Voice-based applications are one of the most underexploited areas of technology. One reason is that the voice and data functions have historically been separated from each other in IT. But as the demand for greater flexibility and hands-free access to applications grows, there is a definite place for voice in enterprise applications. Here are 10 best practices for voice.
1: Streamline automated phone attendants
The automated phone attendant with its layers of complexity is one of the most frustrating touch points for customers — and a common reason why customers decide to take their business elsewhere. All too often, the message from an automated phone system to a customer is that the company doesn't want person-to-person engagement. You can go a long way toward making your customers feel welcome by ensuring that your auto phone attendant applications are designed for customer convenience, as well as your own.
2: Plug in big data voice analytics for call centers
Today's call centers use metrics like call abandonment (how many people give up waiting to get their calls answered), rate of problem resolution, and how long it takes to get a customer issue resolved (and the customer off the phone). Voice recordings are also made for quality assurance purposes. However, another area of unexploited data can analyze pauses in voice streams, changes in tone of voice, etc., to give additional insights into how satisfactory the customer experience is. This could well be the next frontier of big data analysis for quality of voice-based customer experience.
3: Limit the scope of voice commands if you're using voice recognition in applications
The warehouse is a good example of this. Here, employees "train" voice recognition engines to understand the specific characteristics of their voices — like tones, accents, and how they speak. This enables them to use voice commands and to perform hands-free while they stock or pack inventory. But to be successful, the number of voice commands must be limited and short. Consequently, warehouse workers use commands like "start," "stop," or "bin 213." By limiting the voice input and not overworking the voice recognition engine with elongated phases, you can ensure that voice commands are recognized and then plugged into application workflows.
4: Ensure that your network quality of service (QoS) for voice is topnotch
There is an ongoing war between voice and data analysts when it comes to network quality of service. In the data world, QoS can be less than it is for voice, because voice demands topnotch service to avoid jitter or communications breakdowns. In some cases, companies solve this by assigning the top traffic priority to voice if both voice and data are flowing over the same network. In other cases, a separate network is dedicated to voice so that it never has to contend with data.
5: Unify your voice and data departments
The war between voice and data over the network extends to IT departmental functions. All too often, IT maintains separate departments for its phone/voice and its data network technicians. Ideally, these two functions should be working together in a single, unified department that understands the needs of both voice and data.
6: Develop a strategy for voice
Most companies still view voice as a maintenance function that entails making sure that telephones and phone systems stay operational. Voice also has the potential to be crafted into "breakthrough" applications — but if you are going to do this, you should set your strategy first.
7: Bring voice expertise into your applications group
If you want to add voice-based applications to your arsenal, the first step is ensuring that you have an application developer who is skilled in voice app development.
8: Don't sacrifice all your landlines!
Landline voice quality is unsurpassed and extremely reliable. If you have high-level communications that can't be interrupted by service disruptions or jitter, a landline option should be considered as a primary or as a backup option.
9: Develop a partnership with your telecom provider
Telecom providers (and their customers) tend to look at their relationships as "commodity" ones. Little strategizing or brainstorming goes on. But if you're a large enterprise with a sizable book of business with the telco, you might want to change this. Arrange to get together with your telecom provider at least quarterly — and not just to go over bills. Once the provider knows you want to discuss strategy and not just billings, it can bring you better information on new capabilities and services that can help advance your strategies.
10: Use multiple voice services providers
Especially for VoIP (voice over internet) and critical communications, you will want to use more than one vendor. This is for load balancing of your voice applications and for failover, should one provider's service go offline or get disrupted. Mission-critical voice-based apps should be subject to the same 24/7 availability as their data app counterparts.
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Do you have additional tips to help organizations get the most from their voice applications? Share your suggestions with fellow TechRepublic members.
Mary E. Shacklett is president of Transworld Data, a technology research and market development firm. Prior to founding the company, Mary was Senior Vice President of Marketing and Technology at TCCU, Inc., a financial services firm; Vice President of Product Research and Software Development for Summit Information Systems, a computer software company; and Vice President of Strategic Planning and Technology at FSI International, a multinational manufacturing company in the semiconductor industry. Mary is a keynote speaker and has more than 1,000 articles, research studies, and technology publications in print.