Thursday, July 17, 2008

Follow up study to be presented in SpeechTek

Susan Hura, one of the head organizers of SpeechTek this year just posted following on the VUIDS Yahoogroups group:
For those of you coming to SpeechTEK next month, Tim Pearce from Dimension Data and Mike Bergelson from Cisco are going to present year 2 data from the Alignment Index at the conference. We're kicking off the Business Goals track with this session, Monday, August 18, 10:15-11 AM. We'll also be hearing about a similar study conducted in the EU by VoiceObjects.

Here is a link to the session.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The Parallel Worlds of Vendors and Users

Just came across a fascinating study by Dimension Data (in collaboration with Cisco) on the perception gap between "vendors" and "consumers" of speech-enabled self service solutions. By "vendors" the study refers to platform developers, system integrators, voice application developers, and speech technology vendors. 128 such vendors were surveyed for the study. By "consumers" they refer to callers who have interacted with speech-enabled self-service applications. They surveyed 1,203 such consumers.


The key findings revolve around 6 questions:

(1) How often would you prefer to use a speech recognition system rather than a touch-tone system? 9% of vendors answered "As little as possible," while 45% of users gave that answer. A huge disconnect. On the flip side, 47% of users gave a qualified "Yes" -- that is, they would prefer speech under some circumstances (depending on time of day, where the caller is, etc.), which tells us that users are not necessarily reflexively rejecting speech-enabled automation under all circumstances.

(2) What do you think is the main reason organizations provide automated services in their call centers? 69% of vendors said "to save money" compared to 54% of users. In other words, callers are no dupes: they fully understand what motivates to deployment of these solutions.

(3) What do you think is the most important benefit of using an automated system when you phone a call center? 51% of vendors mentioned "to avoid wait time" while 49% of users mentioned "24 x 7 service" against 18% who mentioned "Avoid wait time"! A remarkable mis-alignment and a clear opportunity for marketers and designers to exploit for increasing adoption.

(4) In general, when you've used a speech recognition system, which of the following best describes how well it helped you deal with your query? 77% of vendors said that it "Partially addressed the reason I called" while only 43% of users did. Another large gap. 2% of vendors responded with, "Did nothing I needed," while 13% users gave that response. Again, another noticeable gap that points to excessive optimism from vendors. On the other hand, only 8% of vendors responded with "Fully addressed the reason I called," while 18% of users gave that answer. In other words, it seems that vendor answers are driven by mushy conservative wishful thinking rather than insight into actual user reception.

(5) Having used a speech recognition automated system, would you now...? 44% of vendors responded with, "Be neutral to use one again" vs. only 28% of users giving the same answers. What is noteworthy is that a greater proportion of users (36%) responded with "Be happy to use one again" vs. 32% of vendors giving that answer, and a greater proportion of users (also 36%) responded with "Be reluctant to use one again" vs. 24% from vendors. In other words, just like question 4, users are more opinionated and have a less neutral disposition than vendors.

(6) The thing that annoys or irritates me most about using an automated speech application is when.... 41% of vendors answered with "System didn't understand me," vendors' number one answer, while users' number one answer was, "Transfer to agent with no context." This is a fascinating disconnect. Only 17% of users responded with, "System didn't understand me." Which simply means that it's not speech recognition that users find annoying or irritating, but the experience with the application: an additional 16% of users said, "Can't skip ahead" and 14% said, "No alternatives". In other words, 67% of dissatisfaction revolves around the experience with the application. Vendors by contrast focused on technology, in this case ASR and CTI ("Transfer to agent with no context" receiving 38%). "Can't skip" received 4% and "No alternative" a mere 1%.

The report gives a couple of general recommendations such as establishing "cross-functional engagement within organizations" and ensuring "contributions from non-technology stakeholders, e.g., marketing, customer services, and usability experts." But that is no revelation to anyone who seriously engages in voice user interface design.

What would have made the study complete would have been including a third category of stakeholders: the companies that deploy these applications -- i.e., the actual customers of the vendors. I suspect that since many of these customers are sold on the value of self-service applications by the very vendors surveyed in the study, a parallel mis-alignment between customer expectations and those of the ultimate users also holds.

The authors promise to run the survey year over year. Let's keep our eyes open. Hopefully, vendors and customers will read the report and will begin to actually align their goals and values along those of end users.