Say What?! - Advances in Speech Recognition

By Chuck McDowell on August, 17 2018

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Chuck McDowell

They say that wise people surround themselves with those who are smarter than they are.  Every day I get to work with people that are truly brilliant. While I’m not sure this makes me “wise”, I know that the highly technical engineers on our team are very smart and I know that I’m lucky to be a part of the team with them.

One of the topics the team has been teaching me about is the discipline of speech rawpixel-703123-unsplashrecognition. I don’t profess to be an expert on the subject, but I am a diligent student. And it turns out that I’m not alone. I regularly find myself in conversations with others who are trying to understand what speech recognition is and the impact it will have on their customer experience program. With this in mind, I thought I’d share some of my learnings on the advances in speech recognition – for the less technical among us. 

A look at the timeline

Did you know that speech recognition has been a technical discipline for over 65 years? In fact, well know organizations like Bell Labs, IBM, and the U.S. Military were the first to experiment with it. That being said, the first viable commercial applications of speech rec didn’t get any traction until the mid-1990’s and have only truly gained real sophistication as a tool of customer care organizations since 2005. 

Today’s advanced computing power, the advent of big data, and an impressive set of increasingly sophisticated mathematical algorithms and rules engines - used to convert speech to text and then spit out text to speech (TTS) - have spurred tremendous growth in this area and resulted in exciting advancements like Automatic Speech Recognition (ASR).

Why is ASR meaningful?

ASR has become the foundation for many exciting changes in the Customer Care industry. Artificial Intelligence (AI), Chat Bots, Natural Language, Conversational IVR, etc. are all being made possible as a result of ASR. Industry chatter has been saying for a while that we are getting closer and closer to truly automated conversant robots (BOTS) that can listen, understand, and converse with you as a customer in ways never experienced before – but developments in recent years are making this promise an near-term reality.

In the Customer Care industry, everyone is looking for new ways to provide truly effective and efficient customer self-service. Automated, fully conversant robots (BOTS) would drive our customer experience programs light years ahead and shift the entire paradigm on customer service.

What is the value of BOTS?

The pending release of fully automated, conversant robots means that companies can offer self-service options that drastically reduce the cost of customer care. Employees are expensive and studies around the new potential levels of bot efficiency are compelling.

Now while this technology is maturing quickly, many speech rec applications out there are still truly archaic and companies have yet to fully amortize their investments. 

I often laugh at the clever and humorous advertisement Progressive Insurance currently has running on television. The parallels to bots and speech recognition are there… even if the cause of the misunderstandings in the commercial are due to trying to converse while riding motorcycles. Check out the commercial for yourself below, but for the purposes of this comparison put yourself in the shoes of “FLO”, while the lead motorcycle rider is the speech rec engine:

So… the question now is really whether Natural Language Speech Recognition will progress to the point that it can truly be utilized in a way that effectively mimics human speech, understanding, and responsiveness.

To wrap this up, the question here really is what is driving the advances in Speech Recognition and AI? It can be seen as crude to talk about money, but profit really is the end goal here and customer satisfaction metrics drive profit. And what drives customer satisfaction? Quality customer service. So if you can mimic the sophistication of natural speech and still allow the customer, client, or constituent to quickly and easily satisfy their needs with the minimum amount of actual human interaction… well there’s you’re increased profit.

The key here is to drive efficiencies in customer service utilizing various forms of self-service - speech recognition and AI as a whole are foundational parts of this. As trusted advisors to our clients this provides a valuable discussion point that can result in a direct improvement to their bottom line, while also driving repeat business.

Interested in learning more about how speech recognition can help your organization? Feel free to reach out to me directly!

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