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"VSS works effectively when it is integrated with the overall service strategy, encompassing not only web self-service, but also assisted (i.e., e-mail, chat)
and full-service (i.e., agent) strategies. Consumers desire to interact in multiple ways when dealing with enterprises.
Therefore, VSS implementations must integrate all possible interactions and blend information across channels.
Advances in speech development tools are now available to allow enterprises to utilize knowledge base
voice self-service. "
Source : Right Now Technologies
Voice Self-Service Leverages the Knowledge Base to Improve Customer Interactions
Knowledge Base is also known as :
Knowledge Base Usage,
Knowledge Base Software,
Dynamic Knowledge Bases,
Database for Knowledge Management,
Creating Knowledge Bases-Free,
Top Knowledge Base Software,
Knowledge MGMT Software,
Knowledge Base Article,
Knowledge Base Open Source,
Knowledge Base Freeware,
Compare Knowledge Management,
Find Knowledge Management,
Methods Knowledge Base,
Create Knowledge Base,
Share Critical Knowledge,
Knowledgebase Compares Codes,
Official Knowledge Base,
Best Practices Knowledge Base,
Contributors to Knowledge Base,
Knowledge Base Search,
Successfully Manage Knowledge,
Tools Support Knowledgebase,
Small Business Knowledge Base,
Select Your Knowledge Base,
File Transfer Knowledge Base,
Knowledge Base Network,
Monitoring Knowledge Base.
The benefits of deploying voice self-service (VSS) are
undeniably attractive to enterprises. ROI is easily
recognized with the improved speed, convenience and
consistency of information to consumers and the decrease
in operating costs because of the reduced utilization of live
agents. As indicated in Exhibit 1, voice is one of the leading
self-service channel performers of customer interaction.
Although the advantages of VSS are well known, many
enterprises have not capitalized on the current
technological advances and best practices in voice
technology. The architectural limitations that once plagued
this space have matured into an open standards-based
paradigm allowing for a truly enterprise-wide infrastructure.
VSS works effectively when it is integrated with the overall
service strategy, encompassing not only web self-service,
but also assisted (i.e., e-mail, chat) and full-service (i.e.,
agent) strategies. Consumers desire to interact in multiple
ways when dealing with enterprises. Therefore, VSS
implementations must integrate all possible interactions and
blend information across channels. Advances in speech
development tools are now available to allow enterprises to
utilize knowledge base content for voice self-service.
Enterprises now can expand the supported range of
customer inquiries to include unstructured, informational
requests over the phone. In the past, only web sites with
well-managed knowledge bases could handle these types
of queries. New advances that merge speech recognition
and knowledge base technology provide the ability to
process these requests over the phone.
This Report explores the maturity of VSS from its
technology history to the architectures and deployment
models available today, where knowledge bases can play a
role in linking web- and speech-based self-service.
Table of Contents
- The Evolution of Voice Self-Service Architectures
- Voice Self-Service Moves to the Web"VoiceXML
- Designing and Managing the Voice User Interface
- Voice Self-Service"The Expanded Role of Hosting
- Models for Hosting Voice Self-Service
VSS has been a part of service strategies for more than
20 years. The tremendous technological advances from
touchtone interfaces to speech recognition have made voice
and speech an integral channel of an enterprise's self-service
Leading industries"such as telecommunications, financial
services, travel and hospitality, and healthcare"have
capitalized on these improvements to provide informational
and transactional capabilities to customers over the phone.
Exhibit 2 shows how VSS fits in the mix of communications
channels for enterprises.
By leveraging the technology and lessons learned from
corporate web self-service strategy, enterprises are
expanding voice's reach for marketing, sales and service
applications. Resources and processes used to develop and
manage business logic for web applications can now be
more readily applied to voice. Targeting the knowledge base
as a convergence point for information consistency is now
becoming a possibility for enterprises.
For example, RightNow helped a large consumer
electronics manufacturer implement voice access to a
knowledge base to handle the increased call volume from
general inquiries about new products it released. Many of
these requests were not traditional, structured transactions
that are easily automated with touchtone technology. While
simply adding speech recognition would have helped, some
of the general inquiries were for product support
information and other less structured data. Easy search and
retrieval of data residing in the company knowledge base
allowed for a number of these more informational requests
to be automated over the phone. Additional value-added
services were provided for customers to check repair status,
locate stores and service centers, and participate in customer
satisfaction surveys. This implementation resulted in an
800% increase in VSS calls, a 50% increase in VSS
completion rate and a 10% decline in the number of live
Although these systems consistently show high payback and
ROI, many enterprises still have not benefited from
implementing them as a company-wide utility. They also
have not been able to utilize the knowledge base as a source
for content to be shared with customers over the phone.
Today, voice self-service has evolved from a highly
proprietary architecture that precluded easy integration with
content sources as knowledge bases. Now the barriers are
more organizational than technological because architectural
issues have largely been removed.
II. The Evolution of Voice Self-Service
The typical layering of technology in a VSS system
parallels the evolution of IT systems. We have
witnessed standardization and commoditization move up the
technology stack. By examining this evolution toward a
more fully web-application-oriented stack, we see where
opportunities exist to leverage standard IT skills for VSS
systems. Exhibit 3 shows the typical elements in a VSS
system, but with the historical constraints of proprietary
linkages between layers.
Managing proprietary hardware and software adds to IT
organization costs. Fortunately for VSS, the movement from
specialized network interface cards and servers began during
the early 1990s and is no longer an issue. Today, boards are
available that use standard PCI or CompactPCI interfaces
and are relatively easy to install and administer. The
abstraction of telecommunications services (handling
touchtones, playing prompts and listening for speech) has
largely shielded application-level software from these
complexities. With advances in the density of these boards
and higher powered servers, the need to manage a
multiserver configuration has been reduced for many
companies. VSS solutions also adopted standard, off-the-
shelf operating systems such as Windows, Unix/Solaris and
Linux, further aligning with the standard stack that IT is
The emergence of client/server standard protocols, such as
Open Database Connectivity (ODBC), also eased the
complexity of integrating VSS to back-end databases. With
data communications collapsing to the TCP/IP standard,
physical connectivity to back-end databases and other
systems has become a non-issue.
With the standardization of the lower layers of VSS
systems, providers narrowed their focus on the specific
software layers required to develop, deploy and maintain
touchtone and speech recognition applications. The
client/server era brought advances in rich graphical
development environments complete with tools for
designing, testing, monitoring and modifying voice
Voice Self-Service Moves to the Web"
During the mid-1990s, the common belief was that
standardizing the programming of logic between the
application and presentation layers would bring voice self-
service systems closer to web applications and enable more
reuse of code between the two communication channels.
This became the case. Vendors supplying standalone voice
browsers emerged and their products managed all the
telephony connections, functions and physical resources for
touchtone and speech applications. The more monolithic
voice self-service system was splitting along the lines of the
web-based three-tier architecture.
Exhibit 4 shows the evolution toward a voice browser
paradigm. The VoiceXML standard provides a markup
language to manage the exchange of data and logic between
an applications server layer and a presentation layer.
III. Designing and Managing the Voice User
While the architecture of voice self-service systems
began to merge with web applications, designing
effective user interfaces was still a problem. IVR and speech
development skills still are more restricted in the IT industry.
Efforts to leverage general-purpose web development tools
and skills have not been as successful as many had hoped.
Many efforts today represent somewhat of a brute-force
method, where designers spend a lot of time investigating
call recordings and interviewing agents to determine what
exactly callers talk about and how they say it.
These are typical components in a voice application:
- Prompts: These are the audio files that guide a user on
how to respond. They can be recorded or generated with
computer-based text-to-speech software for prompts that
may contain dynamic content.
- Dialogs: Although this term typically is used for speech-
oriented applications and not touchtone applications, the
concept is the same. When users are prompted, they
touchtone or speak a response. The system uses this
logic to do error handling and branching to the next step
in the application. A response might require a branch to
a program to look up an account number and, if valid,
retrieve and play back the balance of the account to a
- Grammars: This term is specific to speech applications.
At each stage of a speech recognition application, the
system looks for a specific response from the caller in
reaction to a prompt. This is similar to a pull-down menu
in a graphical user interface. In speech applications, the
range of possible user responses that mean the same
thing can be very broad. A simple example would be a
request to "order," "buy" or "pick up" a pizza.
- Database connectors: Although ODBC is one standard
used to extract database information from voice
applications, many other systems and applications exist
that use a wide array of connectivity tools. A typical
VSS platform software package contains a wide array of
connectors, including some that are specific to leading
enterprise software applications such as ERP and CRM.
VSS platform software also includes an extensive array of
testing, application management and reporting tools, along
with the core development environment for the components
IT professionals struggle with the inherent differences
between a graphical user interface (GUI) and a voice user
interface (VUI), as depicted in Exhibit 5. The proverbial "in
one ear, out the other" paradigm applies to voice-based
communications because they are more transient than data
residing on a computer screen. The design skills required
for both touchtone and speech recognition applications
diverge greatly from the experiences and training IT
professionals normally receive. But easy-to-use graphically
based development environments have not alleviated the
need for different skills. This has also been a major factor in
the need for recoding business logic for voice-based
Enter the Knowledge Base
To help reduce the brute-force method of VUI
development, vendors such as RightNow have begun
to offer tools and reusable components to reduce the upfront
deployment costs of VSS. Using the knowledge base as a
common repository of content and responses increases
customer satisfaction and reduces overall costs. It also
leverages knowledge that is developed and refined in the
web self-service channel (see Exhibit 6).
The new innovation is to provide the tools for VSS to
utilize knowledge base content. Developers can improve
speech applications by allowing sources such as a
knowledge base to be used to generate grammars and
dialogs. In the past, VSS developers had to manually review
all content sources, including the corporate knowledge base,
and then painstakingly design the VUI. This would
duplicate knowledge base content and create the difficult
task of continuing to maintain the linkage between web-
based self-service and voice. Better tools to extract
knowledge base content and reusable speech components
now reduce this task for those enterprises that desire more
consistency and reduced costs across self-service channels.
This also expands the range of more informational requests
typically supported on the web currently to the phone.
Also, advances in text-to-speech now provide for a more
user-friendly and natural-sounding voice when systems
speak results to callers from text-based sources. So no
longer does knowledge base content have to be read and
recorded as an audio file. Now it can be dynamically output
to callers directly from the knowledge base. This speeds up
the utilization of knowledge base content in the voice self-
To further speech development, vendors such as RightNow
are leveraging their experience in deploying application
components that customers can share. Routines that provide
for order status inquiry, trouble ticket status and password
reset share a lot in common across all customers. These
standard dialogs and grammars can be integrated with a
specific customer knowledge base and VSS to provide faster
and cheaper deployment.
Now the barrier for consistency between web self-service
and voice is no longer technological, but organizational.
IV. Voice Self-Service: The Expanded Role of
Providing VSS via a hosted model is not new, but the
approach has undergone fundamental shifts in the last
several years. The major drivers for this market come from
both the supply side and the demand side. Enterprises
increasingly rely on VSS for managing business continuity
and seasonality demands, and for managing overall IT
resources. Suppliers are eager to capitalize on the
technological advances and open standards to enhance the
The maturation of speech technology during the last 4 years
and the continued drive to reduce costs still pressure
organizations to find ways to lower costs without increasing
capital expenditures. From a hosting perspective, the
emergence of VoiceXML has truly shifted speech and IVR
platform hosting options by allowing enterprises to keep
their databases on-site while the hosting vendor runs the
VXML front end.
Models for Hosting Voice Self-Service
There are various elements to voice self-service
applications in a hosted, managed or on-premises
environment. Hosting vendors can easily provide cost-
savings analyses, which detail the strong savings per
transaction. Exhibit 7 describes the common hosting model
options along with their benefits to enterprises.
- Develop a comprehensive, multichannel knowledge
management plan. Today, the technological barriers
between web and voice self-service channels are
dropping. Voice self-service has now aligned with web
architectures and the tools from companies such as
RightNow can leverage content across both channels.
- Consider all voice self-service deployment models.
Hosted voice self-service continues to mature and
provides a viable alternative for enterprises to outsource
asset and staff management while retaining sufficient
control, management and security of data. Historically,
enterprises have been biased toward owning voice self-
service systems but the attitudes are rapidly shifting.
- Support informational requests on the phone. In the
past, only highly structured transactions, such as balance
inquiries or order status requests, could be supported
over the phone. Now, more unstructured questions and
output typical of web-based knowledge bases can be
offered to customers who wish to use that channel.
- Tuning is critical across all channels of self-service"
a consistent knowledge base will better facilitate VUI
and GUI continual improvement efforts. In the past,
many enterprises would implement voice self-service
systems and then not invest in monitoring their
effectiveness. To better service changing customer needs,
it is imperative to continually monitor all channels of
self-service to see if they are effective in handling
requests. Some hosting alternatives include ongoing
tuning of voice self-service systems and part of the
- Leverage reusable components. A growing library of
reusable speech components is emerging and can be
aligned with a company's knowledge base content. This
will help reduce costs and speed deployment.
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