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Speech being heard in the contact center

Speech technology vendors are making headway into the contact center market, a slew of announcements at SpeechTek shows.

Voice is being heard this week in New York where the annual SpeechTek conference is making some noise in the contact center.

Long heralded as a way for companies to improve the customer experience while reducing costs, speech analytics and voice technology is starting to make inroads with large enterprises. Several vendors announced customer wins this week, including RightNow Technologies, which recently signed a deal with Samsung Telecommunications America. Bozeman, Mont.-based RightNow Samsung will use RightNow Voice and a RightNow knowledge base application to provide a self-service voice application, a return merchandise authorization inquiry application or direct callers to a live call center agent based on their response to scripted speech prompts.

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Infrastructure is just what others at the SpeechTek show are offering. IBM made a slew of announcements regarding its WebSphere Voice Server. OutRight Insurance, a U.K.-based insurance company, is using IBM and technology from IBM partner Fluency to route calls to appropriate agents in its call center. OutRight also has plans to deploy speech applications for identification and verification of customers.

Additionally, two German companies have signed on with IBM. SpeechConcept has developed a concierge service, based on IBM's speech platform, that allows callers to dial one number and receive information they're looking for by saying "pizza" or "movies." Dtms Solutions, a speech application hosting company, selected IBM's WebSphere Voice Server as its voice platform

"The value of speech technology is important, but what was more important was the WebSphere story and having a service-oriented architecture," Brian Garr, IBM's director for enterprise speech, said of the Dtms deal. Garr said he has seen the market for speech technology growing at 18% to 19% a year for the last three years.

Analysts and contact center consultants have seen similar growth and predict even more. According to Donna Fluss, principal of West Orange, N.J.-based DMG Consulting, the Merchants Global Contact Centre Benchmarking Report found that of 363 contact centers surveyed last year, nearly a third use some speech recognition technology and another 17% plan to install it this year.

Contact centers are driven partly by a desire to improve the customer experience and avoid the frustration of having to enter account numbers multiple times and continually being transferred from agent to agent, said Brown. But ROI is also convincing companies to get into speech technology.

"If I can save something I'll go down that path," he said. "There's been a strong reaction to outsourced call centers, in the U.K. particularly. Companies are bringing operations back onshore but they don't get the lower cost. Automating gives them the best of both worlds."

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