speech automation

Harnessing speech automation enables organizations to increase convenience for customers, improve service levels, and boost efficiency. However, previous speech automation solutions, such as voice IVRs, had significant drawbacks. They were expensive and time-consuming to implement and run. This limited their use to the largest organizations. Performance and understanding were also unpredictable, frustrating customers who gave up and spoke to an agent instead.

The combination of CCaaS and advances in AI have changed this. Speech automation is now faster, cheaper, and more flexible. This opens up its benefits to organizations of all sizes. We’re also all more used to talking to technology, whether digital assistants such as Alexa in the home or Siri on our smartphones.

The drawbacks of traditional speech automation systems

Speech automation is not a new technology in the contact center. Automatic Speech Recognition features captured human speech and then passed it to a speech engine for analysis and a relevant response. However, companies had to train these engines individually to meet their needs. Adding to this, they were expensive in terms of licensing costs and required bespoke hardware to run on. Ongoing maintenance added to costs. All of this meant they were only available to the largest organizations with sufficient resources to implement and maintain them.

The power of CCaaS, AI and new speech APIs

Three factors have dramatically changed the speech automation landscape, bringing solutions within the price range of smaller organizations for the first time:

1. The cost-effectiveness and flexibility of CCaaS

The power of the cloud means that companies no longer need to install their own hardware or pay upfront for implementations. They can simply access capabilities as required and pay on a per transaction basis. This makes it much easier to create and pilot projects, show ROI, and justify budgets.

2. Advances in speech engines

Driven by AI, there has been an explosion in the number of speech engines now available via CCaaS. As these are all accessed by speech APIs, they are easy to integrate with existing applications. Essentially, companies can choose which engine is best for their particular application or language. They can even integrate multiple engines for different applications, again just paying per transaction.

3. NLP and generative AI to aid understanding

Natural Language Processing (NLP), the branch of AI that understands language, is now extremely advanced. It can handle more complex commands and better understand intent. Customers are therefore more likely to be happy with the experience voice IVR and other speech automation applications provide. This helps drive greater acceptance and usage. Generative AI can also help with turning answers into more natural conversations, further increasing customer engagement.

Exploring new use cases for speech automation

Contact centers can now use speech automation much more widely. With CCaaS, companies can start small, investigate use cases, and then grow those that deliver value. Example applications include:

1. Streamline Identity and Verification (ID&V)

Customers can now use voice biometrics or other security methods to authenticate themselves while waiting to speak to an agent. This speeds up calls and improves the experience. When they reach an agent, they can immediately start a conversation, making the exchange much more natural.

2. Automate easy transactions

A large number of calls coming into the contact center concern routine interactions. However, many require customers to verify their identity before they can do something as simple as reset a password, order a new bank card, or pay a bill. Speech automation systems can now make the whole process seamless and secure, without needing to talk to an agent. They don’t have to be hard-wired to specific answers and can automate a wide range of functions. Voice IVR solutions also perform more accurately, allowing them to cover a broader spectrum of non-sensitive transactions. This reduces the load on contact center agents.

3. Provide confidentiality

Customers may feel uncomfortable sharing certain details, such as their medical histories, with agents. Voice IVR systems provide a way to interact with a company or access information without having to speak to a human. This removes potentially embarrassing conversations while encouraging consumers to get in touch.

4. Deliver effective out-of-hours cover

We live in a 24-hour world. However, staffing contact centers out of hours is expensive and demand can be hard to predict. Providing access to common services through a voice IVR delivers responses without needing an agent. This brings down costs while keeping customer satisfaction levels high. Voice IVR can also be used to triage incoming calls if a contact centre is operating with a skeleton out-of-hours staff. Self-service then handles the majority, with more complex calls passed to agents.

5. Moving beyond IVR

Speech automation now supports multiple applications beyond voice IVR. For example, it can be used to analyze calls or chats and automatically provide agents with relevant answers, based on the in-house knowledge base. It can automatically translate between different languages. This enables agents and customers to have a conversation, even if they don’t share a common language. For example, Hitachi Energy uses real-time chat translation built on speech automation across its global contact center. If an agent with the necessary language skills is unavailable (such as outside office hours), the conversation can take place via chat, with AI handling real-time translation.

Thanks to improvements in speech analysis and the flexibility of CCaaS, speech automation is now available to all contact centers. They can quickly deploy applications that better understand customers and provide them with faster answers. This improves the experience and boosts satisfaction, all while increasing efficiency.

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