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The Art of Speech & a Conversational IVR

The Art of Speech & a Conversational IVR

Speech technology can truly bring the customer experience to life, but it takes a unique blend of creativity, technology, and hardware to do so. We recently interviewed LumenVox Software Engineer Shaun McThomas to gain his perspective on the art of integrating speech technology with IVRs to enhance the customer experience.

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Hi, my name is Shaun McThomas. I’m a Software Engineer at LumenVox, and today I’m here to talk to you about creating next-generation conversational Interactive Voice Response systems. IVR for short.

What are the biggest issues facing customers and IVR-s today?

One of the biggest issues with IVRs today is that callers are forced to follow a rigid script. It’s not a conversation, it’s an interrogation. First, they are asked, give me this bit of information; then they are asked for another bit and another bit. There is no flow like you would have with another person, just a series of “painful, tiny steps”, making the whole process ridged and uncomfortable for the caller.

Another issue is you often get trapped in IVR jail there is no escape route. You are forced to listen to the very end of the prompt before you can respond, “This isn’t what I want; let me go back to the Main menu.”

What do you think the solution is to address these pain points?

Most of these issues are easily addressed with an artful blend of good design and use of modern speech recognition technologies, what LumenVox calls Speech Art. If you listen to the very best contact center agents within a business and model how they solve the same issues and how they question a caller, you’ll understand how callers really ask questions and can provide very lifelike IVR responses. By following this model, you can produce frictionless, intuitive (and personalized) interactions with callers, radically improving their experience.

The very first thing a good IVR should do is quickly identify who the caller is, confirm that assumption. Remember, a blend of technologies can make this easier.  Look up the phone number they are calling from in your back-end systems and see if you can determine their identify from that. You can use both speech recognition and voice biometric authentication to make that process simple and easy if needed. More than likely calling from their cell phone, which provides a unique identifier.

Once you’ve identified the caller, use data available from your back-end systems to anticipate the reason for calling and personalize the next steps.

For example, if you’re a power company and a customer’s home is in the middle of a known power outage, assume that’s the reason for the call. Likewise, if you’re an airline and they have a flight booked on your airline that departs within the next 24 hours, assume that’s the reason for the call.  Now that you’ve made an assumption, confirm that’s the reason they are calling with a simple yes/no prompt and if yes provide them with appropriate information. If they are not calling for that reason, ask them why they’ve called, but allow them to use natural language to answer. And always give them a way to correct themselves.

How does Conversational IVR work, exactly?

Conversational IVRs work by leveraging three key technologies, ASRs, NLU, and TTS. These aren’t the only piece to the puzzle, but they are important ones. Let’s talk a little about each.

First, there is Text to Speech (or TTS for short). TTS is the method to turn text into speech. This is key to allow you to easily ask questions quickly. It is important to use TTS instead of recordings to allow questions to be personalized. For example, when a caller first calls in and you want to verify them, you can use their name and directly ask if it’s them.

Next, there is the Automatic Speech Recognizers (or ASR for short). An ASR’s job is to take speech, recognize it as something meaningful, and then turn it into something useful like text. There are lots of types of ASRs. LumenVox’s new transcription ASR uses machine learning techniques such as deep neural networks for natural language processing. This is effective for transcribing text from human speech. Before this sort of technology existed, you had to constrain your recognizers to a limited set of words (called a grammar) that it could only recognize. Modern NLP models have a large set of words they can recognize allowing you can speak naturally, and it will be able to feed you back the raw transcribed text. Once the ASR has done its job, we have that text.

Finally, we need to use another technology, which is Natural Language Understanding or NLU for short. NLU takes this text and converts it into meaning, intents, and slots, for example:

The caller can say: “I want to fly from New York to LA.” And we parse out “to fly, New York” “destination, from LA.”

Using these three technologies we can create a conversation with a caller rather than a scripted interrogation. First, we would use TTS to ask the caller a question, then an ASR to get text back from the caller’s response, then NLU to understand that response, and then finally use that understanding to figure out what additional information we need from the caller or processes the caller’s request.

 What sets LumenVox apart?

At LumenVox, we’re creating a Configurable AI Gateway that makes it easy to integrate many different NLU engines with our ASR. This approach opens the possibility to use widely available NLU platforms from IBM, Google, Microsoft, Amazon, and others with your existing IVR along with LumenVox ASR, TTS and Voice Biometrics.

Many technology vendors don’t offer choices in the combinations of ASR, NLP, and NLU that you can use to build a solution. Their entire suite of technology and tools is often proprietary, expensive, and because its proprietary, involves the use of expensive, dedicated professional service teams. At LumenVox we want to be able to easily integrate existing technologies with our speech recognition, text-to-speech, and voice biometrics software as part of the solution stack. We want to take the technology that’s already out there and make it easier for our customers to use.

Ready to take your contact center to the next level by implementing a conversational IVR? Contact us today!

Pivot Technology Solutions and LumenVox Enter New Partnership

Pivot Technology Solutions and LumenVox Enter New Partnership

Pivot Technology Services Becomes LumenVox Skills Certified

LumenVox and Pivot announced today that Pivot Technology Services (Pivot) has officially become a LumenVox Skills Certified Partner. LumenVox Partner Skills Certification demonstrates Pivot’s capability to deliver high-quality speech solutions based on the LumenVox speech automation suite. Pivot, a trusted provider and integrator of the world’s leading technology solutions and services, utilizes the complimentary LumenVox Automated Speech Recognizer and Text-to-Speech solutions to improve the customer experience and employee productivity within contact center agent portal environments.

“LumenVox is excited to see the facilitation of a large joint opportunity that the evolution of our partnership with Pivot has already brought,” stated Ed Miller, LumenVox CEO, “and we look forward to supporting their development of innovative and dynamic speech-enabled solutions.”

“Becoming LumenVox Skills Certified broadens the benefits for our customers by combining Contact Center solutions design and implementation expertise with the best technologies available. The earned partnership strengthens our strategic position in an underserved niche of the market between traditional VARs on one end and large IT service providers on the other,” stated Jeff Brinckman, Pivot Director of Customer Experience Solutions.

Contact center technologies are ever-evolving. LumenVox Automated Speech Recognizer and Text-to-Speech solutions add functionality and improve capabilities. With Pivot’s expertise and LumenVox’ world-class technology, businesses and their customers can now experience efficient and customized communication.

About Pivot:
Pivot Technology Solutions has created a portfolio of operating companies and partners, differentiated in their respective markets by superior competencies and an unmatched commitment to total customer satisfaction. Through its portfolio companies, Pivot has built an organization with deep knowledge of the industry, an extensive partner network, and the implementation capacity required to take on large and complex projects. Additionally, through Pivot Technology Services, the Company offers a comprehensive portfolio of services on a global scale.

The Customer Experience Solutions Practice provides insight and technology leadership that enables organizations to adapt to changing market conditions in the client care space. Recognizing that 85% of customer interactions flow through the contact center architectures, Pivot helps organizations transform their contact center platforms into a strategic corporate asset that creates competitive advantages.

Interested in learning more about how your organization can leverage LumenVox’ suite of speech and authentication solutions by becoming a LumenVox Skills Certified Partner? Contact us today

The Importance of Brazilian Portuguese

As our relationship with our partners mature, we find ourselves influenced to create and develop for their needs. We do not build something in hopes that our partners will buy it. We listen carefully to those around us and develop to their needs after the proper qualification is secured. Recently there has been a flurry of activity in Central and South America and especially in Brazil. One of our larger partners who have fully integrated our software into their platform, requested we develop a Brazilian Portuguese acoustic model. Given our willingness to please and our understanding of the market potential of undertaking such a venture, we recently agreed and added this to our ever growing list of languages. We used a novel approach to developing this model that we have been researching for quite some time and we think should satisfy most speech recognition applications.

The Brazilian economy is in a state that presents a favorable opportunity to increase automation to maximize their efficiencies. To answer this urgent call, LumenVox has expanded its ASR offering by creating a Brazilian Portuguese language model which will bring the number of ASR languages to 8 and the number of TTS languages to 23. Today LumenVox covers all of the America’s from Cape Horn to Cape Columbia and everywhere in between!

We will be doing a lot more with the Asian TTS languages in the future, once we figure out how to deal with some of the double byte issues in our Media Server. We just entered into QA with our new version so we should be able to share some details with you on this in just a few weeks.