September 23, 2011

Speak as you would be spoken unto

Filed under: Uncategorized — by xrematon @ 7:57 pm

 I am not sure which is more irritating: having to repeat the words ‘home insurance’ four times over or pressing ‘option one’, then ‘option three’, then ‘option two’, and finally waiting a long time to talk to someone.

Moving home means giving notice of change of address and hence the need to contact organisations. I ended up doing this over 35 times, which was, on the one hand, tortuous, but, on the other, surprisingly interesting for the variation in experiences I had. As one might expect, there were a lot of touchtone menu systems and long waits, but I also spoke to real people in the same time zone. With wage inflation in places like India, and wage stagnation in certain depressed parts of the UK, the cost advantage in outsourcing call centres is now no longer so clear cut.

There were also a high proportion of speech recognition systems. It seems that such systems, more expensive than automated menus, were put on hold during the recession but have resurfaced now that IT budgets have been loosened. They have, however, been around for a long time. National Rail claims to be the first organisation to use complex speech recognition for their TrainTracker service launched in 2004. As with all developments in technology, there are positives and negatives. Whilst I wouldn’t feel comfortable saying aloud sensitive information such as my bank card number, speech recognition does make sense for some, in particular mobile phone users operating hands-free. Whilst the experience isn’t always satisfying, some are making life easier for themselves by speaking ‘speech recognition’ as this quote from an interview with a major provider of services makes clear.

Finally, with proliferation of speech applications – especially among major consumer services firms such as banking and telecom, whose product offerings necessitate regular customer contact with IVR systems – callers have become more adept at using speech recognition. That is, speakers have leveraged their prior experience to change their interaction styles and keyword vocabulary to what works, thereby improving call completion rates.

Just as text messaging has changed the way we write, will this new technology turn us all into robots uttering halting sentences? I –hope –not.


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