Friday, August 31, 2007

Speech Technology Basics, part one: Speech Recognition

I asked our director of product engineering to give me a few words for the blog that would present how speech technology can be used in the call center. He ended up giving me a whole lot more, and I thought it will definitely be something that others might like to read:

There are many different flavors of technology that can be categorized under the term “Speech Technology”. You have speech recognition, speech analytics, speech to text, interactive voice, phonetics, speech XML and so on down the line. Some of these technologies relate to call centers and some do not.

"Speech Recognition": This form of speech technology allows you to talk to your computer. “Open Microsoft Word”, “Start new document”. “Hello Mom . . . .”, “Save and Print”, "Save the World", etc., a simple way to verbally bypass your keyboard and mouse. If you want to read and write email while you’re on the treadmill then this is the way to go. This technology uses the concept of “Speech Training”.

"Speech Training": This is the method by which you train the software to recognize your words. You must read a story or list of sentences into the computer before you use the software, so it can expect how you will say various words. You are basically “training” the system to your voice.

IVR ("Interactive Voice Response") systems use "speech training". For example, an IVR vendor has speech capabilities in their products that will prompt the user for a response and expect a specific answer. Such as “Would you like to be transferred to the sales department? Please say ‘Yes’ or ‘No’”. This technology is very basic and simple and will work effectively across many different dialects, accents and slang. The IVR knows you will say some variation of ‘Yes’ or ‘No’. Another example is an IVR at a bank that can read your account in their database and determine your balance is $100. Speech XML capabilities within the IVR will have the IVR attendants voice actually say out loud “Your balance is one hundred dollars and zeros cents”.

Call recording allows you to record these IVR interactions to determine what your customers were inquiring about. This would be recorded and saved as audio. This technology uses the concept of “Expected Responses”. You will say some variation of ‘Yes’ or ‘No’, or you will say a number, or it will dictate a number, or you will say one of the employees names in an employee directory. There is a finite number of words or phrases you will say and therefore it can expect a certain range of responses. The resulting statistics could be considered to be Speech Analytics, but it is only a fraction of what Speech Analytics can offer the enterprise.

From the Wikipedia:
Speech Recognition

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

What is the ultimate goal of your business?

As a representative of the sales and marketing team for Coordinated Systems, Inc. (CSI), I often have to define what our ultimate goals are for the year. Is it a # of new sales? Is it a # of new strategic partnerships? Is it purely a dollar amount? If you read Eliyahu Goldratt's book "The Goal", the answer would be, well, you need to find the answer for yourself. You could actually use "The Secret" to figure out "The Goal". Sorry, sometimes humor works.

At CSI, our goal is to get as many testimonials as we can. We strive to maintain or improve on our 97.5% customer retention rate. We're looking to provide our customers with stellar service which reaches beyond their expectations. That's why we've hired only the best people to interact with our customers. When we send our implementation and training teams out on the road, it is a rare occasion that they do NOT come back with a testimonial. That's "The Goal" according to CSI.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Virtual Observations' Greatest Hits

One of the best things you can do with Virtual Observer is to easily make "greatest hits" lists of their recorded calls with the best results. They can publish it to a cd, website, or their intranet and use it for training material. Agents can listen to it to hear a benchmark of what they can be striving for.

Just like that feature works, I thought I'd highlight the best blog posts we've done: our customer success stories. This will help customers see what kind of successes they can strive for with VO, and new prospects can be "trained" with real-life case studies.

Without any further introduction, here are links to the Greatest Hits from the "Virtual Observations" blog:

- Easing the fear of Big Brother

- Day-Timers, Inc. selects CSI for call center monitoring

- Crutchfield turns up the volume in its' call center

- Maverik leverages VoIP technology to build a world class call center

- Results Companies Inc. selects Virtual Observer to rapidly create better trained customer service agents

- Harry & David scale up their call quality monitoring for the holidays

- VoIP telecom provider implements Virtual Observer

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Many options exist to enhance your call recording system

I happened to be reviewing our list of add-ons, and I was surpised at how many different options and tools have been released since our last release of product, 3.0. Many enhancements and new capabilities are automatically added into the core version of product, such as our exciting "Live Desktop" feature which allows for supervisor-agent chat and thumbnail views of all agent screen activity.

Going along with our "Start Small and Think Big" philosophy, some functionality is made available as an optional add-on. Many customers start with a core random recording system for quality assurance to begin proving the r-o-i before they expand their budgetary requests for additional functionality. Many customers also move from random recording to logging, or from a standard analog or digital switch and then upgrade to VoIP, and we can make sure Virtual Observer moves right along with them.

One of the latest add-ons is our "Surveying" service, which works with your IVR system to provide your customers with an optional post-call survey. This brings the customer into the evaluation equation. With the supervisors, agents themselves, and now the customers, you can truly get a good mix of independent evaluation results. Make sure you ask your CSI sales rep about "VO Surveys".

Other add-ons include:

* Media Encryption, which can help companies comply with Visa payment card industry security standards.

* Auto-Archiving, which automatically backs up recordings to a NAS / SAN.

* CTI Integration, which allows for customer and call data to be saved with the recording. This is critical for bringing customer information into the evaluation process. SMDR integration does this to a degree, bringing in data from your phone system, such as ANI or DNIS numbers.

* E-Learning, which allows for automatic distribution of training materials to agents based on evaluation outcomes. Our web-based player allows for agents to play back calls and view evaluations right from their web browsers.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

VoIP telephony options for startup call centers

One of my LinkedIn connections posed a question of which I thought the groups' answers may appeal to this blog's audience:

"What are the top sites to get information on VoIP telephony for a startup call center?"

Submitted Answers from the group:

"I have found this site as a good reasource for all my VOIP needs."

"I've found Skype hard to setup and use, MSN easy to setup and good quality. Yahoo easy to use but prone to losing a call. The easiest to use by far has been the Cisco Soft Phone we use at work, the sound quality is great but it's very unreliable. This may be due to some configuration or operations issue, but I have yet to make it through an entire call without a problem (buzzing, lost calls, loosing one or the other parties sound for extended periods). Others have had the same problem to the extent that we are considering rolling back the soft phones. In the office, we are using the Cisco 7940 IP phones with no problems. "

Update: earlier this week, Skype experienced a massive outage, challenging reliability as business solution. Apparently the outage was the result of a wide ranging PC restart when Windows sent out its' automatic patch.

"Try or They offer scalable entry-level VOIP systems... but look to spend at least $65k to initially deploy."

"Rockport Technology Group is a leading IT solution provider in the area. One of our core specialties is developing scalable long term enterprise class VOIP solutions. Our free consultation can provide you with an unbiased solution that will fit your needs and budget. There are many VOIP solutions out there, and I would need some more information before making a solid recommendation on online material. I also find that online material is sometimes outdated and even worse other times it is found to be just misinformation. Should you be determined to researching online, I suggest you take a look at Cisco and Nortel. Nortel is the current market leader however my recent experience with Cisco is that they are offering a much higher quality system."

"It sounds like your solution must be multi-tenant. Skype is too unreliable for important business calls. You shold consider a hosted solution as well."

"Are you planning to have one location or will you have multiple small call centers spread across geographic areas? How many people do you expect to start as well as how many people do you expect to grow to? I apologize for answering a question with questions, but there are many things to take into consideration. As Andrew mentioned already, you should really check out a hosted system. (When I say hosted, I mean a true hosted business class system...not Skype or Packet8, etc.) Going hosted will give you the flexibility to change as the business grows and transforms, as well as offering you the features you need without a large capital outlay. It's hard to give you one place to learn about the systems. 'Google' search is tough, because you may not necessarily see results including some great companies. Most of the information out there unfortunatley is created by a specific company and used as a marketing tool. The best way to find the solution that fits you best is to put in the time and effort to screen possible vendors. Keep in mind that low cost is NEVER the best option when dealing with your voice system. With something so critical to your business, check out how long the company has been around (especially with VoIP offerings), REFERENCES (and not just the CEOs cousin), and customer service (call the customer service line and see what kind of response you get)."

"In addition to the answers you have received, I would suggest looking at Cisco's offerings. In terms of all-around scalability, not just call center, but your entire network infrastructure, they are obviously front runners. Although it has been 2-3 years since I last used their product, however, its current equivalent, Cisco Unified Contact Center Express worked great for me both in terms of options, administration, features and reporting. And it obviously scales up very well."

"No real recommendation, however we are about to implement at the end of next week, and I can post you info on our expereince if you would like. We are going with IPCC Express premium, and so far, it looks like a well featured product, however, we have to build everything out of the box. Reporting is pretty limited, and splitting call reports across teams and skills is a bit tricky... but this is just todays experience."

Monday, August 20, 2007

Fast food call centers begin to emerge

It wasn't that long ago that we first noticed fast food call centers would begin utilizing call recording solutions in their contact centers to improve order taking accuracy and customer service (I believe it was Wendy's). Another story crossed my desk today, this time detailing how a Pizza franchise has differentiated itself by routing all calls for all 41 locations to its' 800#, where 120 call center agents handle the orders, create accounts, and route the orders to each location.

Read the entire Pizza Chain Call Center article here

Read more related stories:

- The Long Distance Journey of a Fast Food Order

- Faster Food: A Call Center Transforms Drive-Through Service

- Call Centers Make Fast Food Faster

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Netflix contact center stresses personal touch

I actually found two articles related to Netflix's customer service operation. The gist is that they have removed email-based customer service and are pushing customers to call and talk to a human. This is designed to differentiate them from competitor

Here is a excerpt from the International Herald Tribune: Netflix set up in Oregon, avoiding other lower-cost places in the United States and overseas, because it believed that the Oregonians would present a friendlier voice to its customers. Then last month, Netflix took an unusual step for a Web-based company: it eliminated e-mail based customer service inquiries. Now all questions, complaints and suggestions go to the call center, which is open 24 hours every day of the week. The company's toll-free number, previously buried on the Web site, is now prominently displayed on the "help" page. Let's hope this trend continues! the full article here

You can also choose to read about this Netflix story and comment on

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Find a particular blog post interesting?

Now you can share it with your friends and colleagues through IM or text message. It's easy to spread the word about your favorite breaking story, helpful hint or industry news. See the little green icon in the top right hand of this post? Click it and a menu will open, allowing you to shout out about your favorite new blog post. Viral marketing has never been so accessible.

Monday, August 06, 2007

The benefits of screen capture for training

Most of the time, when we implement our enhanced screen capture functionality for a customer, it's not intended to catch occasional ebay surfing or other nefarious internet activity. The main benefit of capturing screen activity is to evaluate how agents are using your company's various applications.

Are they efficiently looking up customer information in the crm?

Do they know how to search the support knowledgebase?

Do your agents know when and how to add notes from a customer call?

Are they presenting correct information?

Are they utilizing the correct applications?

Recording the agents on the phone is only part of the story. Being able to watch the synchronized screen and phone interaction completes the picture.

Note: we are pleased to announce that we are able to record dual-monitor screen activity for agents who use two monitors in their contact center.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Updated List of CRM Companies

We posted a list of CRM companies that came up in Google searches in 2005 and we are now updating that list in order to include the new landscape of Web 2.0 companies as well. This list is in alphabetical order:

absoluteBUSY’s fast and simple services allow employees to effectively share a database, while always being up-to-date.

Being the most awarded hosted CRM software, Aplicor’s services focus on the ease of use and the fact that they have the highest user count in the country.

Created for small and medium businesses, Atalvo’s CRM service is easy to use, install, and their quickly responsive team is a positive.

Auric Technology
Offering a free IT service, Auric’s CRM service is housed and maintained by them and is incredibly easy to utilize.

Fit for big business automation, this program has a low cost for a lot. It is integrated with Microsoft Outlook, OWA, Exchange, and Quickbooks. Using a single user sign-on, BizAutomation includes CRM and ERP in their service.

ClearCRM offers an easy to use, easy to configure systems that gives you full control and security. It also features sending e-mail notifications when certain events occur within a company to keep you updated.

This program offers a customizable, easy to use, web distributed, built-in web-based e-mail form of CRM. You pay per user every month and receive 24/7 support and a free installation.

Dovarri’s CRM system possesses a speedy installation with no tedious customizations or expensive support. Also, over 80% of their customers reported that they learned the program in about an hour.

entellium’s services not only include the software, but also free support, a 99.7% guaranteed uptime, and an IT friendly program.

Boasting the 1 million contacts being managed, Highrise features tracking such content as contacts, communication history, leads, vendors, and more.

infusion CRM
infusion CRM offers unlimited support, anytime/anywhere access, tier 4 data hosting, and monthly upgrades with their services.

iport4business’s customer relationship management service can be connected directly to an underlying software system and delivers the exact functionality that is necessary for users.

netXtra gives customers a free callback service along with their CRM program that is suited for multiple office companies. It is fully customizable and easily integrated with e-mail, too.

Rapid Signal
This CRM program comes equipped with scheduling, contact management, sales automation, product management, issue tracking, and reporting. It runs on most major platforms such as Windows and Unix/Linux.

Really Simple Systems
Offering a full functionality with no installation and maintenance, Really Simple Systems backs up information every night and allows consumers to access data anywhere/anytime.

Sage CRM Solutions
This program comes with a fixed monthly price and no additional cost for any sort of upgrade. Users can be added whenever desired, and it is completely customizable.

With their user friendly program at an affordable cost, SalesBoom’s CRM service can be easily distributed across any company in real time.

Salesforce provides a no software service that features point-and-click customization, capabilities of international use, proven integration, and more. Having over 32,300 customers with 625 applications in 14 different countries, 97% of Salesforce's customers report being satisfied with their program.

Sales Junction
Sales Junction’s CRM program focuses on the consumer because of its user-friendly characteristics, customizable settings, and its design and pricing for any size company.

Salespro CRM
Salespro has over 3000 companies in 20 different countries using their product. The user friendly service does not require any installation, which reduces the learning curve greatly.

Zoho CRM
Having the lowest total cost, Zoho provides a service that is extremely easy to use, fully customizable, and prevents any data lockup.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Most frequently searched keywords for call center job seekers

If your company has a call center and you're always looking to fill seats, consider optimizing the careers web page on your corporate website. If you optimize your pages for these terms, and back it up with good quality content and links, you'll be sure to get a boost in your organic (free!) search engine traffic. These were the keywords most relevant to a call center job seeker, in order of search volume for last month:

call center agent
call center headsets
call center work
at home call center jobs
call center agents
call center application
call center applications
call center attrition
call center career
call center careers
call center certification
call center cubicles
call center employees
call center employment
call center furniture
call center headset
call center job description
call center managers
call center positions
call center representative
call center resume
call center salary
call center school
call center staffing

call center turnover
inbound call center jobs
virtual call center jobs
home call center jobs

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