Tag Archives: IVR design requirements

Call Centre Training e-poll

11 Oct

As part of our METALOGUE project, we have created an electronic poll (e-poll).


Our goal is to collect actual real-world requirements from Call Centre professionals that will inform our system pilot design and implementation. Through this and a number of other e-polls, we are asking some basic questions on Call Centre Agent training goals, Call Centre Agent preferences, target functionality of an automated agent training tool, etc.

We are inviting anyone from the Industry, from Call Centre Operators and Managers, Agent Trainers, to Call Centre Agents (experienced and novice) to participate. Feel free to add your own input and comments.

If you can also use the Contact form below to indicate whether you are a Call Centre Operator / Manager, Trainer, or Agent (or all of the above!), we would be able to collect some data on the demographics of the e-poll respondents.

Thank you in advance!


Does Your Customer Know What They are Signing off??

3 Jun

Just back from SpeechTEK Europe 2010, the first SpeechTEK to take place outside of the US, which was great fun. I gave a presentation on “The Eternal Battle Between the VUI Designer and the Customer“, which went down quite well (more on that in my next blog), heard many interesting new ideas about how normal people view normal communication channels to a company or organisation (the Web is prevailing but multimodality and crosschannel communication will be indispensable in a couple of years), heard about new applications of speech and touchtone and any challenges they are facing, and met up with loads of people I know in the field from companies I’ve worked for and cities I have worked in. I have started a few projects and collaborations as a result (again to be announced in my next blog), but for now I would like to share my presentation at SpeechTEK 2007 in New York on Monday 20th August 2007 (how time passes!), entitled: “Does Your Customer Know What They are Signing off?”.

Maria Aretoulaki – SpeechTEK 2007 presentation – opening slide

As it says in the accompanying blurb: “This presentation stresses the importance of incremental and modular descriptions of system functionality for targeted and phased reviews and testing. This strategy ensures clarity, consistency, and maintainability beyond the project lifetime and eliminates the need for changes midproject, thus both managing customer expectations and protecting the service provider from ad-hoc requests.“.

Here is a PDF with the presentation slides:

Maria Aretoulaki – SpeechTEK 2007 presentation : “Does Your Customer Know What They are Signing off?”

You can also get the Powerpoint file from the SpeechTEK site itself at: http://conferences.infotoday.com/stats/documents/default.aspx?id=29&lnk=http%3A%2F%2Fconferences.infotoday.com%2Fdocuments%2F27%2FB105_Aretoulaki.pps

The idea is to have a standardised way to document speech application design both in terms of call flow depictions and in terms of functionality description. In addition, 3 different tiers of functionality and call flow representation are proposed, from the more abstract High-Level design (what range of tasks can a system perform?), to the rather detailed Macro-Level (all the user interaction and back-end processes and their interdependencies), to the very detailed Micro-Level which documents every single condition, system prompt and related recognition grammar.

Maria Aretoulaki – 3-tier speech app design representation

The point is that, in every speech project, a number of people with very different backgrounds, roles and expectations are involved, from the Business-minded, to the Techie, to the Usability expert: from Account Managers to the Marketing Strategists, to the Call Centre Managers, the IT Managers, the System Architects, the Programmers, and the VUI Designer themselves (more on these different characters in my next blog with my SpeechTEK 2010 presentation). The 3 different tiers of speech design representation and documentation are ideal in catering for the diverse information needs of those very different groups. The Business and Marketing guys understand better the High-Level representation with the list of things that the system can do in different cases. The Call Centre Managers and some very involved (and worried!) business guys from the side of the customer feel better when they see the Macro-Level detail, because they feel they have more information and therefore more control over what is being designed and implemented. It is also something very concrete to sign off (and therefore difficult to dispute at will later on). The VUI Designer and the System Architect and the various application developers really need the excruciating detail of the Micro-Level: every single condition (including every case where things go wrong) needs to be documented, along with every different prompt that the system will utter (including when it doesn’t recognise or even hear what the caller says), and every speech recognition grammar that is activated every time the system expects a reaction from the caller / user. The inherent modularity and the incremental nature of the design representation means that it can be more easily maintained, more readily modified, and even more straightforwardly adopted and adapted for other speech and multimodal applications in the future. So everybody’s happy 🙂

I gave this presentation when I was Head of Speech Design at Vicorp, although the basic ideas behind it matured during the time I was Senior VUI Designer at Intervoice (now Convergys).


SpeechTEK 2007 was organised by:

Information Today, Inc.
143 Old Marlton Pike
Medford NJ 08055 U.S.A.
Phone 1 (609) 654-6266.

OK, so why Speech?

14 May

listen and understand

plan and respond

Businesses of all sizes, governments and other organisations are introducing Automatic Speech Recognition (ASR) in their existing Customer Relationship Management (CRM) processes, or upgrading their Touchtone (DTMF) IVRs, or even deploying brand new services from scratch. Their motivation is to keep Call Centre and Helpline costs down, aiming at the same time towards 24/7 availability of both information and services to their customers, as well as towards increasing customer satisfaction and loyalty.

A number of questions need to be answered, however, before going ahead with implementing a speech-activated or speech-enabled self-service:

  • Why use speech recognition in your CRM process at all?
  • Is speech really necessary or is touchtone sufficient or even more suited to your purposes?
  • Should perhaps your service combine both speech and touchtone? Which modality should be used where and when?
  • What is VUI Design and why and where will you need it?
  • How can you tell a “good” from a “bad” design?
  • How can you test a service and how can you ensure your customers will accept and even … like it?!
  • Is it possible to optimise an existing service and how?

This is where a Discovery Workshop will come in handy!

Define the solution through a series of Discovery Workshops

A proper VUI Designer will work closely with your organisation to help you answer questions such as the above and to help you decide on the potential business case for the introduction of speech and/or touchtone (DTMF) in your existing CRM processes. To this effect, intensive and productive 1-5 day Discovery Workshops should be organised, which will also be used for the conception and design of new services – if applicable.

In the process, the VUI Designer should talk extensively to both your Accounts and Marketing executives, and your IT staff, as all aspects of your business need to be taken into account in order to have a comprehensive, representative and realistic view of the existing and any potential issues, and the possibilities for optimisation. Part of this process involves identifying and interviewing real people, representative of your target market segments. The logic behind this is to pinpoint more accurately and effectively the needs, goals and expectations of both sides (the organisation and the end customer) regarding the planned service. Existing business processes, marketing strategies and channels are analysed, along with financial, logistical and technical constraints and targets.

The outcome of these brainstorming sessions and workshops should be a VUI Vision Proposal along with a Statement of Works report. The VUI Vision paper sketches out the proposed Voice User Interface, both in terms of suggested and desired functionality (what the system can and cannot do) but also in terms of hear-and-feel (communication style and tone). The accompanying Statement of Works is again a proposal on the corresponding list of tasks and deliverables towards the implementation of the VUI vision and feeds into the final Project Plan.

Some organisations decide – to their peril – to limit the time spent on such Brainstorming activities (too “fluffy” for them!) or even skip them altogether. The repercussions later on in the project cycle can be devastating. Erroneous or unrealistic assumptions about what a service should do and what its users expect or how they behave can mean that the whole time designing and implementing the solution could go to waste. After that, starting again from scratch is the only – very embarrassing! – option!