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Speech Analytics Gets Down to Business

by Donna Fluss, DMG Consulting

The speech analytics market hit its stride in 2010 and is going to continue to come on strong for the foreseeable future. Despite a weak economy, this technology sector has continued to pick up momentum and grow. The number of speech analytics implementations increased by 22% between 2009 and 2010, on top of growth rates in the prior three years of 39%, 50% and 106%, respectively. New vendors continue to enter the market, and others have been bought by larger competitors to fill a void in their portfolio – all of which is typical of a vibrant technology segment. Speech analytics was and continues to be compelling because:

  1. It addresses a real and measurable need
  2. It delivers quantifiable benefits
  3. It is not a replacement for something that came before it
  4. There is nothing else like it available in the market
  5. It can and is being used in conjunction with other solutions
  6. It improves the performance and benefits of other applications

In addition, speech analytics is highly compelling conceptually and engages the imagination of managers. Initially, speech analytics was sold primarily to contact centers because they “own” the company’s call recordings, but it is actually an enterprise application that can deliver benefits to any and all customer-focused departments. Speech analytics is expected to see growth outside of the contact center in the coming years, as executive become more familiar with the capabilities of these applications.

Speech Analytics in the Voice-of-the-Customer Era

Timing is playing an important role in the adoption of speech analytics. After years of paying “lip service” to the importance of listening to their customers, executives finally seem to be coming around. Enterprises are becoming more interested in truly “listening” to what customers have to say. It would be nice if this were happening because senior executives realized the importance of their customers’ opinions, but this does not appear to be the case. Instead, it is happening because of the power of social media. Customers, and any other interested party for that matter, are no longer powerless. Any individual who has access to the Internet can be heard. Enterprises can no longer afford to ignore customers’ issues, as they did in the past, and are now trying to figure out the best way to get on top of the public conversation in order to avoid embarrassing situations. Speech analytics provides insights into customer needs and wants, and positions enterprises to use this information to identify and resolve complaints on a timely basis so that they are not blindsided by unexpected issues. Speech analytics truly gives enterprises access to the voice of the customer in a well-organized and systematic manner.

Historical vs. Real-Time Speech Analytics

Today, speech analytics is predominantly used on a reactive basis. Current best practice is to analyze recordings overnight to identify trends. Once issues are surfaced, they are shared via dashboards and heat maps and passed on to the owner of the speech analytics solution. In leading organizations, speech analytics is owned by an analytics team that works independently but cooperatively with all of the customer-facing and back-office departments that can be assessed using speech analytics.

Companies that have a need to identify issues on an intra-day basis generally use a phonetic speech analytics solution to analyze their calls a couple of times per day. This is rare, because it is difficult for organizations to respond quickly to identified issues, as the required actions are predominantly manual and take time to implement.

In the future, speech analytics will be conducted on a real-time basis and provide feeds into other applications that automate the outcomes. For example, speech analytics will be used in real time to identify and communicate callers’ emotional state to the agent (or customer advocate), in order to determine the most effective way of interacting with each and every caller. Speech analytics will also be used to rapidly identify whether a caller is open to hearing an up-sell opportunity, or to suggest the best approach to collecting outstanding payments from a caller. The challenge is that speech analytics will need to feed into a predictive analytics solution that can directly initiate the recommended action. This closed-loop process will ensure that speech analytics findings are used on a real-time basis. Even when speech analytics evolves into a real-time application, however, there will still be value in identifying trends and regularly conducting “post-mortem” analyses.

Making Speech Analytics Actionable

The big issue in the market today is making the insights from speech analytics actionable – i.e., making sure to take action once an insight or issue is discovered. While some organizations have set in place a process for responding to speech analytics findings, too many are still concentrating on what they can find rather than what they need to do to fix the surfaced issues. Change management remains the key to a successful speech analytics implementation. During 2010, the market saw a breakthrough in this area. A growing number of companies realized the importance of acting on their findings, and made organizational changes to position themselves to rapidly identify and address issues. This has had a positive impact on the perception of speech analytics, as more implementations are generating quantifiable benefits. However, for every successful speech analytics initiative, there are likely at least twice as many where companies are using speech analytics primarily for reporting, and are not realizing the expected return on investment.

The Outlook for Speech Analytics

Speech analytics is a very exciting solution that has great potential for its users. While it is maturing, and some of the applications have evolved enough to be considered second generation, speech analytics is still relatively new. Companies are just beginning to figure out how to use speech analytics findings to enhance their performance by utilizing identified customer insights and feedback to improve the customer experience, uncover new product ideas, surface operational/system/product/procedural issues, reduce operating costs, improve first contact resolution rates, and increase staff satisfaction, just to mention a few of the current applications.

The penetration rate for speech analytics in contact centers, as of July 2011, is 11.6%, which means that most companies are still not using this valuable solution. Enterprises that are willing to make the necessary investments to change how they do business can realize very significant benefits from speech analytics. Even companies that want to use this tool just to identify customer trends are finding it very helpful.

DMG expects adoption of speech analytics to continue to pick up momentum, particularly as best practices emerge to help companies succeed with their implementations. More vendors are incorporating speech analytics into their solutions, and the speech analytics vendors are expected to continue to build out their solutions to enable their findings to be actionable without having to be fed into other applications. Quality assurance is also expected to continue to evolve and improve over the next few years, as speech analytics becomes a standard component of this essential business function. The technology is ready to go. The question is when are you going to adopt it?


DMG Consulting LLC (www.dmgconsult.com) specializes in customer-focused business strategy, operations, and technology for contact centers. DMG helps end users build differentiated contact centers by increasing operational efficiency, providing outstanding customer experiences, enhancing loyalty, and increasing sales and profits.