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Should You Speech-enable Your Web Site?

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Consider speech-enabling your Web site so that callers can access your Web site almost instantly at any time from wherever they are without being placed on hold. Explore this new technology in this first of a five-part series.
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You are on the patio grilling steaks for some friends, when the conversation turns to baseball and the recent success of your home team. Someone wonders when the next home game is. How do you find out? Access the Internet, of course. Here are two possible scenarios:

Scenario 1: You leave your steaks on the grill, walk upstairs to your den, turn on your PC, watch the operating system start up, invoke your browser, search for the local team's home page, browse the page, and learn that your home team is playing a home game that evening. Then, you turn off the PC, walk back to the patio only to see a bright yellow flame consume your crispy-black steaks.

Scenario 2: You pull your cell phone out of your pocket, dial the number of a voice portal, answer a couple of simple questions, become connected to your home team's verbal Web site, answer several more questions, and learn that the team is playing a home game that evening. Then, you dish up your medium-done steak, enjoy the meal, and discuss attending the game in a few hours.

Even disregarding the steak, most people prefer Scenario 2. The telephone can be used to access the Internet—from anywhere, at any time the caller needs information, and without being placed on "hold." With the Internet just a phone call away, the cell phone, telephone, and new devices resulting from the convergence of cell phones with PDAs will become the Internet terminals of choice.

Most users currently use a PC to access the World Wide Web. And most businesses have Web sites designed to be accessed by the two most popular PC Web browsers: Netscape Navigator and Microsoft Internet Explorer. But there are problems with using the PC to access the Web:

  • The desktop PC frequently is not where the user is. The PC is in the den, whereas the user is in the family room or patio. The PC is in the office, whereas the user is in the field. The desktop PC just is not convenient for people "on the go."

  • PCs take too long to boot up. Users want and need information instantaneously. Access to information should be as quick and easy as making a telephone call.

  • Many households do not have connected PCs. Only about 40 percent of household have PCs that are connected to the Web. The Internet is not available to a substantial percentage of the population.

  • Some people still do not like to use the PC. To them, the mouse is awkward. The icons may be unintuitive, and the management of all those windows is a pain.

There is an alternative to the "point and click" of a PC's GUI browser...voice.

Use Your Phone to Talk and Listen to a Computer

Instead of pointing and clicking, the caller speaks and listens to a Web site using a telephone or a cell phone. The caller dials the number of a "gateway" that connects the telephony world with the IP world of the Internet. The gateway connects the caller to a speech server that interprets speech applications, using speech recognition technology to understand what the caller says, and uses speech synthesis to produce synthetic voices that the caller hears.

Why voice? We spent the first two years of our lives learning how to talk and understand what others say. Now, it's second nature for us to speak and listen.

Should you speech-enable your Web site? Your Web site is just a phone call away. Callers can access your Web site almost instantly at any time from wherever they are without being placed on hold.

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