Nuance: Voice Recognition Revolutionizing Customer Contact

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Nuance Communications, Menlo Park, CA, wants to dominate one of the hottest marketing technologies since the browser: telephone-based, natural-language voice-recognition systems with personalized user-authentication security.

To help get the word out, Nuance last month launched a marketing effort comprised of direct mail, e-mail, print advertising and event promotion.

Nuance's first major deployment of voice-recognition technology was in June 1996 with Charles Schwab & Co. Inc., New York. "From there we've gone on to provide systems for hundreds of customers," said John Shea, director of product marketing at Nuance.

British Telecom, London, uses Nuance's solutions to maintain customer service standards. "The human voice is the most natural way of communicating with an organization," said Dave Prince, solution development manager for British Telecom's Syncordia Voice Solutions. "We are using Nuance's natural language speech recognition software to provide automated services around a high level of customer service and cost effectiveness."

In an age focused on value and service, some analysts believe customers will welcome sophisticated messaging and order-taking services using voice-recognition solutions. One significant advance on the horizon, Shea said, is the adoption of systems that allow customers to browse the Web as well as traditional networks via their phone lines through voice commands.

But not all industry watchers are as enthusiastic.

David Cooperstein, a technology analyst with Forrester Research, Cambridge, MA, doubts that browsing the Web through spoken commands will be easy to sell consumers. "I don't think it adds to the convenience to have both," he said. "And it makes people feel strange talking to a computer."

He added that while more companies are adopting voice-recognition technology, they are being cautious with implementation protocols, particularly when passwords are involved.

"Authentication presents a challenge; it leaves consumers feeling like the companies [with the technology] know too much about you," he said.

A better approach, according to Cooperstein, is to use passwords in conjunction with voice-authentication technology. Major airlines, brokerage houses and online merchandisers use variations of this method.

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