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Salesforce Commerce Solution Guide

Cutting Costs and Keeping Customers With Speech Self-Service

By Alan Hubbard
Nov 8, 2007 4:00 AM PT

Companies' integrated voice recognition (IVR) applications are being stretched thin. Even when the best interface designs are in place, customers are abandoning calls before completion.

Cutting Costs and Keeping Customers With Speech Self-Service

Forty-three percent of companies surveyed in the "Contact Center Analytics" benchmark were either seeing poorer performance in call abandonment rates or didn't measure this KPI (key performance indicator) at all. By adding speech self-service to the current IVR stack companies will provide a more robust and complete customer experience.

Improving IVR

The touch-tone IVR self-service customer experience leaves much to be desired. These IVR applications are in place in over 64 percent of contact centers, according to Aberdeen research. Meanwhile, customers are in the process of abandoning these systems in droves. Frustration levels are high as customers struggle with complex and/or missing menu choices.

Obviously, the customer experience with these applications is not optimal. Contact centers are constantly looking for ways to improve the customer experience by adding functionality and reducing complexity. Speech-enabled IVR applications and voice portals provide the tools to address these issues.

Speech-enabled IVR is top-of-mind for many companies. As call centers look for ways to reduce cost, speech applications have traditionally been one of the lower cost alternatives. Over the next 12-18 months, 30 percent of Best in Class companies plan to implement a speech self-service application.

In the past, key enabling technologies such as speech recognition were looked at with a suspicious eye. The accuracy of the results from this software was thought to be suspect. This is no longer true as only 11 percent of companies surveyed cited this as a concern.

Customers Prefer It

Another key driver to implement speech self-service is that customers actually prefer it. Customers want to be able to access call centers when and where they need to and often times this is after normal business hours.

Being able to access account or order information via speech IVR or accessing a voice portal via their cell phones allows the call center customer access to data they previously had to wait for. Speech self-service provides access to customer inquiries so the days of hearing a "busy" signal or waiting on hold are gone.

Interface Design Is Key

So where does one start? It's is all about interface design. The customer interface needs to be simple and easier to use. Customers will abandon a lengthy and/or complex interaction. They need to be able to get to the data quickly and easily.

Now is not the time to use your best developer to design the scripts. There are user interface script designers who specialize in the creation of the scripts. Use one! Next, start off implementing small, well understood business processes. Make sure you understand the impacts of the change to the customer and your business process. Constantly track customer usage and performance of the new speech self-service implementation. As issues arise make the necessary modifications to improve the customer interaction.

Speech self-service can have significant impact on customer satisfaction and operational costs (staffing). Calculate and track ROI based on several key metrics: Cost per call, call volumes, abandoned calls and number of automated calls vs. agent-handled calls. Utilize the results to justify current and future speech self service projects.

Speech self-service is by far not yet mainstream. There are still a number of challenges and issues that need to be identified and addressed. If you would like to help identify them and help make concrete recommendations to companies starting down this path, please follow this link and take Aberdeen's survey on Speech Self-Service.


Alan Hubbard is senior vice president and research director for the Aberdeen Group, where he is responsible for customer service and support practice. Currently, his team's research agenda focuses on the contact center, help desk and service areas. He can be reached at alan.hubbard@aberdeen.com.


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