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IVR menu systems - Traditional vs. Automatic Speech Recognition

What are the benefits of replacing a traditional IVR menu system (that is used for purchasing product, technical support FAQ and routing of calls to different skilled agents) with an IVR menu that uses Automatic Speech Recognition? Is the customer experience enhanced enough to justify the costs of implementing ASR?
Your customer base should drive this decision. Analyze your customer profile and see if they fit a demographic that would benefit from IVR speech recognition.

For example, there seems to be a forthcoming wave of legislation outlawing the use of handheld phones while driving. Drivers will surely respond by turning to hands-free mobile phones. If mobile phone users are an important part of your customer base, then supporting speech recognition becomes almost required.

Another example is in situations when your customers will need hands free to work as they go through the IVR system. Will they need write things down or work a keyboard? In many medical and laboratory fields, customers may not be able to touch the phone for contamination reasons.

At this point, I have not seen any trends indicating that speech recognition is mission critical. In other words, no studies that I'm aware of are showing that customers are turning away from companies or products because of a lack of speech recognition.

But as prices for quality speech recognition systems continue to fall, competition may force your hand. It's a bit reactive, but you might take a look at your competitors. If they all offer speech recognition, you might start thinking about why. Or, conversely, if they do not is there a driving need for you to be ahead of the game?

IF YOU DECIDE TO GO WITH SPEECH RECOGNITION, be sure to evaluate products very carefully. An inaccurate speech rec system will surely frustrate your customers and potentially drive them away.

Again, carefully consider your demographic when evaluating systems. If you do have a customer base of mobile phone users, will the system be able to tolerate the background noise? If your customers are in diverse geographic areas, will the system tolerate differing accents? If your customers vary greatly in age, will the system handle tone and pitch differences between young and old callers?

This was last published in November 2001

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