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Speech Analytics Can Help Alter the Service Paradigm

By Donna Fluss

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For more than 35 years, companies have been more or less using the same customer service paradigm, and though never ideal, the traditional approach was accepted by prior generations of consumers who had low expectations for service. But things have changed, and so must your sales, service, and support organizations. Millennials have a different set of expectations, and it is time for companies to make investments to set themselves up for future success with this new cohort of workers and consumers.

Contact centers touch more customers and prospects than any other department in most enterprises, which means that they are well positioned to play an important role in establishing, cultivating, and building relationships. Unfortunately, a lot of companies are stuck in the past and are not making the necessary changes in culture, policies, procedures, training, and systems to prepare themselves for the future. In some cases it’s because the company believes that it’s too costly, and in others it’s because they do not know how to move forward. This is where speech analytics comes in.

Speech Analytics is a Must-Have Application
Speech analytics is a must-have application for companies that appreciate the importance of delivering an outstanding and cost-effective customer experience. It has taken 14 years, but companies in many verticals now appreciate that speech (and text) analytics is the most effective tool for gaining insights into customers’ and prospects’ opinions, needs, and wants. Companies that want to provide personalized service to their customers must know them in order to create the right journey. But this is only one reason why speech analytics has become a mission-critical application in a growing number of companies and verticals.

From a regulatory perspective, speech analytics is the best weapon for determining which agents are adhering to requirements in collections, sales, and service calls, and for demonstrating compliance with the mandates of various agencies. When it comes to reducing customer attrition, speech analytics serves as an effective early warning system for companies to identify at-risk customers and establish policies for applying this information in a timely way to help retain them. And even if not used proactively, it’s a great tool for winning back customers. Speech analytics is effective at pinpointing the reasons why agents place callers on hold and transfer calls to other agents and departments, two practices that drive high levels of customer dissatisfaction.

While there are already many applications of speech analytics, and new ones continue to emerge, its primary use is still to identify the underlying reasons why people call a contact center. Speech analytics is capable of providing detailed insights into call reasons, going far beyond the high-level category such as a billing or system issue to the specific causes that generate calls and dissatisfaction. While in many cases contact centers are aware of these causes, there are many situations where the severity of a problem is not fully appreciated, and yet others where speech analytics surfaces a new opportunity. Speech analytics also has the added benefit of quantifying the impact and magnitude of an issue, which allows an organization to determine the appropriate response.

Real-Time Speech Analytics is Ready for Prime Time
Real-time speech analytics emerged a few years ago and is still struggling for acceptance and adoption. The challenge with this powerful tool is that companies either don’t want to invest in another speech analytics product or cannot figure out the best way to apply its findings. Although the solutions vary greatly, real-time speech analytics tools use a combination of content, linguistics, acoustical events, and sentiment analysis to identify the emotional level of each caller.

This means that these solutions can potentially be used to identify angry, unhappy, and at-risk callers as well as individuals who are interested in buying new products. Sales is a second major use category for real-time speech analytics, as these applications have the ability to identify which products and services are most appropriate for each caller, a highly effective approach for delivering a personalized and high-value service experience. (The real-time speech analytics solution must be integrated with a number of data sources to perform this function.) However, if it is being used to identify sales opportunities, a real-time speech analytics application must be accompanied by a real-time guidance system so that an agent knows the right actions to take to help a given caller.

Changes in the Competitive Landscape
The speech analytics market underwent a significant round of consolidations during 2016, which significantly changed the competitive landscape. In March 2016, NICE, a leading workforce optimization (WFO) vendor, acquired Nexidia, one of the two stand-alone speech analytics vendors and one of the founders of the market. NICE has also announced its intent to purchase inContact, a leading cloud-based contact center infrastructure vendor, which offers a speech analytics solution (inContact is in the process of using one of its recent acquisitions, a product called Attensity, to revamp its speech analytics product and strategy). In April 2016, OpenText purchased the contact center WFO assets of HP. (HP owned Autonomy, which included a contact center WFO suite and IDOL, the underlying technology used for its speech analytics product and for other content analysis purposes.) It remains to be seen what OpenText is going to do with these contact center assets, but it potentially represents another change for the market.

At the same time as the market was experiencing consolidation, newer entrants started to make their presence known. Interactions started to sell its large vocabulary continuous speech recognition (LVCSR) engine to partners. Voci did the same and started to compete on a direct basis. SESTEK, based in Istanbul, Turkey, has set up a sales office in the United States and is competing for North American business. ZOOM International has enhanced its phonetics-based engine with an LVCSR-based tool kit and is selling its speech analytics engine to third-party vendor partners; it also has its resellers competing for end-user business. (ZOOM competes only on an indirect basis.) Competitors in other countries are winning regional business, a trend that is expected to continue.

Final Thoughts
The risk is clear: Organizations that do not make the necessary changes in how they treat their customers, prospects, and employees are in danger of extinction. Enterprises need to change their servicing philosophies and how they transact business. Contact centers as we know them today need to be re-imagined as “experience” or “engagement” centers whose primary responsibility is to build and maintain relationships. These new servicing/sales organizations will be the axis for all activity related to managing customer and prospect interactions. The people who staff these functions must be the best the organization has to offer, as they will be responsible for all aspects of the business/customer relationship, which ultimately drives the enterprise’s bottom line. They must also have access to actionable insights and analytics to do the job. Speech analytics will play an important role in this transition on a direct and indirect basis—it is a highly beneficial solution that is here to stay.