E-commerce is big and getting bigger. Customers are demanding choice and flexibility regarding receiving information and transacting based on that information. They want the ability to transact anytime, anywhere, using a variety of channels in person, via PC or new devices such as personal digital assistants (PDAs) and, yes, even phones. From these needs for choice, flexibility and ease of use came m-commerce or the ability to transact using wireless non-PC mobile devices such as PDAs, iPacs and even cell phones. In m- commerce, cell phones are used in much the same manner as a PDA, with the customer looking at the screen and pushing a button to indicate their desire to conduct a transaction. Now, enter a new world of v-commerce where the customer can use voice commands for transactions.
A recent trend has emerged where megaportals such as AOL and Yahoo!, as well as some forward-thinking enterprise portals, provide customers the capability to obtain information and act on it based on voice. It's not just people with visual impairment that are taking advantage of these capabilities. It seems as though harried travelers, commuters and other people wanting to utilize time spent waiting in airports, in taxis, or driving or riding public transportation to and from work are using their cell phones to get information and transact. Even people waiting for a meeting to start, with access to a landline, are availing themselves of voice services. What are some of the services these consumers use? They have their e- mail, or the latest weather, news or sports information read to them over the phone. They also get stock quotes and issue trades, or they get their bank balances and transfer money between accounts. The visual readout on a handheld device is great, but many people don't have the time or inclination to type onto a small screen to transact business. They would rather just say it, using voice commands.
There are many different technologies that have evolved to the point of enabling these types of voice services, but some of the most important ones are speech recognition, text-to-speech and voice authentication. All of these technologies have been around for a while but have recently had significant breakthroughs that now make them more viable in a commerce setting. Additionally a voice markup language (VoiceXML) has emerged to voice-enable Internet content.
Speech recognition enables a customer to say what information they want or what action they want to take. The key to this technology is to be able to use natural language and for the technology to understand a variety of accents and slang expressions. The accuracy rate in interpreting voice commands has improved dramatically as of late.
Text-to- speech is the ability to translate written text into speech. Recent advances within this field have enabled a more natural-sounding pattern than previously available, sounding less like a computer when text is read, thus providing a more pleasant listening experience for the customer.
Voice authentication is a technology that is critical to transacting. In order to transfer money, pay for a purchase, make a trade, etc., it is necessary to know that the speaker is who they say they are and that they are authorized to perform the transaction. Exciting developments in the voice-authentication space have improved the accuracy rate in identifying a person based on his or her voice. Even if a person has a cold or talks with a different accent, some of these technologies can now accurately identify the person. Also, someone pretending to sound like someone else is accurately disqualified.
The technologies that enable v-commerce are improving and making it a viable business proposition. What about personalizing the voice experience? Personalization takes on even greater importance with v-commerce than it does with e-commerce or even m-commerce. Yes, there can even be targeted advertisements within voice applications, just like other applications. Business intelligence is critical when creating a one-to-one targeted message. Where customers may look at banner ads (whether relevant or not) on an Internet site when using their PC and a browser, they have much less patience for listening to an ad over the phone when it doesn't pertain to them. Voice ads need to be short, to the point, correctly placed within the customer experience and personalized to the needs of the person on the phone. If that is not the case, there is a high probability that person will hang up.
Adoption of voice-enabled applications is growing. V-commerce is going to be an important capability for an organization to enable within its overall commerce capabilities. The technologies supporting voice are available today and are continuing to make dramatic improvements. With speech-enabled applications, an organization can tell their customers, "Just say it!"
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