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Social Media & Speech Recognition

Written By: langdon on September 8, 2009 No Comment

Social Media  & Speech Recognition – IM+ to support Speech Recognition for Twitter & IM

Unlike some people, I love Twitter – follow me. Thing is, just about every time I get a chance to tweet, I can’t. Maybe my hands are covered in grease; maybe I just don’t want to come home from a long day of blogging and have to squeeze my thoughts into 140 characters with my iPhone’s made-for-babies keyboard.

Voice recognition Twitter apps are intriguing, but none of the major Twitter clients have it yet (as far as I know), and I’m just not hardcore enough to drop money on any apps that might offer voice-tweeting as its sole functionality. Fortunately, an already worthwhile app has come along and solved all my problems via upgrade.

IM+, is a pretty decent instant messaging app (which supports AIM, Yahoo, Twitter, Skype Chat, Facebook, Google Talk, Yahoo, and more), has just submitted a build which packs Voice Recognition for Twitter and IM as one of its major features. It’s not quite up yet, but I was fortunate enough to get a pre-release copy from my ex-boss that now works at Microsoft.

While we’ll have to wait to see if we’ll give the Voice Recognition the Seal of Approval, it doesn’t seem to stumble over my cousin’s mild accent. It seems to rely on a server to do the crunching, which introduces two caveats: it’s a bit slow, and it’s not free. That said, it’s only .99c a month – and if that means I can tweet without slathering my iPhone in grease, it might be worth it.

The future :

“100,000 years ago, humans started to speak so they could free up their hands. Is it going to happen again? I’d love to get rid of my keyboard…”

I wrote this sentence on Twitter, and got many comments back about how people hate interactive voice response (IVR) systems and speech recognition and how others can’t wait for the day that the technology improves.

In some odd way, technology has taken us back in time to some old habits where we find ourselves communicating again with our hands, using the keyboards on our computers or cell phones. I believe the same reasons that made humans move away from using their hands will be the main driver for going through that evolution once again—productivity and improved speed of communication. In the 21st century, this will be driven by voice technologies that will extend our ability to speak not only with humans, but also with machines.

Why Speech? Why now?

The ability to speak is one of the most basic capabilities that a human being has. A person with as low as a 50 IQ can speak; a child will start learning words from almost the first day of life and will usually start speaking by the age of 2.

Considering that personal computers took off in 1975 with the introduction of the first PC kit (MITS), for many of us typing is almost second nature. If you ask an older person, or someone who has never seen a computer, he will tell you there is no way typing is easier than talking.

The truth of the matter, though, is that it has become that way. Although it is not natural, with the evolution of technology and the integration of our PCs to the network, internet, and business processes, typing is more productive and efficient than speaking.

Speech technology has been around for a long time and took off in a major way during the past few years. You probably do not go a day without putting it to use—be it with your car’s GPS system, corporate office directory, or a call to the airline booking desk when checking your flight status. Most recently, it became available on your cell phone and smart-phone.

There are many technical reasons that made this possible, including new innovations in the technology of speech recognition, standard protocols such as VoiceXML, increased processing power, and mobile technology. More importantly, there are many business reasons that will make speech solutions vital for customers and businesses in the coming years.

Connecting with Customers on a Deeper Level

Stanford University wanted to understand if the same social behaviors, such as politeness, apply when talking with a computer. The idea was simple: If I ask you to give me feedback on my presentation, you will usually give me positive feedback, while if the question is asked by a third party, your answer will be probably more honest. The social rule is that it is more polite to give me positive feedback and not hurt my feelings. 

Now, would you worry about hurting a computer’s feelings? Probably not.

For its research, Stanford had a computer with a voice teach people about something and then administer a test to grade the person. At the end of the session, the students were asked to give feedback on how well the computer taught.

For the research, everything was identical: the same teaching, the same test, and all the students received the same score to make sure that did not affect their opinions. The only difference was that some heard the survey given by the same computer voice that taught them, while others heard a different voice. Remarkably, people provided significantly more positive feedback when the questions were asked by the same voice. They gave feedback such as: It was better; I liked the interaction more; It was a much better teacher. Some even said they did better on the test (although everyone in the class received the exact same test score).

Why would someone give different feedback to the same training because the voice asking for feedback was the same one that conducted the training session? Did the students think they were talking with a real person? After all, it was just voice—no video, no picture, just a computerized voice.

It appears that social rules apply when speaking with computers. In fact, when the students were asked if they purposely said nicer things to the voice they recognized, they said there was no way someone would change their answer to make a computer feel better. But in fact, they did; their social response was unconscious.

So, if social rules apply when we are communicating with computers, how significant will be the opportunity to communicate with our customers in a deeper level?  Ask any marketer and he will tell you being able to connect with customers on an emotional level is the hardest, but also the most rewarding.

Why Should We Integrate and Use Voice Technology?

Speech  applications are very powerful technologies that can be used to attract new customers and connect with them on a much deeper level than any other technology we have. Our ability to integrate voice solutions to line-of-business applications allows us to provide a better customer experience and much more efficient communication when customers are interacting with our organizations.

You can find a large variety of solutions and applications that make good use of voice and speech technology. Some are uniquely powerful, especially in times of economic downturn. Here are some practical examples: 

  • Speech auto attendant – The system allows callers to be automatically transferred to a user’s or department extension without the intervention of a receptionist, just by saying the name. Usually the system will also be connected to an email system, allowing users to schedule meetings using voice commands and get the system to read their emails to them. If you have multiple operators in your organization, answering phone calls both internally or from customers, you should look at this solution. This solution delivers new ways of saving money and can usually show a return on your investment in less than six months.
  • Automated outbound dialer (or automated messaging system) – This cost-effective solution connects the voice application to your customer relationship management system, enterprise resource planning system, email, or any other customer database and start communicating with your customers more frequently. It can be used as part of a lead-generation campaign to proactively reach out to thousands of potential customers and have them listen to your message and connect with an agent, remind people to show up for appointments, send emergency notifications, and much more.
  • Voice biometrics solutions –The solution offers a security level in transactions over the phone, for businesses and their customers looking to increase their privacy with greater security measures or enhance customers’ experience. This is a very effective solution to qualify the speaker’s identity.
  • YellowPages411– Is a complete local mobile search and advertising solution that I personally managed the product development from concept to commercialization. YellowPages411 allows consumers to gain valuable business information directly from yellowpages.ca using speech recognition. This service is available in the Canadian Market by dialing 310-0411, or in North America at 877-310-9356

Think about it as a “voice enables your Web site” solution. You can take the same database and logic you have already built and invested in for your Web site and provide another user interface to it, a phone. Why is it so important? For one, it will open your market to a completely new audience and give your customers the opportunity to get the same or better experience they only got through your Web site, while driving in their cars or calling from their phones at home. Second, it will allow you to communicate your brand and connect with your customers on a deeper level, using the voice and the interaction in a way that will reflect your company’s brand and commitment to those customers.

Looking ahead

The next few years will be a turning point when it comes to the adoption and implementation of speech technologies. We may see a new generation of people that, once again, feel more comfortable speaking than typing.

The phone as we know it today will be very different, and we will use it for more than just communicating with people. One thing is certain, it won’t go away, and it will be more important than it is today.

Voice applications open a completely new era in making technology human-friendly. Organizations that are taking advantage of it will differentiate themselves from their competitors. Using this technology will allow companies to save operational expenses and, perhaps more importantly, enable a deeper connection with their customers and prospects in the most efficient way. 

Voice applications are even now even being deployed for use in Social Media such as IM 3.4 to support Speech Recognition for Social Media starting with Twitter & IM

Feel free to reach out if you want to learn more about how to implement interactive voice based services; have mobile app development needs or require assistance with your mobile marketing strategy and execution. Your comments on mobile marketing are most welcome. You can leave comments below. 

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