Friday, October 31, 2008

Political IVR demo

Here's a fine speech-enabled IVR that's being used to collect feedback from real Americans like you and me. This is the best use of technology for democracy building that I've seen in a while.

Thanks to Todd Chapin for forwarding this.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Digression: the Wolf is Howlin'

We VUI designers talk a lot about voice quality and distinctiveness and persona, but nothing you ever hear from any voice talent or stage or screen actor compares to the personae of the old time blues musicians. Here's the great, absolutely unique Howlin' Wolf completely throwing himself into a performance of "How many more years."

CSRs as system integrators

I've written sympathetically about customer service representatives (CSR) in the past. They have a tough job. While trying to serve customers they often have to use multiple software systems, all with a different look-and-feel to the interfaces. Worse, the systems often can't talk to one another, so CSRs spend a lot of time retyping or copy-and-pasting identifying information from one interface to another in order to pull customer records. In this sense, the CSRs are system integrators, often doing repetitive data entry tasks that a well-integrated system would be able to do without human intervention.

So why not furnish the CSRs with well integrated systems that allow them to focus on customers' needs instead of repetitive data entry tasks? One reason is that a lot of new stuff gets thrown at CSRs very quickly. A new system to support a new service gets dropped on their desktop, they take a little training, and the calls start to roll in. Other services get dropped. System integration takes time, and even in the best circumstances would run well behind service changes in the call center.

Another reason is that call center directors would like to spend the money elsewhere, namely, on self service IVR applications that would allow the company to serve customers without speaking to CSRs. That's good for people like me, who design self service IVRs, not as good for the CSRs who are stuck with unintegrated systems.

It's important to keep in mind, though, that employee satisfaction is a major driver of customer satisfaction. Happy CSRs produce happy customers. Something to consider when planning upgrades to call center technology.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

More on Office Communicator

Previously I linked to a blog post about Microsoft's Office Communicator R2. Albert Kooiman from Microsoft responded with info about MS's strategy that I'd never seen anywhere. Interesting discussion in the comments section.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Office Communicator R2

Office Communicator 2007, from Microsoft, is a communications product that unifies voice, e-mail, video, and Office Outlook. My company sells and installs it, and we've installed it in our company. I'm a usability guy who's been pretty critical of Microsoft products in the past, but Office Communicator is very good. The quality of the VoIP calls is still not as good as landline calls, or even as good as Vonage, but it's getting better. It's just a matter of time.

The Office Communicator Server also comes bundled with Microsoft Speech Server. You buy OCS, you get speech recognition for free. If you want to play with speech without paying out a bundle to Nuance, it's a good way to get started in speech recognition.

My associate Marshall Harrison blogs about OCS and Microsoft Speech Server. If you're interested in speech his blog is a good resource.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Remarks on The Future of Managment

For all of the books that are written on the subject of product and service innovation, how many discuss the idea that the structure of management is in dire need of innovation? Gary Hamel's The Future of Management is a wonderful exploration of the idea that workers can effectively manage themselves. Hamel describes the organization of management at companies like Google, WL Gore, and Whole Foods and shows how genuine worker-operated meritocracies can outperform top-down direction from MBA-trained managers. The message is especially compelling coming from Hamel, a long time professor at Harvard Business School.

Chapter titles include "Escaping the Shackles," "Creating a Community of Purpose," "Learning from the Fringe," and "Building an Innovation Democracy." This book is pure inspiration. However, I wonder how many prospective "management innovators" who read the book find Hamel's ideas too radical to be implemented in their own companies.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

What's a marketing guru?

This marketing stuff is new to me, so I followed a link to an article about marketing guru Seth Godin. I read some of the entries on his popular blog and found it to be well-written and interesting. Cool. So I picked up his short book, The Dip, to see what a marketing guru says about marketing. Two hours later I was finished. I can sum it all up like this:
  • Be the best
  • Quit when you're not getting anywhere
  • Stick it out if you think you'll succeed
Sorry, apparently there are millions are rabid SG fans out there, but I don't get it. I felt like I'd just read an extended riff by Stuart Smalley. Perhaps his other books are a little stronger in content, but The Dip isn't the best introduction to marketing.