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The Compelling ROI Benefits of Speech Recognition 

The Compelling ROI Benefits of Speech Recognition

The Compelling ROI Benefits of Speech Recognition

By Donna Fluss

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The economic recovery is well on its way and, with it, comes new and much needed investment in contact centers – but don’t expect a windfall. Contact centers have been stretched thin the last few years. They’ve struggled to deliver the best service they could, often with shrinking budgets, and it hasn’t been easy. In 2004, you can expect to see cost containment loosen up, but not disappear completely. The good news is that most contact center managers will have more investment flexibility in the New Year.

Contact center managers are going to have to prioritize their needs and make tough investment decisions, as they are not going to get all the money they need to enhance their operating environments. The typical contact center wish list is large and covers all aspects – people, process and technology. Contact center managers must make trade-offs. They need to decide if they are going to hire additional staff to improve service levels or increase salaries to boost employee moral and reduce agent attrition. They have to figure out if and how to develop or enhance agent training programs to improve service quality and customer satisfaction. And, they must determine which system investments will yield the fastest return on investment in 2004 and make the greatest contribution.

What’s on the wish list?

Most contact center managers have a long system wish list, as many have not been able to make new system investments since 1999 – a veritable technological lifetime. Contact center infrastructure, such as Automatic Call Distributors (ACDs), should top the list, even though these systems can be expensive. Interactive Voice Response (IVR) systems will also lead the list; these systems haven’t been enhanced the last few years even though they are considered mission critical, often handling 60% to 80% of incoming calls. (In fact, without IVRs, many contact centers would have to double or triple their staff.)

There have been significant developments in the IVR world since 1999, especially in speech recognition. During the past four years, the speech recognition engines themselves have improved, but the giant leaps in technology usability are the most substantial contributions to this market. In 1999, users investing in a speech implementation were more likely to fail in their first attempt than to succeed because the applications were difficult to use. Now, the chances for success are as great as the likely payback.

To help ensure that payback, contact center managers should prioritize investments in speech recognition that have quantifiable benefits, pay for themselves in 3 to 12 months, and improve quality and increase customer satisfaction.

Contact center managers should justify speech recognition investments based on these ‘hard’ benefits:

  1. Productivity improvements – reducing agents, supervisors, trainers, and quality assurance specialists. Keep in mind that many organizations are hiring new agents now so it’s unlikely that people will lose their jobs. Instead speech recognition should save a company from hiring as many new agents.
  2. Cost reduction – reducing the number of calls, agent talk time, line charges, hiring and training costs.
  3. Cost avoidance – eliminating the need to purchase more hardware or software to handle additional calls. If a call center is maxed out, this savings could also involve avoiding the cost of building a new center.

The soft benefits that enterprises should consider when making a speech recognition system selection are:

  1. Reduction in the number of abandoned calls – when the call volume is high and customers have long waits, they often hang up and call back. This increases a company’s line charges and hurts customer satisfaction.
  2. Reduction in customer callbacks – if customers are satisfied the first time they call, they will not continue to call back.
  3. Reduction in call center hardware and software – if the speech recognition system increases the percentage of calls handled by the IVR, the company will need fewer agents and less hardware and software.
  4. Reduction in agent attrition – agents prefer handling challenging inquiries to repetitive ones that do not require much thought. Using a speech-enabled IVR to handle mundane inquiries will increase agent job satisfaction.
  5. Increase in customer satisfaction – customers want answers and they want them quickly, accurately and in their frame of reference. Touch-tone IVR is effective for providing basic information, but not for addressing complex inquiries or activities that require a great deal of customer input. Speech recognition software will improve the operation of some complex touch-tone IVR scripts and allow companies to provide services not possible with touch-tone IVR bolstering customer satisfaction and their usage of the system.
  6. Increase in customer loyalty – if customers are happy with service quality, they will have no reason to go elsewhere. Speech recognition allows organizations to automate activities that don’t require live agents, thus freeing agents to handle more challenging inquiries that require live assistance.
  7. Increase in revenue – speech recognition can be used on both an inbound and outbound basis to generate incremental revenue.

These soft benefits are very real but some are hard to quantify and others are difficult to directly attribute to the speech system. Still, while there are many soft benefits that should be considered when selecting a speech recognition system, ultimately you should base the financial analysis and justification on measures that are acceptable to your chief financial officer (CFO).

Enterprises that are happy with their touch-tone IVR systems – and even those with high customer utilization rates – should seriously consider adding speech recognition to their environments in 2004. A solid speech recognition system – implemented properly – would improve customer satisfaction and decrease cost, yielding a 3 to 9-month ROI. That’s not a bad way to start a new year.

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