For example, you might help your company improve its customer experience by adding a speech recognition engine. Many airlines have already implemented this technology, letting airline customers book reservations simply by speaking the names of the origin and destination cities. In financial services deployments, a broker's clients can check or purchase a stock simply by saying its name or symbol, something that would be difficult, if not impossible with traditional touch-tone-response IVR systems.
Or, by linking your voice portal with your existing personalization engine, your voice application can identify the caller and immediately ask if he wants to make a payment to the account ending in 1224, if that's what he has often done in the past, or if the call relates to an e-mail or invoice that was recently sent.
Perhaps most important, voice/data integration makes it easier to send data along with a call transfer so that if an agent is needed, she doesn't have to ask the same personal information the caller just entered.
Your IT budget can benefit as well from easier ongoing development and maintenance, as developers no longer need specialized expertise in Nortel or Avaya APIs to make simple changes. In fact, in many cases employees can make minor changes themselves, which can be important in industries such as airlines where conditions can change daily or even hourly.
Travelocity is a case in point: "We had to respond better to the volatility of airlines with all their bankruptcies, bad weather, and policy changes. It was such an arduous task to change that information in our legacy IVRs," says Rob Mabry, senior manager of software development for agent systems.
Longer term, voice portals are a nice entry point into the world of convergence, as they demonstrate many of the potential benefits of combining voice and data without the major infrastructure upgrade required for full-fledged IP telephony. It's a way to get your feet wet and see just how voice/data convergence can benefit your organization.
But as attractive as voice portals are, don't underestimate the upfront effort. At Travelocity, the transition to a voice portal was "a forklift in terms of hardware and architecture," Mabry says. That's because there was no way to port existing IVR applications to the new voice portal system. However, that reality gave Travelocity the opportunity to reengineer and improve its call flows and add better speech recognition.
"Over five years, our legacy system had become spaghetti code and was very difficult to maintain," Mabry says. With the new voice portal, that's changed. "Our Web application developers can get features out much more quickly than we could before," he notes.
Major voice portal providers include Avaya, Cisco, Convergys' Intervoice unit, and Nortel. Travelocity built its voice portal application, which runs on a Tomcat application server, with Intervoice InVision Studio tools and uses a Nuance Speechworks media server for speech recognition.
IT can also roll its own voice portals using a combination of industry standards and specialized development tools offered by vendors such as OpenMethods, Syntellect, and Voxeo. Many savvy IT departments simply write their own in Java.
IVR development doesn't require many highly specialized skills
Most seasoned Web developers can start building voice portal applications fairly quickly. That's because voice portals rely heavily on a trio of standards.