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Speech, voice apps integrating into the contact center

Contact centers are seeing more options than ever with RightNow adding new voice functionality and Autonomy bringing search to its speech analytics.

Voice technology is making inroads into the CRM market, two recent releases show.

Expanding on its acquisition of eTalk, Autonomy released its Intelligent Contact Center, which uses speech analytics to search recorded conversations and provide insight into customer interactions, alongside email and chat.

Ken Landoline, senior analyst with the Boston-based Yankee Group, said standalone contact center applications such as voice need to be integrated into full contact center suites. Voice, email and Web self-service applications are historically siloed and not integrated with one another.

"Voice applications have really been implemented as standalone applications," Landoline said. "Going forward, to optimize CRM applications, tying these into the databases used by CRM applications as well as all the applications in the contact center will be essential."

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Despite rigorous efforts to move customer service away from expensive live telephone interactions to cheaper channels, the telephone continues to dominate customers' access to their companies. Yankee Group estimates that live telephone conversations still account for 77% of customers' access to enterprise information, 13% is handled entirely by interactive voice response (IVR) systems, 4% is via online self service and 4% is via email, with the remaining 2% agent-assisted Web chat. Telephone interaction may shrink in the next several years, but it will remain the dominant form of access for years, according to Yankee, and the voice channel needs to remain a major consideration for contact center managers.

Voice applications have been a major focus at Bozeman, Mont.-based RightNow Technologies.

Acknowledging that voice is a relatively new business for the company, Dave Vap, vice president of products, said, "We're the first CRM vendor to focus on having voice integrated into the core CRM offering versus going to a third party. Our growth rate for voice is double the growth rate of our company -- there's demand. All channels -- voice, email and the Web -- use the same underlying infrastructure, knowledge base, and marketing engine."

Meanwhile, Autonomy is using its intelligent data operational layer (IDOL) to provide a contextual understanding of enterprise information, including text, email, audio and video. Contact centers can make recorded interactions searchable and actionable.

"In the past, we looked at ourselves as a call-recording, call-evaluation kind of company," said Scott Shute, president and CEO of Autonomy eTalk. "Now we've kind of merged two markets together, taking the search market and bringing it to life."

The three elements of Autonomy's Intelligent Contact Center are: a multi-channel interaction analysis that captures information across channels, using emotion detection and voice analysis; real-time agent support that delivers information directly to the agent desktop; and contact center performance, which offers e-learning, surveys, quality management and compliance tools.

"We believe the call center is the nerve center of the business. In that call center, there is all that unstructured information that has been set aside," Shute said. "Inside all that information, the emails and the calls, is the unstructured information we are taking and revealing to the business in a way they don't have to look for."

Although emotion detection and call mining has seen some success in financial institutions, uptake has been slow, according to Landoline.

"It was really introduced five or six years ago, but it hasn't gotten any traction, mostly because of the high cost, and it takes a lot of churning and analysis," he said. "I've seen some sophisticated demonstrations, but it's still in its early stages."

Users are generally asking for just a piece of speech analytics technology they can get with a "one off" application, instead of buying a full speech analytics application, Landoline said.

"Once they're able to unbundle those apps, I'm very high on the whole area," he said. "It's going to be great for contact center managers."

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