Speech Recognition Technology: The Basics

It’s one of the bedrock technologies powering IVR applications, but if you don’t understand exactly how it is that speech recognition works (here’s a hint—it’s really cool, but it’s not quite magic), you might not realize how much it can do.

Effective IVR speech recognition systems can simplify the IVR process for callers, be more intuitive and flexible than more rigid menus, and—lets be honest—make your company seem modern and caring enough about customer service to invest in cutting edge methods. And even in this increasingly multicultural world, replete with accents, slang, and strange speech patterns, good systems can still easily handle such variation with ease.

Here’s a brief explainer:

At it’s most basic, speech recognition takes something a caller says and converts it into text. The computer then inputs that text just as it would a typed command, and the system goes on from there.

But how does that happen?

Speech, like any sound, is a series of vibrations. Even tinny phone speech, muddled by cell phone interference and background noise, is still just a series of (slightly more complicated) vibrations. These come out of a caller’s mouth and fly through the phone as analog waves.

Unfortunately, analog waves are Greek to computers, so conversion to more palatable digital data is necessary. The speech recognition software does exactly that, basically taking a flurry of tiny, precise measurements of the waves over and over again. It boils down the data, and filtering out as much of the unwanted noise as possible (good programs are trained to ignore sound waves common to background noise) and adjust it all to a consistent level of volume.

The point of all this is to make each variation in those original vibrations mean something, and eventually add up into words and sentences. All languages are essentially just combinations of tiny variations in vibrations—tiny building blocks of language known as phonemes. In English, for example, there are approximately 40 phonemes. By converting, organizing, and slicing and dicing all that digital data, speech recognition programs can finally match data to phonemes, and then analyze the phenomes within a vast web of potential combinations and variations in order to understand words, sentences, and commands.

In other words, it’s just a big, crazy puzzle.

At this point, a commitment to quality really matters. The computer wouldn’t by itself just start understanding what it all means (frankly, that’d be kind of scary). Instead, it matches all these phenome combinations with what’s been already installed into its memory. For example, not every caller is going to speak at the same speed, with the patterns, or with the same accent. So the system memory needs an immense bank of vocabulary. And the system needs finely tuned allowances for variation in such speech factors, while staying narrow enough to keep the system accurate.

Doing all of this requires time, thorough planning, and tireless, nitty-gritty implementation. At Acclaim Telecom, we’re proud to work with the highest quality IVR speech application design and development platforms, like Convergys/InterVoice, LumenVox, Microsoft, and Genesys to accomplish this task.

How Much Do Customer Relationships Matter?

Take a look around — from Internet shopping, to ATM banking, to self-service checkouts at the grocery store, to self-service check-ins at the airport, customers are taking care of themselves in more and more parts of life. A big part of this comes from the fact that automation is often cheaper for companies, sure. But it’s also simply preferred by customers in many situations, which makes telecom solutions like our hosted IVR applications smart, satisfying investments for both companies and customers.

In fact, studies are beginning to show that many companies have overestimated how much of a relationship their customers expect from them.

This “less-is-more: trend might seem counterintuitive for businesses that have invested heavily in manned customer service. So exactly what kind of relationship do customers want from companies? How important is customer service to loyalty?

The Harvard Business Review (HBR) and the Customer Contact Council have been exploring exactly those questions, and have come up with two conclusions relevant to your approach to IVR:

1. Customers reward competency more than attention.

Sure, a charming, top-notch sales representative might make a unique connection with a caller and leave a warm, lasting impression that makes the customers more likely to return in the future. But more likely is that a customer will punish a company for poor customer service, making the uncertainty and inconsistency of non-automated customer service a risky venture.

According to HBR:
Consumers’ impulse to punish bad service—at least more readily than to reward delightful service—plays out dramatically in both phone-based and self-service interactions, which are most companies’ largest customer service channels. In those settings, our research shows, loyalty has a lot more to do with how well companies deliver on their basic, even plain-vanilla promises than on how dazzling the service experience might be.

With IVR systems, you can invest in an intuitive, effective system that’s not reliant upon a customer service employee performing at a high level from call to call to call.

2. Customers want you to make things easy for them

More than anything else, people really just want their problems solved, whether its via a friendly person on the other end of the line, or an automated application that’s been tested and tested to make sure it’s clear, informative, and capable of providing solutions. (No offense to the lonely souls out there really just calling your customer service reps looking for a little bit of conversation.)

In many ways, IVR can do that job better than a human rep. An effective IVR application includes:

  • Less room for misunderstanding and miscommunication.
  • Less stress for the caller having to accurately communicate their problems and needs.
  • Less social pressure for the caller to be friendly and cordial, and to “connect” in a way a human rep might try to with them.
  • Less dependency on consistent customer service from a representative, who’s prone to fatigue, mistakes, and irritability.
  • More ability to test and retest the application for thorough effectiveness.

And, of course, you can always include an easy opt-out option that lets confused callers seek help from a human representative.

At Acclaim Telecom, our IVR hosted services include comprehensive turnkey development, deployment, and support for your IVR needs. We’ll help you develop a system that saves you customer service costs, and saves your customers the stress of not getting what they need.