|Paul Kowal, President of Kowal Associates, Inc., a leading Customer
Relationship Management (CRM) consulting services company located
in Boston, MA, discussed the pros and cons of speech recognition vs.
traditional interactive voice response (IVR) at the Direct Marketing
Association Telephone Marketing Conference in West Palm Beach, FL.
While he said the days of using your touch tone phone to check flight
reservations and pay your credit card balance are far from over, speech
recognition technology is becoming the technology of choice for companies
and consumers alike.
Kowal cited how Dual Tone Multi Frequency (DTMF) IVR, the software
that allows customers to communicate with automated systems to perform
basic tasks at any time, has several major drawbacks. It cannot
be used by rotary phone users, is awkward to use from portable handsets
and cell phones, and is frequently tedious. Also, consumers are
often overwhelmed by the choices they're given; other times, he
said, the automated menu doesn't cover their specific request.
"Over 60 percent of people have hung up on an IVR system at
least once," Kowal said. "Many times, it's because of
the routing procedure; once you've started down a path, it's difficult
to go back."
As an alternative, Kowal discussed the newer speech recognition
technology-- hardware and software that responds to a customer's
voice. With it, customers can simply state what they want into the
phone in a casual speaking voice, and the automated system responds
accordingly. The technology is currently in use with great success
by a growing number of companies, including Federal Express, Sears,
and United Airlines.
Kowal said that not only can speech recognition technology identify
a customer strictly by voice and store the voiceprint in a database
for future use, it is actually preferred by consumers.
"74 percent of those surveyed said that speech recognition
is as good as speaking to a live rep or better," he said. "And
some people even say they preferred the speech technology over speaking
with a rep! This type of acceptance is unheard of."
What's more, Kowal stressed the massive cost savings that speech
recognition can bring as an alternative to a live call center representative.
A speech port handling calls through speech recognition technology
costs about $3,500 a year, compared to nearly $35,000 a year to
pay, train and supervise a live rep.
"It's a cost savings of 94 percent," Kowal said. "It
may seem too good to be true, but there it is. A 94 percent savings
to implement a system that customers say they prefer."
Kowal Associates is considered by clients to be an integral part
of their marketing team, providing everything from strategic planning
to recommending and training customer service representatives to
managing a client marketing program's day-to-day operations. Kowal's
client support philosophy is to keep abreast of changes that affect
client industries, competitors and most importantly the customer.
Kowal also educates clients about current and cutting-edge technologies,
such as speech recognition software and e-care applications.