Speech Apps Wring New Revenues from Mobile Users

Interactive speech technology may be traditional telecom companies' best hope for new revenues.

Speech applications with adaptive interactivity are becoming a profitable tool for upselling and extending relationships with current customers. At SpeechTek 2005 in New York, a panel of executives described how many traditional businesses are taking advantage of new applications to realize new revenues from old customers.

Richard Rosinski, vice president of Professional Services for VoiceGenie gave a glimpse of things to come for mobile phone users in North America, with a survey of revenue-generating products in Europe and Asia. Interactive speech technology may hold traditional telecom companies best hope for surviving the evaporation of their old-time phone revenues by adding content-distribution and other value-added services to their portfolios.

The sizzling market for personalized ring tones already rivals traditional music sales in many overseas markets, but an even newer phenomenon called color ring back tones promises even greater potential. Ringback tones replace the traditional beeping or buzzing you hear when you place a call and wait for the other party to answer, a sound which indicates that the other persons phone is ringing.

Color ring-back tones allow you to determine what is heard by people who call you while your phone rings. You could choose a specific song or tone or sound effect, according to your taste. In countries where the service is available, you can buy a variety of different ring-back tones and have a different tone play depending on who is calling.

Rosinski showed a graph of the currently skyrocketing revenue streams that telecom companies are enjoying from sales of ring back tones. He said that in South Korea, sales of ring-back tones now exceed sales of music CDs.

Rosinski went on to describe the profusion of speech-enabled, value-added services available in India, where basic mobile phone service sells for 7 rupees per month, or about 16 cents in U.S. currency.

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"There are people who sleep in the streets but own a mobile phone," he said. One popular service in India is similar to the Magic 8 Ball toy that many people remember from childhood. Callers dial the service and ask a question such as "Will my boyfriend ask to marry me?" The service replies with a prediction, such as "It is likely to be true."

George Platt, senior vice president and general manager at Intervoice shared the results of research the company conducted to see how consumers would react to advanced speech features. They found, for instance, that a speech system that could automatically identify a caller and address that caller by name earned high scores for comfort and ease of use.

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While that sense of goodwill may not directly translate into increased sales, it has an important impact on the overall opinion that customers develop while doing business with a company.

"Ninety-two percent of customers form their image of your company from the quality of the call-center transaction," he said, emphasizing that intangible qualities in customer relationships often lead to tangible and profitable results. He added that the traditional concern for ROI in enterprise speech deployments is slowly being supplanted by an emphasis on the quality of the customer experience.

"ROI is not always cost cutting," he said, citing examples in which customer satisfaction led to lower customer churn rates, which in turn led to greater overall revenue per customer.

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