Speech Recognition – the Death Toll for Touch Tone IVR?

The viability and reliability of speech enabled IVR applications have risen steadily since its original introduction. Advances in speech recognition (some minor, some major) seem to come with increasing rapidity.

So is the end in sight for new applications developed using touch tone response? We think not. Why? Two primary reasons.

1 – Privacy
2 – Language; diction and enunciation challenges.

There are many occasions where the need to use IVR systems occurs in public places. In these instances most users would prefer to not publically broadcast their account numbers, passwords, and other private information (and rightfully so). And while I don’t want to go too far downstream on this additional reason, sometimes it is just rude to speak out loud in places where the use of a mobile phone or office phone is inconsiderate.

The second reason is, of course, language. There are individuals with speech challenges based on medical issues, non-native language users learning a new language, speech impediments, and more. For these users, speech recognition applications may never work effectively.

Increasingly smart phone and mobile applications are enabling the use of interactive data exchange and the ability to provide customer service. But these methods also have their own set of challenges. To name just a few, not everyone has a smart phone, applications are still few and far between, and the industry standards (formal and de facto) are still evolving.

So is there a prediction to be made? Not too difficult a one. For as far as we can see, IVR applications will continue to integrate the ability to simultaneously and interchangeably integrate touch tone response capability with all speech recognition applications.

Will Smart Phones Redefine How IVR Systems Are Used?

Unless you just woke up from a coma, or returned from an extended vacation on a beautiful, remote tropical island (that would be my choice), it is impossible to ignore the avalanche of applications being written and deployed on smart phones.

iPhone leads the way in terms of great human factors design, and the speed of product acceptance is impressive. More than one million 3G iPhones were shipped in the first 3 days of introduction. In 18 months, the App Store introduced 140,000 iPhone applications (mostly personal user focused) and still counting. RIM’s Blackberry still enjoys major market share for corporate users, but clearly the iPhone is making strong inroads. Google, Palm and others are pushing hard for market share also.

So what will a smart phone IVR application look like? After all, a speech recognition application will still work with (shudder…. should I even say it?) even an old analog phone, if you can still find one.

Early applications specifically designed for a smart phone will likely be a combination of speech recognition and web integrated solutions that deliver voice information while also delivering information to be read on the display or stored for later review. Who knows, perhaps we will be able to use IVR speech commands to drive information to a smart phone web session that can be viewed while interacting with IVR systems in the not too distant future.

So how long will it be before a large volume of IVR based smart phone applications begin to roll out? The race for business applications has begun. And what about designing mobile applications that deliver information to a variety of different smart phones without having to custom write the application for each device? Solved that also.

Contact us if you would like to know more about smart phone mobile applications and how they can be effectively used. We are happy to discuss your application needs and see how we may help.

Common Sense IVR Design Tips

“You can please some of the people some of the time, but you can’t please all the people all the time.”  That seems to be the standing challenge of deploying a good IVR application design.

Businesses constantly seek that perfect balance of using IVR automation to the fullest extent capable; yet not alienate the end user.

To that challenge, we thought we would share some common sense design tips that still seem to be overlooked despite widespread usage of IVR systems.

1 – Keep your navigation menu concise and simple.  First impressions have a lasting impact on someone’s willingness to use your IVR application.  It might sound crazy to have to keep saying this, but people forget options presented on long menus. Long menus force many to revisit those options before making their choice. This can be very frustrating.  Additionally, if your sub-menus become more than two levels deep, then you probably need to revisit the “what and how” of what you are trying to help the caller accomplish.

2 – Don’t require entry of duplicate information. If you ask for it, capture it, save it. Nothing is more irritating than providing information at the beginning of a session only to have to enter the same information twice at some later point.  It is bad enough when you have to do this with a live agent (at least they can apologize or explain why it is necessary), but the IVR system provides no “release valve” to allow a customer to vent any frustration.  This can be especially damaging to customer relations if they are at the end of a transaction and are required to re-enter information on a subsequent branch.  Remember, everyone believes their time is valuable.

3 – Give users a way to speak to a human agent without having to go deep into the navigation menu. In most cases, when someone calls a Call Center or interacts with an IVR system, they know if they are going to need to speak with a live agent.  The more complex the decision making requirement or the more unusual the request, the more likely human interaction will be required.  Don’t force callers to listen to what seems like an endless list of options before being able to reach a live agent.

4 – Perform some form of usability testing before you begin serious coding of your IVR application. This can range from simple customer surveys on how they might use the IVR system, to conducting in-house user forums, to developing simple prototype decision trees or performing a Wizard of Oz test. Consulting an expert who has legitimate expertise in developing IVR applications will eliminate dangerous pitfalls.

5 – Don’t over emphasize the ROI component and subject the caller to too many commercials and marketing speeches.  We recommend not using the initial greeting as a commercial or an attempt to sell something, unless that is the primary reason for the IVR application. If the call is transferred out of the IVR, limit the number of commercials presented during hold times.  Even if a caller is in the call queue longer than desired, bombarding them with product or service commercials is counter productive.  The caller does not know if they are being held in the call queue on purpose, or if the company is truly experiencing longer hold times than normal.  Consider a public service announcement or even injecting a bit of humor during long wait times.

There are plenty of other common sense design tips, but our experience has shown that these are the most often annoyances committed; especially by those who are just beginning to make use of IVR and Speech Recognition capabilities.