When was the last time you enjoyed listening to the voice of a company’s automated call tree? Probably never. Have you heard Scarlett Johansson’s voice? It’s pretty smooth. Johansson provided the voice for the intelligent operating system in the movie Her. If you saw the film, chances are you remember that voice. If you haven’t seen the film, believe me when I say there’s no way the movie would have been effective, or even bearable, if casting had replaced Johansson’s voice with Siri’s. Voices are important.
At SpeechTek 2015, I met with Tara Kelly, President and CEO of SPLICE Software, to learn what SPLICE offers customers and how it relates to the topic of intelligent assistants. What does SPLICE have to do with the operating system’s voice in Her? SPLICE offers customers many valuable services, but all of them rest on the foundation of SPLICE’s vast library of crowdsourced voice files. Kelly explained that the company records in phrases and applies algorithms to concatenate these phrases into customizable sentences.
SPLICE isn’t currently providing voices for intelligent assistants. Instead, Kelly and the team at SPLICE focus primarily on Outbound IVR services. IVR stands for Interactive Voice Response and consists of technology that enables a human to interact with a computer system through touchtone and voice. When people hear the term IVR, they generally think of the dreaded call tree. But hang on for a bit, because it turns out that dynamically generated audio dialogue doesn’t have to be horrible. In fact, it can be amazingly good.
Unlike Inbound IVR, Outbound IVR consists of automated calls to targeted customers. Don’t confuse outbound IVR with robocalling. Robocalls are used to send the same generic message to as many people as possible, hoping that a small percentage of them will listen to the message and care about the content. Outbound IVR involves tailoring a message to one specific customer to get that person information he or she wants to hear.
Examples of Outbound IVR include calls made to:
- alert a credit card customer that he/she is late on a payment
- provide an insurance customer with up-to-date status info on a claim
- invite a special opted in customer to a VIP event
SPLICE has the technology to manage the end-to-end Outbound IVR process. Companies leverage Outbound IVR to provide a service to their clients, increase customer loyalty, and handle commonly needed customer communications.
What I really find intriguing about the SPLICE approach is that Kelly and team are very focused on providing an excellent customer experience. Kelly started out as a small business owner and she was frustrated by how dismal the voices were for automated appointment reminder services. She began creating her own voice files using local voice talent and a family-owned sound studio. Kelly didn’t just focus on getting quality voice files; she also strived to get the right tone and even regional accent to match her customer’s clients.
There turned out to be such a high demand for these perfectly tailored human voices that SPLICE Software was born. SPLICE focuses not only on building out the voice file library, but also on learning how to categorize callers so that the appropriate voice files can be selected and on incorporating technologies such as sentiment analysis to further tailor communications. Kelly also indicated that the company is an open source advocate with plans to further extend their API. You can see Kelly and the SPLICE technology in action in this video.
We may still be a few years (decades?) away from having intelligent assistants as capable as the one in Her. Part of the challenge will be to teach intelligent assistants to sound more like humans. SPLICE is focused on nearer term voice needs. But who knows? Perhaps the voice files and technologies SPLICE is building today will be part of your ideal intelligent assistant in the future.