RealTime IT News

Companies Ring in With VXML 2.0

The Voice Extensible Markup Language (VXML)) Forum puts on a show every year, called SpeechTEK. Its goal: show off the latest technology in text-to-speech (TTS) and other voice technologies to improve customer call-in centers and the like.

Members of the VXML Forum, a consortium of 373 companies with a vested interest in the promotion of the voice specification, didn't disappoint this year, with a slew of products sporting VXML 2.0 capabilities.

The latest version, 2.0, was adopted as a proposed recommendation by the World Wide Web Consortium after a year of testing the specification. It provides marked improvements over VXML 1.0 -- which was originally proposed in 2000 by AT&T , Lucent Technologies , IBM and Motorola . The new version is more adaptable and portable.

VXML, as well as other speech recognition and "voice browser" specifications, all deal with improving the customer experience while reducing operational costs: i.e., customer support representatives. Instead of talking with a human, the computer language will translate the caller's request, find the answer on the company database, and use text-to-speech technologies to regurgitate the answer.

"Speech applications are rapidly becoming the standard customer interface for contact centers," said Elizabeth Herrell, Giga Research vice president. "Developing a quality speech application requires expertise in the development of the application, designing an effective user interface and continuous tuning and testing."

Three companies came out with products capitalizing on VXML 2.0 -- AT&T , ScanSoft and VoiceGenie. Ma Bell and ScanSoft focused their announcements on creating customers in the business world, with packages designed to improve the call centers at work.

ScanSoft's SpeechWorks features speaker verification (for security), TTS (for information) in 22 languages and speech recognition in 46 different languages. The technology is also compatible with a wide variety of voice browser technologies: SALT, VXML, SOAP and SAPI to name a few.

Steve Chambers, ScanSoft network speech solutions senior vice president and general manager, points out the company's $400 million investment in speech technology and 228 pending patents, as a sign of its commitment to speech-enabled computing.

"No other company can point to a track record of innovation, on both technology and professional services fronts, that yield such consistent customer success," he said.

Not to be outdone, AT&T launched its VoiceTone service in limited areas to show off the capabilities of speech recognition. Hosted through its 21 Internet data centers in the U.S., officials say the service gives customers the feel of talking to a live representative with little to no actual real-person involvement.

"The service makes it possible for customers to hold natural conversations with computer-based systems that understand what they say and mean, and that respond to them to fulfill their request," said Eric Shepcaro, AT&T application services vice president. "AT&T VoiceTone enables businesses to improve customer service interactions, increase transactions, and enhance productivity by personalizing the customer experience-all while helping to reduce operations costs."

The need for customer service improvements has been a long-recognized goal for many companies. The ability to cut down, if not eliminate, the need for more telephone operators, has been a key selling point, and companies like Oracle< /a> and IBM have been using the technology for years.

The technology has reached enough of a maturation point, that management tools are necessary for expanding voice technology upgrades. Enter VoiceGenie, which announced Tuesday the upgrade of its voice technologies to version 6, which includes toolsets for managing and configuring elements on the VoiceGenie platform. A GUI-based interface lets administrators make those change on the fly, in what officials say is "faster-than-real time."

"By providing a means for customers to monitor system activities from a single, centralized location in real-time they are able to respond quickly to any areas requiring immediate attention," said Adrian Lee-Kwen, VoiceGenie vice president of engineering. "Our extended support for 14 ASR/TTS offerings as well as enhanced development tools holds true to our vision of delivering the industry's most advanced VoiceXML platform for sophisticated speech solutions."