Speak Freely – Part III

Contributed by Eyal Inbar, Marketing, NEC Unified Solutions

Why do we like to hate speech applications?  The most interesting question to start with is how come we love to communicate verbally with people yet will do all in our power to avoid communicating verbally with a machine?

Well, by now you could probably guess. It is all about the customer experience and the way we are designing and implementing interactive voice and speech solutions
Like many other software and hardware solution, Speech technologies have been designed and implemented by technical people with very little understanding of the customer experience and needs. It has been deployed as an infrastructure project, usually with the intention to use the technology to save costs to the company, unfortunately on the expense of customer experience.

Why should we make the effort in integrating and using voice technology?
Speech and Voice applications are very powerful technologies that can be used to attract new customers and connect with them in a much deeper level than any other technology we have.

Our ability to integrate voice solutions to line of business applications allow us to provide a better customer experience and much more efficient communication when customers are interacting with our organization. We should just use it smarter and make sure those responsible for the customer interaction , whether a marketing or operation leader or any other customer facing executive are involved in the design and implementation of the solution.

Some practical examples
You can find today a large variety of solutions and applications that make good use of voice and speech technology. Some are uniquely powerful especially in times of economic downturn, here is a sample:

Speech Auto attendant – The system allows callers to be automatically transferred to a user’s or department extension without the intervention of a receptionist, just by saying the name. Usually the system will also be connected to your email system, allowing you to schedule meetings using voice commands and get the system read your emails to you. If you have multiple operators in your organization, answering phone calls both internally or from customers, you should look at this solution. This solution delivers new ways of saving money and can usually show a return on your investment in less than 6 months.

Automated outbound dialer (or Automated messaging system) – If you are still not using this solution, Please do!  The idea is very simple; connect the voice application to your CRM, ERP, your email system or any other customer data base and start communicating with your customers more frequently. Use it as part of your lead generation campaign to proactively reach out to thousands of potential customers and have them listen to your message and connect with an agent; remind people to show up for appointments;  send emergency notification  and much more. This is a very simple and usually very cost effective solution.

Voice Biometrics solutions –The solution offers a security level in the remote transactions over the phone, for businesses and their customers looking to increase their privacy with greater security measures or enhance customers’ experience, this is a very effective solution to qualify the speaker’s identity

Final Part next week.

Colon & Rectal Center of Arizona Improves Customer Service and Lowers Costs with NEC Communication Solutions

Company leverages NEC’s UNIVERGE®360 approach to help ensure effective communications and reduce phone bills by 20 percent

IRVING, TX, January 28, 2009 — NEC Unified Solutions, Inc. (NEC), a leader in enterprise business communications, today announced that Colon & Rectal Center of Arizona (CRCA) is utilizing its UNIVERGE® SV8100 communications server, auto-call distribution (ACD), and UM8000 unified messaging solution to help the center lower costs and thrive with a collaborative environment that allows enhanced patient care. The CRCA is also using NEC’s NetLink to seamlessly integrate its two sites and enable centralized reservations with ACD.

The CRCA faced a number of communications challenges prior to selecting the NEC IP communications solution: incompatible telephone systems that did not allow interoffice call transfers, separate office appointment-setting functions, lost calls and extended hold-times for patients. NEC UNIVERGE solutions exclusive dealer, Canyon Telecom, addressed these challenges and designed, implemented and managed the project to make communications at CRCA more efficient.

“Regardless of where anyone is, on any given day, the NEC solution provided by Canyon Telecom is completely seamless and helps everyone communicate effectively in order to allow us to give our patients the best care possible,” said Dr. Elizabeth McConnell, founder, CRCA. “The solution has cut our phone bills by 20 percent, enabled us to operate with one less appointment clerk and we believe has become a tremendous asset to our practice.”

The solution yields easy transfer of outside calls between offices and now employees can reach each other with four-digit dialing, regardless of where they are located. ACD reduces caller hold times and distributes call volumes evenly among the office clerks. Additionally, ACD provides call handling metrics that allow CRCA to improve office management as well as identify training issues thereby enabling them to more effectively control the appointment-setting function of the practice.

The solution uses two UNIVERGE SV8100 communications servers, one in each of the practice’s two locations, connected via NetLink, a powerful networking application. Since the SV8100s share a single database, they operate as a single seamless solution. The two connected servers answer five different telephone numbers and provide IP telephony for CRCA’s two office locations, which include three physician’s practices and a surgical center. An auto-attendant on the SV8100 answers the phone for all three doctors; each is able to have a unique night mode and on-off schedule.

“Enhanced delivery and patient scheduling is necessary in the competitive environment of healthcare and this solution will continue to help unify CRCA’s communications as the practice continues to grow and evolve,” said Larry Levenberg, vice president and general manager, National Channel, NEC Unified Solutions. “CRCA’s needs aligned perfectly with our UNIVERGE360 framework in which the role of individual employees determines the best communications method and technology.”

Speak Freely Part II – Connecting with customers in a deeper level!

Contributed by Eyal Inbar, Marketing, NEC Unified Solutions

One of my favorite researches was done by Stanford University.  In this research they wanted to understand if the same social behaviors such as politeness will apply when talking with a computer.

The idea was very simple, if I will ask you to give me feedback on my own presentation, you will usually give me a positive feedback, while if the question was asked by a 3rd party, and your answer will be probably more honest. Why is it? The social rule is that it will be more polite to give me a positive feedback and not hurt my feelings.

Now, would you worry about hurting the computer’s feelings?  Your answer is probably no.

In this research they had a computer with a voice, teach people about something and then administrate a test and grade the person. At the end of the session the students were asked to give feedback on how well the computer did? How good of a teacher was it?

The questions were asked by either the computer once with the same voice used for the instruction class and once with a different voice. Everything else was identical, same teaching; same test and the students got even the same score just to make sure that won’t affect their opinion. The only difference was that they either heard the voice that just taught them, asking for feedback or a different voice.

Remarkably, people provided significantly more positive feedback to the questioned asked by the same voice as opposed to the feedback provided when using the new voice.  They even gave feedback such as: it was better, I liked the interaction more, much better teacher  and even said they did better in the test (although everything was absolutely identical including the score they got)

Now, you have to ask yourself, why someone would give different feedback to the same training just because the voice that was asking for the feedback is one time the same voice that taught the training and the other time is a different voice. Did the student think they are talking with a real person? After all it was just voice, no video; no picture just a computerized voice.

Obviously the students knew they were talking to computer and not with a real human being. If there is any group that will know that, it will be this group of people –a group of computer science students at MIT.

It appears that social rules apply when we are speaking with computers. In fact, when the students were asked if they purposely said nicer things to the computer that asked about itself because they didn’t want to hurt his feeling, they obviously said there is no way someone would change their answer just to make a computer feel better, but in fact  they did….their social response was unconscious.

So, if social rules apply when we are communicating with computers, how significant will be the opportunity to communicate with our customers in a deeper level?  Ask any marketer and he will tell you that being able to connect with customers in an emotional level it is the hardest but also the most rewarding thing you can achieve.

I’ll continue with Part III shortly.

Speak Freely – Part I

by Eyal Inbar, Marketing, NEC Unified Solutions

100,000 years ago humans started to speak so they can free up their hands. Is it going to happen again? I’d love to get rid of my keyboard….

A few weeks ago I wrote this short sentence on twitter and got many comments back. I thought it would be a good idea to share a bit more about my view on speech and voice technology and the way I believe it will change the way we communicate

In some odd way, it turns out that technology took us back in time to some very old habits where we find ourselves communicating again with our hands, using the keyboards on our computers or cell phones. I believe that the same reasons that made humans move away from using their hands 100,000 years ago will be the main driver for going through that evolution once again – productivity and improved speed of communication. In the 21st century this will be driven by voice technologies that will extend our ability to speak not only with humans, but also with machines.

Why Speech? Why now?

The Ability to speak is one of the most basic capabilities that a human being has. A person with as low as 50 IQ can speak, a child will start learning words from almost his first day and will usually start speaking by the time he is 2 years old.

Considering that personal computers took off in 1975 with the introduction of the first PC kit (MITS), for many of us, typing is almost a second nature, but ask an older person or someone that has never seen a computer and he will tell you that there is no way typing is easier than talking.

Although it is not natural, with the evolution of technology and the integration of our personal computers to the network, internet and business processes, typing became much more productive and efficient than speaking.

Speech technology on the other hand, has been here for a long time, a promise that was never fulfilled, up until recently. Over the last few years speech took off in a major way. There probably isn’t a single day you go without putting it to use. Be it  your car’s and GPS system, your corporate office directory, you call to the airline booking desk when checking your flight status and more recently it is available on your cell phone and smart-phones applications such as Google Voice Search.  It seems as if it took off over night,

There are many technical reasons that made this possible including new innovations in the technology of speech recognition, standard protocols such as VXML, increased CPU power, mobile technology and more. I will not talk about any of those in this blog, instead, I’d like to share with you my view on the business reasons that made and will make speech and voice solutions so important for customers and businesses in the upcoming years.

Next time I’ll discuss how to connect with customers on a deeper level.