Speech recognition to replace humans!

I am sorry could you please repeat?

David Cooper from Prudential explores the impact of speech recognition on the role of the CSR.

I recently heard a guy on the radio mention that the contact centre would soon be a thing of the past. He claimed that speech recognition software is developing so much that it would soon replace the need for customer service representatives (CSR) altogether.  I accept that this technology will have an impact on the industry but in no way do I see this as being the death knell of the contact centre. Technology has been a great enabler of customer services and IVR (interactive voice response) has been a key part of the process. IVR systems use speech recognition technology to allow customers to interact with the system by speaking instead of pushing buttons.  It is a way to route and qualify incoming calls and can also be used for basic orders and processes. This is a cost effective way for a small team to deal with large call volumes.

In an ideal world speech recognition software and IVR systems would work perfectly.

However there are huge numbers of different languages, dialects and accents spoken and not everyone speaks in a clear manner. I'm sure we've all had bad experiences in the past when a system didn't recognize what you were saying. It can be frustrating to say the least! In recent years groundbreaking work has been carried out by Microsoft Research to develop the field of speech recognition. They worked with the University of Toronto to develop a technology patterned after the way the human brain works - it's called deep neural networks.  This technology increased recognition rates by approximately thirty percent and has the ability to not only understand certain accents but also translate into different languages as well.

There's still a long way to go but this technology will inevitably impact on the contact centre industry.

It will allow more customer service issues to be dealt with using this technology; however there will still be a vital need for customer service representatives (CSR's) as the human touch will always triumph over technology. With smartphones, tablets and ease of access to the internet at home, work and on the road, consumers are more connected than ever. Consumers want to engage with businesses when it's convenient for them, via the channel that's most convenient at that time. Many modern devices will be connected to the internet in some way and more devices will have a function similar to the €˜Mayday' button on the Amazon kindle. If a consumer has a question or issue they simply need to press the button to be connected to a CSR via a live webchat or video call. This variety of contact method is known as the omnichannel and it's down to the consumer which method they choose. The company has to listen on all platforms and be ready to respond when required and to ensure each channel delivers the same consistent level of service. The growth of the omnichannel will have a huge impact on the contact centre industry. Speech recognition will obviously be one of the platforms offered but I feel consumers will still prefer human contact in some form for more complex customer service issues. This will create more variety for the future CSR and they will no longer be simply answering calls all day. They will have to be highly skilled and have the ability to take calls, webchats and respond to social media inquiries in real time, providing a multiplatform level of customer care. Consumers will be connected 24/7 and will in turn expect the same level of service. This means contact centre industry is alive and well. It will be enhanced by technology and not replaced. Opinions presented in this blog post are those of the author and not necessarily those of CCMA.

Image kindly reproduced from thisismoney.co.uk