Archive for August, 2006

Job: Voice Developer (English, Afrikaans) at Nuance Belgium

Friday, August 25th, 2006

See the Linguist List job ad.

Get human – or get lost!

Monday, August 14th, 2006

Last year Paul English published his notorious IVR cheat sheet to help US customers bypass automated phone systems. Many customer service managers were not amused: they risked seeing their personnel costs skyrocket and the return on their technology investments plummet. Quite an unfortunate development, as the oft-cited goals of (speech-enabled) IVR technology are to reduce costs as well as to increase customer satisfaction.

In a remarkable keynote address held at last week’s SpeechTEK conference in New York City, Mr. English reiterated his plea to customer service managers and CEOs: stop running your customer service department as a cost center; instead, reach out to your customers, and start considering customer contact as an important company asset – which it is. In short: “get human” (again).

The trouble with such a general statement, of course, is that every company executive will agree in principle. But will they also act on it? In my opinion, key elements to bring about a positive evolution are:

  • a growing awareness of the real (= known plus hidden) costs of badly designed IVR systems;
  • the willingness to make current IVR systems more user-friendly, by using speech technology (and other technologies) knowledgeably;
  • the promotion of the customer service function to the top level of the company hierarchy, in order to enable the definition of integrated customer service strategies and policies.

A first tentative answer to the self-proclaimed American IVR crisis is Paul English’ proposal for a “GetHuman™ earcon standard “, currently open for discussion. In its current preliminary version, the very first rule reads:

If a human operator is available when a consumer calls, the human should answer the phone

Assuming human operators don’t sleep while working, this rule is a tautology. The real question is whether a sufficient number of operators are being made available at a given moment in time – which brings us back to workforce optimization, i.e. company policy.

As a sign of the importance given by the speech industry to the GetHuman™ initiative, it was also announced that Microsoft, Nuance Communications and others “will work with the GetHuman™ project to drive adoption of these standards”. Cynics might say that a dangerous initiative has been neutralized. Whatever the point of view, the GetHuman™ initiative is important because it stresses what should be self-evident: that customer service is about serving customers.

If customer service departments don’t get human, customers will vote with their feet, and tell them to … get lost.

Job: Voice Developer (EN/FR/IT/DE) at Nuance Belgium

Monday, August 14th, 2006

See the Linguist List job ad.