Teleservices Panel: Some Technologies Failed to Pan Out

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ORLANDO, FL -- Not all call center technologies have lived up to their potential, a panel of experts said yesterday at the Direct Marketing Association's annual Teleservices Conference here.

Two technologies cited by the panel as having been letdowns to the industry were speech recognition and CRM. Both have been tested in the industry, and neither seemed to provide the benefits they were advertised to deliver, the panel said.

Speech recognition wowed many in the industry when vendors began demonstrating it seven years ago, panelists said. It still has a niche in customer service for simple transactions, such as providing airline flight confirmations, said Bill Maikranz, technology consultant with R.H. Oetting & Associates, New York.

In more complex transactions, such as bank transfers, accuracy issues arose with speech recognition, Maikranz said.

Speech recognition technology vendors have begun to gobble each other through acquisition, a sign that the technology has peaked.

Many large organizations that tried speech recognition returned to standard IVR quickly, said Richard Manulkin, president of First Connect Inc. In situations where accuracy is essential and errors result in serious risks, it's still easier and more convenient to use standard keypad IVR systems.

Similarly, CRM impressed many several years ago when vendors began advertising the technology to call centers, panelists said. Millions were spent on CRM infrastructure, building sophisticated database and contact management systems aimed at developing relationships and creating sales.

In most cases, CRM paid off less than people invested in it, Maikranz said. He called it "a bit of a boondoggle."

There usually was a limit on how much extra product could be sold to consumers simply by building relationships with them, panelists said. Focusing on providing good customer service proved a better way to ensure customer loyalty.

"About five years ago, people stopped using the term 'customer service' and started calling it 'CRM,' " Manulkin said. "I was saying, 'Didn't we used to call that something else?' "

Scott Hovanyetz covers telemarketing, production and printing and direct response TV marketing for DM News and To keep up with the latest developments in these areas, subscribe to our daily and weekly e-mail newsletters by visiting

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