed below offer a voice portal platform with speech recognition capabilities, but only a few offer all of the capabilities listed above in the description of voice portal platforms. Most of the vendors are continuing to enhance their offerings to address the changing needs of their customers.

The premise-based vendors include: Aspect, Avaya, Cisco, Envox, Genesys, IBM, Interactive Intelligence, Microsoft, Nortel, Syntellect and Voxeo.

The hosted voice portal-based offerings come from many of the same vendors and a few others as well, including: Cisco, Envox, Genesys, Intervoice, Nortel, TuVox and Voxeo.

Many other vendors provide hosted and managed service IVR offerings that are strong and well-received by end-user organizations. However, they are not listed here because they do not provide voice portal-based platforms.

Voice Portal Platforms are Good Investments

Many enterprises, including a number of DMG Consulting’s customers, have deferred IVR investments for years, choosing instead to nurse their installed IVR solutions to keep them going. It is hard enough to obtain approval to purchase totally new solutions, but getting authorization to replace an existing IVR application that is functioning adequately can be even more challenging. Many chief technology officers would prefer not to disturb applications that do their jobs and are fully paid for.

The problem is that delaying an investment is likely to be costly to an enterprise, both in terms of money and resources. The new voice portal platforms offer tremendous flexibility that enables a company to offer enhanced services to its customers. If implemented properly (and with appropriate expertise), the new platforms will increase the percentage of customers who opt for self-service applications, decreasing the overall cost of service. The savings add up quickly for companies large and small; an increase in self-service usage of just 2% in an enterprise that handles 1 million calls per year will save the company approximately $100K per year (assuming a $5 cost per call). Additionally, the cost of maintaining the new voice portal platforms is less than the maintenance expense for some of the older IVR solutions. And with the new Web-based development environments, application maintenance and development staff training is less expensive.

The Bottom Line

The new generation of voice portal platforms features solid solutions that are making substantial contributions to enterprises and their customers. Right now, vendors are competing aggressively for new customers, making these solutions very affordable. While the success of any IVR application still depends upon how well it is designed and implemented, the payback will be rapid for companies that do it right.

Donna Fluss is the founder and President of DMG Consulting LLC, a firm specializing in customer-focused business strategy, operations and technology services. Ms. Fluss is a recognized thought leader and innovator in CRM, contact center and real-time analytics. She is the author of The Real-Time Contact Center and many leading industry Reports including the 2007 Contact Center Performance Management Market Report, the 2007 Speech Analytics Market Report, the 2007 Surveying and Analytics Report and the annual Quality Management/Liability Recording Product and Market Report. Contact Ms. Fluss at