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September 6, 2000

Call centers: recognizing the importance of speech

Touch-tone telephone menus seem designed to irritate rather than serve. Interactive Voice Response vendors must now embrace speech recognition with open arms and become principal players in its deployment. Speech recognition will drive interactive telephone systems revenue growth over the next four years: by 2004, the IVR market (which includes speech recognition) will be worth $1.3 billion.

By CBR Staff Writer

Speech recognition will drive growth of interactive telephone systems.

Interactive Voice Response (IVR) technology, which automates telephone calls with button responses, has been popular with businesses for some time. It reduces the cost of customer interactions and allows contact center agents to concentrate on more complex, higher-value tasks. Unfortunately, it is unpopular with customers and revenue has stagnated now that penetration rates of IVR are high.

Speech recognition offers relief for both the frustrated customer and IVR vendors looking to diversify their offerings and maintain growth. It increases the convenience and user-friendliness of automated interactions; at the same time, it is more popular with customers because it allows more sophisticated interactions and more potential applications. Datamonitor predicts that, with an increasing emphasis on customer satisfaction in this new CRM age, the latest technology will drive growth of the IVR sector by an average of 11% per annum to 2004.

The future looks brighter for IVR players who embrace speech recognition. First, the growth of eCommerce is increasing the number of remote contacts businesses have with customers across all channels. Second, speech recognition will force businesses to analyze their customer interactions and try and find new places where automation could improve service and reduce costs. In the longer term it is also likely to increase the volume of tele-commerce.

IVR vendors are uniquely positioned to take advantage of the explosive growth predicted in the speech recognition market. They have wide-ranging distribution networks, large installed bases and a body of experienced technical personnel. Indeed, IVR vendors should take a lead in bringing speech recognition to market. And they should be successful, provided they can use their existing customer interaction experience to tackle the tricky task of designing excellent speech recognition applications.

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