How Speech Analytics Can Improve the Contact Center Experience

Posted by Bob Thompson on Jun 10, 2014, 9:00:00 AM

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If you’ve ever called a customer service department for help, you’ve probably heard the message: “Your call may be recorded for quality assurance.” Perhaps you’ve wondered, what happens to those call recordings?

Blue Cross of Northeastern Pennsylvania wanted to learn why its customers were calling. Sure, agents can note in their records that customers were calling about a benefit, claim, or other issue, but according to customer service director Bob McDonald, those notes didn’t give him “actionable items to work on.” Using speech analytics, McDonald was able to validate that excessive calls were the result of a recent system change. The data gave him “ammunition that the problem really needed fixing.”

Speech recognition and analysis technology has been around for quite some time, with applications in government, security, and call centers. Contact center analyst Donna Fluss of DMG Consulting figures that 2004 was the year it “burst into the commercial world,” with a grand total of twenty-five implementations. By 2007 that number had grown to more than twelve hundred implementations. In 2013 and beyond, Fluss predicts double-digit growth rates for the speech analytics market, helped along by increasing interest outside of the contact center.

Contact center analyst Keith Dawson of Frost & Sullivan shares this optimistic outlook. Contact centers have traditionally been concerned with improving agent performance, including staying “on message” and offering the correct up-sell or cross-sell offers. Speech analytics can help in these areas, of course, but Dawson notes that most call centers and marketing departments have not “parsed the customer side” of calls. Now technology makes it possible to understand how customers are responding to the agent, including their emotional state.

Industry experts agree that the main driver is the need for operational efficiency, but increasingly business leaders recognize that the customer experience is critical, too. Even when consumers are spending less, service quality will factor into their buying decisions.

To have the best chance for success and a fast payback, consider these four tips:

  • Given that budgets will almost certainly continue to be squeezed, plan to use the insight gained to make wise choices about where to cut costs, where to fix problems, and which customer segments need different treatments.
  • Because this is still a relatively new market, make vendor decisions carefully. There are the usual trade-offs between full suite and specialty vendors. Likewise, the technology “under the hood” does matter, so invest the time to understand which methodology fits your requirements best.
  • Speech analytics experts give much the same advice that applies to CRM projects: Take small steps toward your grand vision. Pick an application to learn from, prove out the ROI, and then expand.
  • Most importantly, Fluss counsels you to ensure your speech analytics project is staffed appropriately. Done right, you can get a return in three to nine months.

Budget cuts may be a painful reality as businesses try to optimize resources. The good news: You don’t have to share that pain with your customers. Use insights gained from speech analytics to improve the customer experience while operating your call center more efficiently. Then your customers will stick around to do more business with you instead of leaving for your competition.


Bob Thompson is an international authority on customer-centric business management who has researched and shaped leading industry trends since 1998. He is founder and CEO of CustomerThink Corporation, an independent research and publishing firm, and founder and editor-in-chief of, the world's largest online community dedicated to helping business leaders develop and implement customer-centric business strategies. His book Hooked on Customers (April 2014) reveals the five habits of leading customer-centric firms.

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