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Rise of the Machines: US and UK consumers are becoming more comfortable speaking to automated voice systems, according to new report


US and UK consumers are becoming more comfortable speaking to automated voice systems, according to new report

El Segundo, CA and Toronto - Voice self-service is being viewed more favorably than ever before by US and UK consumers, with many people welcoming outbound calls that use automated self-service or voice recognition, according to a new report published today by BT and Nortel* [NYSE/TSX: NT]. The research found that 71 per cent of US and UK consumers would be happy to receive a call that used voice recognition to inform them that their plane, train or bus will be late and 80 per cent would look favorably on automated calls that informed them of the time of delivery of goods to their homes.

The report, Fragvergence: Changing consumer attitudes to diverse contact channels, was based on both a quantitative survey of 1,018 US and UK consumers and a qualitative set of in-depth interviews with consumers. It revealed 69 per cent of Americans and 66 per cent of Britons would prefer that companies use advanced voice recognition in order to reduce their costs.

US consumers, while warming to the idea of IVR solutions, are in fact twice as supportive of call centers as their UK counterparts, with 33 per cent of Americans saying they deliver good or excellent service.

Andrew Small, head of CRM capability, BT Global Services, comments: “It is a misconception that people are afraid of machines and always prefer human interaction. Business should be awake to this and consider how, why and when customers want to use a certain channel of communication.”

Charlie Wade, Director Product Strategy, Nortel, comments: “With consumers demanding lower prices and better service, and, as the study shows, prioritizing these over well-known brands or a high quality product, companies need to assess the best possible strategy for managing their communications with customers. There has to be a balance struck between reducing cost while maintaining and indeed improving, levels of service in the customer’s eyes.”

The BT/Nortel report discovered that customers have stark preferences on which channels they wish to use for different services. In finance, for example, whereas 56% of US respondents and half of UK respondents welcomed voice recognition for checking their account balance, only 12 per cent and 13% respectively liked the idea of setting up the direct debit using IVR. Similarly, when it comes to travel, 56 per cent of US respondents and 53 per cent of UK respondents are happy to check timetables using voice recognition but only 23 per cent and 16% respectively welcome the interface as a means of purchasing tickets.

Charlie Wade of Nortel comments: “It is a fairly lucid message from consumers. They are saying ‘yes we are happy to use automated channels in certain circumstances and embrace new technology, but we still expect to choose to speak to a human being where necessary.’”

Andrew Small, head of CRM capability, BT Global Services, comments: “Our research showed that consumer preferences are both particular to the sector and also the application being used. Voice self-service is not an appropriate mechanism for many interactions, particularly those that are emotional or complex, but can be effective for simple and quick activities.

“Given the speed of technology development, it is easy to forget that customer preferences also change quickly. It is therefore important to monitor the changing attitudes and behavior of customers and continually test the usability of new channels and offer customers a choice. Providing the option to talk to a live agent if a customer becomes frustrated with voice recognition is an important safety net for preventing customer frustration.”


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