First Coffee for December 13, 2005

David Sims : First Coffee
David Sims
| CRM, ERP, Contact Center, Turkish Coffee and Astroichthiology:

First Coffee for December 13, 2005

By David Sims

The news as of the first coffee this morning, and the music is Al Stewart’s sturdy pre-Year Of The Cat album, Modern Times:

First off, a big welcome to Emily Olesia Rose Tate. Beautiful little girl, beautiful mother, beautiful family, beautiful Christmas present, beautiful answer to prayer.

Who says momentum doesn’t qualify as news? Speech-recognition vendor Voxify is one of the companies First CoffeeSM’s keeping an eye on, their Automated Agents have conversational skills to handle advanced customer service calls and have proven fairly popular in the travel and hospitality industries.

In other words, they’ve got the Big Mo right now.

The company’s been picking up momentum recently the way the once-left-for-dead Minnesota Vikings have been winning games, so who can tell where they’ll end up? The Vikings as well as Voxify, that is.

The Vikes have been picking up wins, the likes of St. Louis, Green Bay and the New York Giants, while Voxify’s been picking up clients the likes of Continental Airlines, Aer Lingus and CanJet. The Vikes have Brad Johnson. Voxify’s got Adeeb Shanaa.

The Vikings have boat parties. Voxify has... great taste in San Francisco restaurants.

Momentum’s an all-important factor in football, no Super Bowl team of the past 15 years has had a losing record in November-December. It’s also not bad to have as a tech vendor either, where the market tends to play follow the leader even more than the AFC South plays follow the Indianapolis Colts.

There’s company momentum, and there’s industry momentum: “The use of speech in the travel and hospitality industries has been on the rise, and for good reason,” says Steve Cramoysan, Research Director, Gartner. “Speech applications are capable of handling a wide range of call types; from reservations to fare-finding, helping to lighten current call center loads. Current trends clearly point towards increased adoption of speech applications in call centers in the future.”

Continental’s call centers handle some 40 million calls per year, 40 percent of which will soon be initiated by Voxify Automated Agents. “Voxify’s Automated Agents have been an integral part of our move towards customer self-service,” says Martin Hand, Staff Vice President of Reservations Operations at Continental. “Our goal is to consistently deliver speed and simplicity at our call centers, and our Automated Agents help us do just that.”

Adeeb Shanaa, CEO of Voxify says the company strategizes for seasonal needs and other call volume surges. “Our Automated Agents are suited to the travel and hospitality industries,” he says, since “when call centers experience sudden surges of call volumes based on seasonal spikes or unplanned events such as hurricanes, they can’t immediately hire and train new employees to handle the load. One of the benefits of our Automated Agents is their ability to be ready, 24/7, regardless of call volumes.”

Don Nanneman, VP Marketing for Voxify recently found the time to answer a few questions:

FC: It’s being reported in studies that speech automation is part of the boom in hotel industry profits. What’s on the cutting edge of that today that’s helping hotels see ROI from their speech recognition?

DN: The new generation of speech automation, such as Voxify’s Automated Agents, were developed in cooperation with both customers and industry experts with deep domain knowledge to address specific call processes. As these trained automated agents can be deployed quickly with little additional personalization such as branding or back end integration, they are able to begin delivering quick ROI while achieving best in class caller satisfaction. Thanks to our Hosted Managed Service on-demand deployment model, the cost and risk of deploying speech is low. Automated Agents put speech self-service within reach of virtually any size hotelier.

FC: As of today, what industries are you seeing as the next ripe market for speech recognition?

DN: The key factor we evaluate as we look at industry sector expansion is the amount of customer interaction involved in selling and delivering and then servicing products or services. That’s why retail, hospitality, and travel were the first industries we targeted. We recently added Automated Agents to support call processes in entertainment, for things like event ticket sales, and utilities, and will be looking for additional segments to add in 2006.

FC: How has speech recognition progressed to the point where industries that may not have had much use for it in the past now are interested in at least taking a look?

DN: While speech recognition and automation have become dependable over the past decade, the challenge now is in understanding how to apply the technology. After the downsizing of most IT organizations over the past five years few companies have the technical depth or breadth to take on large scale speech application development, regardless of industry.

We believe what has prompted many of the customer interaction-centric industries to look at automated agents today is the combination of the quick time to market we are able to offer coupled with our on-demand hosted model, which keeps start up costs low. Couple low cost with low risk, minimal customization and fast time to market, and you’ve got a winning combination for the bulk of the market today.

FC: Where do hotels get most of the cost savings from speech recognition?

DN: By augmenting or replacing customer service representatives with automated agents they can save at least 50% per call. Many of our customers, such as Wyndham International, have achieved an 85% cost savings by using our Automated Agents to handle routine information calls, freeing live agents to deal with more complex problem resolution calls.

FC: Break down a bit the comment from the Gartner analyst about the “future trends” you see increasing adoption in call centers.

DN: Organizations are looking for ways to improve customer satisfaction while at the same time reducing costs and reducing time to market of new services. While a great deal of effort has gone into Internet and web technologies over the past few years in an effort to add additional sales and information channels, the telephone has remained the most ubiquitous communication device – even increasing in importance with the widespread adoption of cell phones.

Those same organizations are dealing with an onslaught of new technologies in their IT centers they are suffering from a shortage of skilled resources capable of dealing with these new systems, especially speech technologies. All of this leads up to a rapid adoption of hosted managed services to deliver on-demand speech applications deployed from what we call industry-specific “trained agent templates.” Minimal start up costs, no technical specialists required to deploy, and an on-demand model eliminates the need for costly and complex infrastructure. The on-demand trend has spread rapidly from CRM, and Automated Agents are suited to exploit this new paradigm.

FC: You mention the “on-demand” aspect of Voxify’s app. Can you dive into that a bit?

DN: A key benefit of the on-demand model is that a virtually unlimited real time call handling capacity is available to our customers through our hosted managed service model. This means that since Voxify is hosting the speech application the client uses it when it needs it. Whether call volume spikes or is unexpectedly low, the automated agents handle the traffic. It’s perfect scalability.

And clients only pay for what they use. It’s an easy model for our clients to understand and to use. That was proven out recently with the back-to-back hurricanes as a number of our customers in hospitality and travel, such as hotels and airlines, saw significant increases in calls, on the order of four to five times normal, as people were scrambling to find a place to stay or to confirm or change existing reservations.

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