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Webinar: 5 trends fueling the adoption of voice biometrics in the contact center & beyond

The latest Opus Research census on voice biometrics finds that the industry is expected to have more than 1 billion enrollments by 2020! Leading global organizations are kicking PINs and passwords to the curb at an accelerated pace — enabling customers to use the simple power of their voice for speedy, secure authentication across all channels (IVR, mobile, web) with biometric technologies that elevate the entire customer experience.

Is your organization fully leveraging the value of voice biometrics?

There are five major trends driving the increased adoption of voice biometrics – especially for telecommunications and financial institutions. Voice biometrics has been implemented in many contact centers due to the cost-savings businesses see as a result of shortened time to authenticate callers and increased customer satisfaction and loyalty.

While reducing costs and improving the customer experience are important, organizations also need to  manage risk, fraud, security, and privacy in the wake of ever-increasing cyber-attacks and data breaches. All these factors have helped to advance the widespread adoption and state of voice biometrics technology.

Join us November 15 to hear more from Dan Miller of Opus Research and me on “5 Trends Fueling the Adoption of Biometrics Authentication in the Contact Center & Beyond” and learn:

  • Why voice biometrics is now essential for detecting and fighting fraud in the contact center—in addition to improving customer experience and reducing costs
  • How forward-thinking organizations are using voice alongside other biometric modalities – including facial and behavioral – in contact center and digital channels
  • New ways to satisfy customers with friction-free, omni-channel authentication

Whether you’ve already adopted some form of biometrics or are still using PINs and passwords, this is a webinar you can’t afford to miss.


Publish Date: November 4, 2016 5:00 AM

Getting started with voice biometrics

Are you interested in, or planning to launch, a voice biometric solution within your enterprise? You’re not alone – as businesses are increasingly realizing how this solution benefits both customers and agents. But it’s important to keep in mind that deploying a successful voice biometric application isn’t just about the technology. It’s about planning ahead and educating your end users. Here are three important strategies to effectively deploy voice biometrics.

#1 – Communication strategy

A successful deployment requires upfront communication. Communicating the benefits of using voice biometrics will help increase the enrollment rate and create enthusiasm around the new service. During this process, explain the technology in easy-to-understand terms – inform users that biometrics allow people to use their voice to identify themselves. Additionally, be sure to highlight the key benefits, such as quick and secure authentication, and never having to remember a PIN, password or answer security questions ever again.

In addition to communicating with customers, businesses must also communicate to agents how deploying voice biometrics will affect them. Agents need to be prepared to help customers with questions. I’d recommend providing an FAQ document with pre-written answers so that quick, informative responses can be given. Agent training should be given approximately 1-3 months prior to system launch.

#2 – Enrollment strategy

Getting as many customers as possible to enroll is the key to a successful deployment. Generally, callers are most receptive to offers after the issue motivating their call has been resolved. However, with voice biometrics, the most effective time to pitch enrollment is immediately after authenticating the caller. This way, the offer can be positioned as helping the caller avoid the troublesome authentication process in the future. When offering enrollment, lead with the convenience benefit – specifically time savings. Let users know they can use their unique voiceprint to get information more quickly. Additionally, reinforce the idea that voice biometrics offers enhanced security – but do so without casting current approaches in a negative light.

Agents have a significant impact on the enrollment process as well. Since enrollment requires multiple steps, they should be trained on the overall process – including what happens after the call – so they can set customer expectations and maximize completion. For many customers, this will be their first exposure to voice biometrics, so agents should be prepared to address common questions.

#3 – Customer experience strategy

Understanding the challenges presented by traditional authentication methods will help determine whether you will deploy voice biometrics in the IVR, call center or both. Regardless of where the application is deployed, the customer’s experience should be streamlined and consistent.

Voice biometrics can differentiate your business by making the authentication experience natural and effortless. 49 percent of customers say authentication is time-consuming. Voice biometrics improves the customer experience by making authentication quick and easy. Additionally, this technology offers the added benefit of heightened security, as each person’s voice is unique. However, if any failures or missteps do occur, handle them gracefully with informative prompting and fall-back strategies.

By tapping into the power of voice biometrics, enterprises offer simplified and secure experience for customers, while saving agents valuable time and resources. And by following these simple strategies, your voice biometric deployment will off the ground in no time!


Publish Date: October 20, 2016 5:00 AM

Are you giving mobile employees the tools they need to succeed?

According to the International Data Corporation (IDC), the U.S. mobile workforce is expected to surpass 105 million employees by the year 2020, accounting for nearly two-thirds of the total U.S. workforce. What’s driving this rapid growth of remote employees? For starters, smartphones and tablets have become unilaterally affordable as companies have grown comfortable with bring your own device (BYOD) programs. Additionally, wireless networks have made it easy for employees to telecommute from virtually anywhere, and provide increased flexibility to companies with large percentages of employees operating in the field, such as insurance adjusters, home care nurses, remote service associates and many more.

At the same time, exciting new technology is bringing innovation to the mobile efficiency of employees, including biometric readers, wearables, voice apps and even virtual reality. But mobility isn’t just increasing productivity and enhancing communications, it’s also changing business workflows.

The need for mobile capture solutions

While an overwhelming number of companies and employees agree that remote work increases productivity and drives higher efficiency thanks to convenience and fewer distractions, it also creates challenges when it comes to business process requirements. Remote employees may be enjoying the benefits of mobile efficiency, but their counterparts in finance may be struggling to get critical business information in a timely fashion. For example, expense reports, time sheets and performance data are often too slow to be delivered when needed.

The key is to identify those gaps in efficiency and address them with intuitive mobile solutions. Here are some real-world examples of business processes that can become disconnected in the field:

  • Remote employees who must submit time sheets and expenses for reimbursement are sometimes forced to mail them in, delaying payment and financial reporting.
  • Logistics companies that face time-consuming, error-prone data-entry processes and constant delays in accessing critical information.
  • Medical associates operating in the field who need to receive approval signatures or patient records “on the go” in order to provide life saving procedures under pressure.
  • Data captured in a remote environment that needs to be shared quickly with the home office in order to process a customer’s request in real time, such as information related to insurance claims.
  • Field sales representatives who need to quickly enter purchase orders into office-based systems using their smartphone or other mobile device.

Complete mobile solutions for a completely mobile workforce

Mobile capture solutions are one way many companies are bridging these types processes in the field and connecting them with existing workflows. Recognizing that mobile devices have become business-critical tools, the right applications can enable workers to capture huge amounts of information on their smartphones and tablets and securely deliver that information back into the company’s business processes. They can also use mobile solutions to improve the way they manage their workforce, which also helps contribute to increased productivity, visibility and efficiency.

Whether it’s photos, eSignatures and eForms or files from mobile or cloud-based applications, any information can be easily – and securely – printed or integrated into any workflow, critical to improving productivity and saving valuable time and costs. For example, Nuance customers, TGI Office Automation and Bettenwelt GmbH & Co., were both able to increase mobile workers’ productivity with the ability to capture critical information on the go.

For these organizations, mobile capture solutions helped drive information accuracy and access while integrating with existing workflows, transforming mobile processes into a new – and sustainable – competitive advantage.


Publish Date: October 13, 2016 5:00 AM

How virtual assistants complement the IVR and enable first call resolution success

Do you call a company first when you have a question? Probably not. I know I don’t. A company’s website is the first place many of us head to when we have a question. This makes sense as research shows that people want self-service that allows them to get answers with minimal hassle. We like to do it ourselves! As such, the IVR is no longer the stand-alone channel for customer service nor the default source of help.

While this shift may seem like good news for the IVR and call reduction, that’s not always the case. Many consumers can’t find what they need on the web despite stacks and stacks of information. And when they can’t find the information they seek, they turn to the contact center. To counter this, and in order to provide the best overall customer service experience, it’s imperative companies align service channels and ensure their websites complement the IVR.

Fix-it Initiative #3 – Optimize your multi-channel customer experience

When customers call the contact center after not being able to find what they want on the website they are likely to be agitated and frustrated. By enabling customers to help themselves online, companies can reduce call volumes in the contact center and improve chances for first call resolution – while making customers happier and allowing agents more time with customers who truly need it.

Introducing a new way to improve web self-service

There are many initiatives designed to improve the web experience, from improving site design and search capabilities to adding a web chat feature. But the modern, future-forward approach is to utilize a virtual assistant. You’ve seen them pop up on various websites. Intelligent virtual assistants are accurate, fast, and help to streamline the customer experience not only online, but also when customers need to speak with a live agent either via chat or by phone. The best virtual assistants deliver on three fronts: Speed, Accuracy, and Containment.

  • Speed – Customers can ask the virtual assistant anything, saving consumers time hunting through the website for information.
  • Accuracy – Due to advances in natural language understanding, today’s virtual assistants understand what the person is looking for and can deliver the same level of fast service as a live agent.
  • Containment – Great virtual assistants solve customer issues and keep them out of the call center, freeing up agent time to focus on harder-to-solve calls.

One Nuance customer, Windstream Communications, implemented a virtual assistant on their website and saw benefits extend to their call center and agents: 

Adding virtual assistants greatly improves the customer experience and helps consumers either refine their question or avoid calling all together – both of which drive increases in first call resolution success. Companies that seize this and take a holistic approach to their customer service channels, like Windstream, can drive synergies with their IVR and see benefits they didn’t expect. Stay tuned for the final first call resolution initiative in coming weeks!


Publish Date: October 4, 2016 5:00 AM

3 lessons on intelligent authentication with voice biometrics

Recently, I attended Opus Research’s Intelligent Authentication conference to talk with other industry experts and learn more about how multi-modal biometrics and seamless identity & verification strategies can provide secure, personalized services for companies around the world. The conference was littered with real-world case studies about how intelligent authentication can build customer loyalty and create an engaging brand experience.

It was interesting to hear how the market is shaping and expanding – and two presentations in particular stood out as they identified not just benefits, but realities of true full scale releases of biometrics solutions.

Using voice biometrics instead of PINs and passwords is not only 80% faster for authentication, but is also far more secure than other authentication methods. Nuance Director of Product Strategy, Brett Beranek gave a presentation on implementing intelligent authentication solutions, such as voice biometrics. My colleague gave an overarching view of the verification landscape – Nuance alone has more than 117 million voiceprints in use by customers and has seen more than three billion verifications worldwide. Brett talked about some strong implementations with companies such as Barclays and Banco Santander, which helped decrease average handle time, increase customer satisfaction – and agent satisfaction – rates, increase containment, and decrease fraud.

But Brett was also very candid about some common pitfalls companies see when adopting intelligent authentication solutions and best practices for how to combat them:

  1. Ensure everyone is aligned. With any rollout, it is important to make sure all teams involved are on the same page in terms of what the goal is, the reason for adoption, and the metrics that will be used to measure its success. This is even more true when deploying a voice biometrics solution, since its implementation touches everyone involved in the customer experience. It is essential that all participants are in alignment with the main goals and see how their part fits into the whole picture. Sarah Bramwell, head of IVR and telephony at TalkTalk, also gave an information presentation on how all those teams and pieces come together to create an effective and efficient customer experience.
  2. Everyone includes the fraud team. One of the fundamental tradeoffs in customer service is between security and convenience. For example, making something as secure as possible often means adding additional steps for access, which puts barriers in front of the customer and can cause a decrease in customer satisfaction and retention. But when the fraud team isn’t included from the beginning (which happens often as they aren’t part of the traditional contact center team), they need to add the security component at the end, which can cause for added complexity for the customers, and even potentially throw a wrench into implementations.
  3. Educate your team, as well as your customers. Most companies know that they need to let customers know when new offerings and tools are available for their use, such as voice biometrics for authentication. But the same is true for employees as well. Companies need to set their implementations up for success by educating customer service agents about new tools so they can better serve customers who call in, and make sure the process is as seamless and easy as possible.

Voice biometrics solutions provide increased security and a better user experience, but companies need to make sure they are supporting technology with integrated and collaborative teams. Looking for other implementation lessons and trends facing the voice biometrics industry? Maybe we’ll see you – and your full customer service team – at next year’s event in September 2017.


Publish Date: September 23, 2016 5:00 AM

New guidelines say SMS is a risky way to verify identity. What’s a company to do?

Ever since the Federal Financial Institutions Examination Council (FFIEC) issued their guidance on “Authentication in an Electronic Banking Environment” in 2001, using two distinct identity factors to secure on-line transactions has been a best practice. One of the most popular two-factor authentication methods is to require a customer to enter a one-time PIN that the company sends to the customers’ mobile phone via SMS – or text messaging. Recently, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) released a preview of its draft guidance on digital authentication that says companies should begin reducing their use of SMS in this manner due to the increasing security threats posed by use of the channel. This raises the question of what alternatives are available to provide that critical second factor of authentication.

NIST is responsible for developing information security standards and guidelines, but rarely weigh in on electronic communication practices for businesses. The guidelines are in a public discussion phase expected to end Sept. 17, and it will likely be early 2018 before they complete the government’s comment and approval process. To help us better understand what the recommendations are, why they matter, and what some alternative options such would be, I spoke with a security expert here at Nuance.

Advait Deshpande, CISSP, is a senior product manager in our Biometrics division and has more than 20 years of experience working with companies in financial services, insurance, healthcare, government, and other security-minded industries to ensure security best practices are being implemented.

First, the NIST guidelines are long and somewhat convoluted. Can you explain what NIST actually announced?

The new guidelines announced by NIST propose deprecation, and not discontinuation of using SMS as a second factor of authentication. Deprecation means it can be used (for now) but it is on its way out. As remote attack exploits on redirecting or intercepting SMS messages increase, the efficacy of using SMS to deliver a one-time PIN or password will decrease and will have to be phased out, as it is lacking the level of security needed to protect organizations’ and customers’ information.

Right now, the NIST guidelines are in the public comment phase. This is where they invite input and critical review on the proposed standards from individuals and organizations alike. It will be a little while before the standards are finalized, published by NIST and subsequently adopted by government agencies. I expect the private sector to follow suit thereafter.


What’s wrong with using SMS for verification?

Over the last few years, fraudsters have gotten very sophisticated in spoofing caller IDs and faking SMS messages. It has become easy for hackers to intercept these randomly generated codes if the phone is connected to a voice over IP (VoIP) service or something similar. The codes can also be stolen by Android malware on infected devices, making SMS two factor authentication a risky proposition.

NIST states:

“Due to the risk that SMS messages may be intercepted or redirected, implementers of new systems should carefully consider alternative authenticators. If the out of band verification is to be made using a SMS message on a public mobile telephone network, the verifier shall verify that the pre-registered telephone number being used is actually associated with a mobile network and not with a VoIP (or other software-based) service. It then sends the SMS message to the pre-registered telephone number. Changing the pre-registered telephone number should not be possible without two-factor authentication at the time of the change. Out of band verification using SMS is deprecated, and may no longer be allowed in future releases of this guidance.”


Does that mean that organizations can no longer use SMS for two factor authentication?

No, most companies can and will continue to use SMS for two factor authentications for two reasons. First, while using SMS to deliver a second factor of authentication is not as secure as it should be, it is still better than a single factor of authentication. Second, enterprises have made significant investments – sometimes millions of dollars as well as time devoted to training teams – in SMS infrastructure, so they can’t just throw it all out at once. Companies will slowly start phasing out SMS, so it won’t be used as often or for as many purposes, and eventually it will go away. But SMS will still be around for many years to come.

Proactively, enterprises should begin planning to phase out using SMS for authentication and evaluate options to replace it with another stronger factor, like voice biometrics.

NIST doesn’t have the power to push regulatory action against companies who don’t comply. Does that mean businesses can ignore the recommendation?

While NIST does not have direct regulatory oversight on authentication in the commercial sector, they do have considerable influence (rightfully so) on technology standards. It is very likely that the FFIEC and other regulatory organizations will follow NIST’s lead in issuing guidelines deprecating or discontinuing the use of SMS as a secure factor of authentication. And if you don’t think NIST has the power to end the use of a technology based on their findings, consider the story of Jess Ritchie and his bogus AD-X2 battery additive.


Is NIST recommending against two factor authentication?

Quite the contrary! NIST reiterates the risk based decision practices and strongly recommends multi-factor authentication that is risk appropriate. In their follow up blog post, NIST even went to the length of clarifying that a two factor authentication (even using SMS to mobile) is better than a single factor of authentication.


What are the ways to do two-factor authentication?

Multi factor authentication is based on using “something you know”, “something you have” and/or “something you are” to construct a robust multi factor authentication design. For example:

I’m sure it’s not a surprise that I happen to be a big fan of “something you are.” This biometric factor has been shown to be less susceptible to traditional attack vectors and vulnerabilities.

Do customers really prefer other forms of authentication?

Customers want to authenticate in a way that’s easy and secure – and in whatever form best meets those two needs. In fact, 90% of users actually prefer voice biometrics over SMS or PINs and passwords. And voice biometrics is 80% faster at confirming users’ identity – which adds a “wow” factor to the customer experience. Check out what real people had to say when met with a voice biometric-enabled solution.

All forms of biometrics modalities such as fingerprint, voice, face, iris, behavioral etc. can be considered a strong authentication factor. In picking the best authentication factor, it all comes down to an effective risk analysis and value of the asset being protected.


Publish Date: September 9, 2016 5:00 AM

The necessity of reliable government customer service

Government plays a critical role in citizens’ lives. From transportation to healthcare to public safety, everyday people rely on government agencies for a host of critical issues. Therefore, offering exceptional and timely service isn’t an option. It’s a must. When people are seeking answers to their questions or are looking to solve a problem, agencies can’t afford to provide service that is sub-par. Local, state, and federal governments must consistently find fast, easy and secure ways to provide information and resources across all channels.

But – that’s a tall order. Government services are often high stakes and high stress. So how do you provide an effective experience that the public can count on? In 2015, a child and family services agency figured out how. By launching an intuitive speech-enabled Interactive Voice Response system (IVR), they were able to deliver faster, more personalized assistance that met the rising expectations of citizens.

The challenge

Like so many government agencies, this child and family services agency was tasked with handling hundreds of calls each day, amounting to nearly three million a year. From inquiring about available services to checking the status of applications and payments, the citizens calling into the IVR were in urgent need. Unfortunately, the agency’s legacy IVR system created long wait times and impersonal and confusing IVR menus. Additionally, there were limited self-service capabilities, forcing callers to either wade through a maze of submenus or wait for an agent. To make matters worse, important information provided by callers in the IVR wasn’t captured and relayed to the agent, thereby making callers repeat themselves, which quickly drove up call handle times.

A better way

In order to provide high quality service and better meet the needs of families and children, the government agency launched a speech-enabled IVR, allowing callers to use their voice to interact with the system and efficiently navigate to the information they were looking for. The IVR offered the following capabilities to enhance the caller experience:

  • Natural interaction: The high-quality text-to-speech capability and natural-sounding speech recording encouraged spoken interaction with callers, and recognized both English and Spanish.
  • Easy authentication: The new IVR offered easy authentication, creating a simpler experience for the caller. The IVR prompted the caller to authenticate themselves by speaking their case number or social security number. The caller ID is also verified against the phone number on record for an additional layer of security, which also enables a more personalized interaction with the system.
  • Anticipating caller needs: After being authenticated, a unique, predictive menu capability offered personalized menu options and messages based on previous caller records and interactions. The ability to anticipate needs and offer a personalized experience allows the IVR to proactively provide relevant information to the caller, before the caller even has to ask. It additionally helps to contains calls that, in the past, would have required agent intervention.
  • Inform agents: If the caller opts to interact with an agent at any point, the information they provide to the IVR is then transferred to the agent, eliminating the need for the client to repeat themselves and allowing the agent to efficiently and seamlessly provide support.

Government bodies are responsible for providing critical service and assistance to people, every single day. The demands are high, but with the right tools in place, consistently reliable and impactful service can be ensured. Implementing a new IVR system can reduce costs, allowing agents to be utilized on more complex and rewarding customer interactions, thus empowering government agencies to serve citizens more effectively . This child and family services agency improved the user experience by offering more personalized interactions and increasing the number of self-service options. Additionally, they increased the containment rate and reduced the number of repeat calls. But most importantly, by streamlining the IVR and enhancing its efficiency, it allowed staff to focus on what was most important – providing help to children and families.


Publish Date: August 24, 2016 5:00 AM

Nuance and AT&T team up at hackathons to tackle next-gen IoT

Our presence at recent AT&T Developer events has allowed us to offer our technology to a broader range of developers, enabling coders and programmers of all skill-levels to build speech-enabled apps for IoT. Armed with hardware kits consisting of a raspberry pi, LED lights, various connectors and other bits and bytes, hackers accepted the challenge of concocting a new, useful app that utilized speech.

The result was an impressive array of solutions showcasing the importance of voice interaction in the constantly expanding Internet of Things ecosystem. Projects often brought together multiple components including speech recognition, text-to-speech, and natural language understanding. Projects submitted included a speech-enabled self-driving car, a digital assistant, and a number of other thoughtful, creative innovations.

AT&T Shape Hackathon – Best Use of Nuance Technology Winners: TV-Bot

The winner of the “Best Use of Nuance Technology” award at the AT&T Shape Expo showcased a speech-enabled TV that allowed its viewers to use their voice as their remote. See the below diagram for a bit more information on how it actually worked:

TV-bot is an A.I. bot that integrates Nuance Mix onto a DirecTV set-top box to enable voice control. Watch full video submission here.

AT&T IoT Hackathon – Best Use of Nuance Technology Winners: Mirror, Mirror

“The basic idea was to hack our mornings spent staring at ourselves by creating a smart mirror.” It will be able to feed you customized information – date/time, weather, trending tweets and more. Check out the full video submission here.

Implementation diagram


Say cheese, Team ‘Mirror, Mirror’


A clear takeaway from these hackathons is the desire to make technology more human. Kenn Harper, VP of Mobile Devices & Ecosystems put it best in his previous blog post, Democratization of voice technology and data in the age of IoT, “Natural interfaces like voice and gesture will spur consumer adoption and open up new business opportunities for the creators of all things. “ So here’s a question for you… what can you create?

Make sure to keep your eyes peeled for our next hackathon or meetup, follow us on Twitter @NuanceDev and subscribe to the What’s Next blog to get more details on our event presence.


Publish Date: August 22, 2016 5:00 AM

Why we’re using Deep Learning for our Dragon speech recognition engine

Everybody is special in how we use language – how we speak, the words we use, etc. In an earlier blog post, we saw how speech recognition systems eliminate this variation by training on speech and language data that cover many accents, age groups, or other variations in speaking style you might think of. This creates very robust systems that work well for (nearly) every speaker; we call this “speaker-independent” speech recognition.

But in some cases, the individuality of the speaker matters and can be leveraged to create even better experiences – like our latest Dragon Individual and Dragon Legal offerings ,that are typically  used by one user.  This allows us to go beyond speaker-independent speech recognition by adapting to each user in a speaker-dependent way. Dragon does this on several levels:

  • It adapts to the user’s active vocabulary by inspecting texts the user has created in the past, both by adding custom words to its active vocabulary and by learning the typical phrases and text patterns the user employs.
  • During each session, it does a fast adaptation of its acoustic model (capturing how words are pronounced) based on just a few seconds of speech from the user. By doing this, it can also adapt to how a user’s voice sounds in the moment; for instance are they impacted by a cold, using a different microphone or is there a change in environment.
  • During the optional enrollment step, or later after a dictation session ends, Dragon will do some more intense learning in an offline mode. It continues to adapt models very well over time to a specific user’s speaking patterns.

This latter point deserves more attention. Dragon uses Deep Neural Networks end-to-end both at the level of the language model — capturing the frequency of words and in which combinations they typically occur — and of the acoustic model, deciphering the smallest spoken units, or phonemes of a language.

These models are quite large and before they leave our labs, they have already been trained on lots and lots of data. One of the reasons why Neural Networks have taken off only now and not in the late 20th century when they were invented is that training is quite a computing intensive process. We use significant amounts of GPUs (Graphical Processing Unit) to train our models. GPUs were originally invented for computer graphic applications like video games. Computing images and training Deep Neural Networks have a lot in common as both tasks require the application of relatively simple calculations towards lots of data points at the same time, and this is what GPUs are good at. We use multiple GPUs in parallel in one training session to speed up the training process

But how do we apply this outside of our data centers? Adapting those Deep Neural Networks that make up the acoustic model to the speech coming from the user is similar to training them, and we want to make that happen on the user’s PC, Mac or laptop – and we want it to be fast. It is a demanding task as we need to make sure adaptation works with just a little data and computationally it is a very efficient process.

Packaging this process in a way that allows the individual to run it on their desktop or laptop is the culmination of many years of innovation in speech recognition and machine learning R&D. Enjoy the result of a highly accurate Dragon experience that is fully personalized to you and your voice.


Publish Date: August 16, 2016 5:00 AM

Step one to addressing first call resolution

Despite rising customer expectations and shrinking budgets, companies are increasingly expected to deliver great customer experience in the call center. My last post introduced us to first call resolution (FCR), an increasingly popular call center metric, and outlined the cost implications of not getting it right. The rest of this series will outline four proven initiatives to help improve your company’s first call resolution rate. Today we’re kicking it off with advice on how to improve routing and containment.

But let’s take a step back. Do you know your company’s FCR rate? The formula to compute FCR is straightforward – divide all the calls that come into the IVR by the number of calls resolved the first time. Having this internal-focused view of FCR will help you start the process for improvement. But remember that is only one view into the situation. And while these internal stats and graphs may suggest everything is fine, it is also essential to consider the customer’s perspective on whether their issue has been resolved, because they might have a different impression. And ultimately, your organization’s bottom line depends on their satisfaction and willingness to do more business with you.

Additionally, failure to take the customer’s viewpoint into account could artificially inflate your FCR, resulting in hidden sources of customer churn. After all, you can’t solve problems if you don’t know they exist. You must therefore use a combination of internal and external sources of information to build an accurate picture of FCR success rate. The table below shares the most common sources of both internal and external data that you can use when calculating FCR.

But there’s one secret many companies miss when reviewing the data. They don’t consider the caller’s timing and their reason for calling (caller intent). We’ve seen many companies mis-calculate their FCR by simply measuring it based on subsequent calls by the same phone within a pre-determined period of time – typically 24 hours. But this creates inaccuracies. I once called my cable company on Friday to address a service issue (successful!) and then called again on Saturday to add additional channels (revenue generation!). These were two very different things.  Attributing the second call to the first and putting them together as “not resolved” creates a false impression and could lead you to fixing the wrong problem. There’s no question that understanding caller intent provides a clearer window into resolution rates. Which leads us to our first initiative…

Fix-it Initiative #1 – Improve routing and containment 

Imagine the following scenario: A customer calls your company with a problem but there’s no menu option that fits the reason for their call. In that moment, they have two choices – select one of the many IVR menu options and cross their fingers that they get where they need to go, or press “zero” for the operator, who often has no context for the call and ends up misrouting the caller again anyway. Both options result in frustration and wasted time.

To avoid this dilemma, one of the best places to start is to improve intent capture. Correctly capturing intent sets the stage for a successful resolution. Think about it: if you don’t know why a customer is calling, how can you expect to accurately solve their problem the first time?

To capture intent, companies have three basic options. You can use touch-tone, which gathers intent using keys on the telephone. But that’s the classic “Push 1 for Billing” approach that frustrates so many people. Second, you can use speech, which captures caller intent by recognizing specific words (i.e. “Say 1 for Billing”). Or finally, intent can be captured through conversational IVRs with Natural Language Understanding (NLU), which recognizes strings of words, allowing callers to speak naturally.

Of the technologies available, natural language makes the greatest impact on FCR and is the most effective in capturing intent. Look at it this way – customers are calling your company countless times a day, for thousands of different reasons. Assigning all those calls to a restricted set of menu options means making assumptions about why they call, which is an infeasible task. So how are you supposed to ensure customers get to the right place the first time?

That’s where NLU comes in. Modern IVRs today are starting to use advanced technology that let your callers say anything they’d like and your IVR will be smart enough to understand it. It recognizes both what they are saying and their intent.

With NLU you turn your IVR from a maze into an asset as customers are more likely to be directed to the right resource – quickly and without error. And you’d be surprised how callers may even enjoy the experience when your IVR goes from “Listen carefully as our menus have changed” to “Hello Cindy, how can I help you today?”  The ability to resolve their call on the first attempt goes up along with their satisfaction with your company.

NLU is just one way to improve your first call resolution success. Tune in here for additional steps as we continue our series to explore strategies to ensure customers get their problem solved the first time around.


Publish Date: August 15, 2016 5:00 AM

Infographic: The 411 on voice biometrics

Often seen as being reserved for sci-fi or spy movies, biometrics are fast becoming a game-changing technology. Providing enhanced account and information security with a simple and easy customer experience, this innovative technology can revolutionize how customers interact with your businesses. The global biometrics market is expected to grow to $44.2 billion by 2021 – a massive increase from $7 billion in 2014. And organizations are taking note. We are seeing a huge upswing in companies adopting voice biometrics for authenticating sensitive information.

But despite the growing momentum, there’s still a lot that people don’t know about voice biometrics. The infographic below illustrates the anatomy of voice biometrics and why major companies across industries and locations are choosing this technology for customer authentication.


Publish Date: August 12, 2016 5:00 AM

Why channels matter when building a virtual assistant

We’re in an era of significant channel proliferation – new communication channels are constantly being added (Pokemon Go is the most recent example of this evolution) and mature channels are experiencing powerful changes. There are the traditional communication channels, such as IVR, email and websites. But there’s also an exciting wave of channels experiencing tremendous growth, including mobile, text and social media. And let’s not forget the Internet of Things, which is creating a seemingly never-ending number of innovative ways for businesses to interact with their customers, from connected cars and homes to wearables.

New channels mean challenges and opportunity

However, while these new channels present great opportunities for businesses, they also create challenges, as companies must figure out how to effectively and seamlessly communicate with their customers on a growing number of media. To navigate this evolving landscape, companies need to ensure they’re providing consistent self-service experiences no matter how their customers choose to communicate. Here’s why multichannel virtual assistants allow companies to do exactly that.

But why multi-channel?

Let’s backtrack for a moment. Why is multichannel support so important for businesses in the first place? Multichannel matters because it’s what consumers want!  One-third of respondents say digital channels provide them with information they need, with less person-to-person interaction. And research shows email, mobile, and text are all rising as preferred communication channels. It’s definitely not a question of if businesses should tap into multiple communication channels. It’s how companies can best implement these channels. Savvy businesses must evolve how they communicate or run the risk of losing touch with their customers’ needs and expectations.

Self-service is the secret sauce

So what’s the secret? To start, businesses need to leverage self-service. Ninety percent of those who use automated self-service, compared to sixty-seven percent of those who don’t, say customer service has a significant impact on their decision to do business with a company. In addition, 59 percent agree that automated self-service options have improved customer service – with 15 percent of respondents saying it improves customer service significantly. Among Millennials, the preference is even stronger: three-quarters of Millennial respondents say automated self-service has improved customer service.

It’s clear: customers want to be able to find answers and solve their own problems – on their timetable. If it’s 3am and your customer needs answers, you need to provide a friendly and cost-effective way to meet that expectation. Which is why a virtual assistant is so beneficial: a virtual assistant never sleeps. Virtual assistants empower the customer to self-serve 24 hours a day, seven days a week. And they’re as engagingly upbeat and professional the first time a question is asked as they are the millionth time.

Ensure consistency at every call (or email, or click)

Along with self-service, businesses need to ensure consistency across channels in order to make multichannel service successful. Consumers are using more channels to communicate with businesses – often in tandem. Therefore, it’s critical that the same information be communicated across all channels and that interactions be seamless when consumers move from one channel to the next.

Virtual assistants can do just that. A virtual assistant can hold hundreds of thousands of conversations simultaneously and communicate identical messages every time. And when information or processes change within a business, that change can be implemented everywhere all at once. The customer calling the IVR will get the same updated answer as the customer interacting with the corporate social media account on their mobile device at the same moment in time – from different parts of the world, even in different languages.

With so many channels through which to reach customers, businesses must expand their horizons and move beyond traditional communication methods. They need to follow the market and follow their customers. But to be successful in the multichannel era, businesses must focus on consistency across channels and empowering customers to self-serve. With virtual assistants, companies can provide exactly that.


Publish Date: August 1, 2016 5:00 AM

Reminders matter: Better customer engagement and business results using proactive notifications

We’ve entered a period where consumers are attached to their phones at every turn, even going so far as to sleep with their devices. Cell phones are always around and almost always on, which means users are constantly receiving notifications. Billions of smartphones, millions of watches—even thermostats and refrigerators—are lighting up to tell us something every minute of every day. They remind us about meetings. Inform us of the latest news. To check out a new photo shared by a friend. Not only are people relying on technology for information, they are taking actions based on what technology tells them.

So it is no wonder then that consumers overwhelmingly believe the companies they do business with should also send them notifications. Eighty-four percent of Americans expect the companies they do business with to proactively send them reminders. If apps can anticipate and remind you when you are most likely to go for a run, companies are expected to remind you of an issue with your account or an upcoming appointment. And consumers are becoming increasingly reliant on these reminders in place of their own memories!

In a recent survey conducted by Wakefield Research, we found 63 percent of U.S. consumers felt critical customer service issues could have been avoided if companies had contacted them earlier. And this expectation is only rising; in March 2015, 53 percent of consumers felt proactive outreach would have helped them. And this isn’t specific to one industry. Customers expect companies in all industries to send them notifications – from interrupted cable or utility service to missed bill payments from a retailer or credit card issuer.

Businesses that proactively notify or inform customers on the right channel, with the right message, at the right time, and with the right response options can drive increased customer satisfaction and higher engagement rates with their customers. In fact, for customer service, the cost of a live agent making an outbound phone call or taking an inbound customer service call is high, and most customers don’t even want to speak with a live person. Proactive notifications can help deflect inbound calls, and automate the outbound contact to help significantly lower operational costs in a call center, all while increasing the likelihood that customers will take the desired action.

Forgetful consumers have a way of slowing business down: not taking desired actions to drive business results, whether they forget to reorder or simply to pay, and creating inefficiencies that cost companies money, having valuable human and technical assets sit idle when customers forget an appointment. Companies need to join the notification era to avoid negative business ramifications of forgetful customers and leverage consumer preferences for preferred channels of communication, to cost effectively nudge consumers to take the desired actions and driving better business results.


Publish Date: July 29, 2016 5:00 AM

Swapping physician screen time to patient face time

When I see a patient, I try to give them my undivided attention, looking, listening, evaluating hundreds of small nuances as well as bigger signs to  properly understand what might be going on and more importantly how to  fix it. Unfortunately, there is too much being pushed into that short visit, which is usually under 10 minutes.  Physicians everywhere are facing the same strains whether they’re working in a busy trauma center or a private practice in the suburbs. Isn’t it time for that to change?

Physicians are being asked to provide peak-performance as caregivers, but also be data-entry clerks, and coding experts, all while being more mobile and time-constrained than ever.  Limitations such as check boxes and drop down menus take time and often deliver blanket statements that don’t really give physicians the information we need. If a physician upstairs reads a chart on my ER patient they want to know what I thought, and my recommendation. They don’t get that when technology gets in the way.

The following comment sums up the problem we want to solve: 12 patients seen, 1233 mouse clicks. It’s time to ease physician frustrations and move from implementation to optimization of technology. Many of us helped hospitals install EHRs, and supported adoption efforts from day one as physician champions. Now it’s time for physicians to reap the benefits.

We need an easy way to create rich patient notes in the system and get information back out of it, all while focusing on patients. We need help adhering to evidence based guidelines and we need to see the whole picture of the patient without an archeological dig. Too often the details of patient’s clinical needs are trapped in structured data that create ambiguous notes and leave clinicians wondering, “What’s really going on with the patient?” With more date entry, more regulatory requirements, more penalties, we are stretched too thin and spend 43% of the day on computers. Patients and physicians are the biggest losers.

Fortunately for me, I’m into gadgets. I tested Google Glass, I use a lot of apps to save time in the ER, anything to preserve time while delivering better care.  I latched onto speech recognition early as a way to dictate notes in between patients, and even created all kinds of shortcuts and libraries of commands I’ve shared with my colleagues and physicians across the country over the years. That has certainly saved time and provides a richer patient note for providers to use, but the harsh reality is all these data fields and regulatory requirements in healthcare are still winning.

Turning the corner

Now that we’ve gotten past adoption of technology like EHRs and computerized physician order entry (CPOE), it’s time to capture some real benefits for providers, and deliver a solid answer to the question: “What’s in it for Me?” (WIFM).

  • For patients that involves healing, better outcomes, relationships with their providers and information available that is easy to get and understand.
  • For physicians this involves better outcomes, access to data, time back in their day, tools to crunch data, help practicing evidence-based medicine, mobility, and access and communication with other physicians.

Patient and physician satisfaction come hand in hand. Let’s improve the patient and the physician experience by swapping screen time with patient face time, and leverage these tools and technologies to increase the list of things clinicians can stop doing to make room for that face time.  Now that much of the hard work is done, it’s time for physicians to see the original promise of electronic medical records – improved quality, efficiency and care coordination.


Publish Date: July 27, 2016 5:00 AM

Unlocking the code to first call resolution

“I just want it done!” That’s typically the thought most people have when calling a company to address a product or service issue. I feel the same way. We don’t want to call back a second, third, or fourth time. Customers want fast, intelligent customer service, and companies that help customers resolve their issues quickly have been shown to have higher overall satisfaction.

But in today’s new era of customer service when expectations are higher than ever, companies must achieve the seemingly impossible—improve the caller experience while simultaneously reducing costs. One key call center metric, first call resolution (FCR), provides a clear window into how to achieve this—by properly addressing a customer’s need the first time they call. It’s become so important that first call resolution was ranked as the #2 metric in a Call Center Helper survey.


So why exactly is FCR so important? FCR is a critical metric because it impacts two major goals of a call center manager:

1. Cost: Consider that each time a call center agent has to take a live call it costs the company about $5 on average. If you also add up all the times someone can’t resolve their issue through automation, it gets expensive. Dr. Jodie Monger, the president of Customer Relationship Metrics, conducted research to understand the impact of repeat calls on customer service organizations, and found it can be as high as almost $3M per year.


2. Customer Satisfaction: It makes perfect sense and doesn’t take Sherlock Holmes to figure this out. Each additional time someone has to call back, they won’t be happy and it will cost your company more money to manage. Elementary!


But what’s the cause of poor FCR? While there are many factors that contribute to overall first call success or failure, here are the biggest drivers of poor FCR rates:

  • Long hold times – sure you think the music is great but who wants to wait that long?
  • Confusing IVR Menus – if your caller can’t figure out the menu tree, chances are they’ll be misrouted to the wrong department and the call won’t be resolved on the first attempt.
  • IVR doesn’t understand caller – Poor speech recognition will prompt someone to say “Agent” every time.
  • High agent turnover – Less experienced agents mean less valuable expertise and more un-resolved issues.
  • Lack of information access – If you make simple information available to a caller right in the IVR – like billing info, outage updates, current balances – chance are they will resolve the issue and be on their way.
  • Lack of a multi-channel strategy – Your web site says one thing, your IVR another. Callers engage from multiple touch-points. But are those channels seamlessly connected?

If any of these sound familiar, then your company is likely ready to reap significant cost savings and improvements in customer satisfaction by undertaking a first call resolution improvement initiative. Over the next several weeks this blog series will explore proven strategies and initiatives to both determine your current FCR and outline steps for improvement. Stay tuned.


Publish Date: July 18, 2016 5:00 AM

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