Envision vs. Verint “Smackdown” on Speech Analytics for SMBs, but the Cloud is up Next


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Speech analytics is a great way to mine insight out of recorded phone calls, so you can quickly identify and resolve issues that upset your customers and waste precious internal resources. But thus far adoption has been limited mainly to large contact centers.

Recently Envision and Verint, vendors of workforce optimization (WFO) solutions, announced new solutions that will tempt smaller contact centers to take the plunge. I think this is an interesting and welcome development, but based on what I’ve observed in the enterprise software industry, succeeding with SMBs takes more than cutting the price and lopping off a few features.

So, I talked with the two vendors and industry analysts to dig deeper.

Keep in mind that the speech analytics industry is still young. It’s been growing fast, and there a number of strong vendors that either sell speech analytics separately or as part of a WFO suite. But the penetration rate is low—around 10% according to industry sources. Industry analyst Keith Dawson of Frost & Sullivan says adoption issues are mainly due to “cost, speed of deployment and complexity of ongoing use of a system.” And he notes that small and medium contact centers will feel these issues more acutely.

Towards mainstream acceptance

In May Verint announced “Impact 360 Speech Analytics Essentials” as a more affordable solution to bring speech analytics into the mainstream.

In addition, the company added a new automated trend analysis to help surface trends without admin involvement, plus a guided search capability to help business users find relevant calls quickly. These are available for both the “essentials” and “advanced” versions.

Under the hood, the speech analytics technology is the same. Diego Lomanto, Senior Manager, Analytics Solutions Marketing at Verint, says the “essentials” solution eliminates a couple of more complicated functions (root cause analysis and categorization) that require resource commitments SMB are not likely to make. And, the “essentials” version is limited to run only on a single “box” handling around 300 contact center seats.

Not a bad deal considering the price is cut roughly in half. Donna Fluss, a contact center expert and head of DMG Consulting, says this is a reasonable approach to provide an SMB-targeted speech analytics solution. Although she points out that vendors should be careful not to assume that because SMBs have smaller operations that their requirements are less complex.

Here’s a screen shot of Verint’s Trend Analysis function.

Source: Verint

New “right-sized” solution

Well, that was the opening salvo in what Fluss and other analysts say is likely to become a trend. On June 1st, Envision responded by announcing InteractionIQ™, a “right-sized” speech analytics solution intended to simplify speech analytics and lower the cost. Similar message to Verint, but a very different approach.

Jim Shulkin, Envision’s Director of Marketing, says the company offers a private label solution via an OEM agreement with Utopy, one of the specialty speech analytics vendors. For InteractionIQ, however, they developed a new solution a reduced feature set—mainly designed to turn speech into data and then providing data analytics on the output.

The end result: a simpler solution at a “fraction” of the cost, says Shulkin. I suspect removing Utopy from the equation was a big factor in getting the cost down, but I’m left wondering if the new (reduced) features will be enough to attract SMBs. Shulkin stresses that InteractionIQ is not targeted explicitly for SMBs, and expects to see interest from larger contact centers, too.

Here’s a screen shot of a sample drill-down report.

Source: Envision

Which approach will work better with SMBs?

Well, Verint is a big player and well regarded in the industry. Senior VP of Marketing Ryan Hollenbeck has a good grasp of the issues involved in going “down market” and Verint has some experience working with channel partners already. But I remain a bit skeptical, with my perspective colored by many failed attempts I’ve seen over the years, from Siebel and others, to take a product designed for large enterprises and then re-package and sell to SMBs.

On the other hand, Envision is betting on new technology that carries its own set of risks, along with tackling SMB marketing/sales challenges. The key issue may not be just what SMBs need and want, but what do the channel partners want to sell.

Virtual contact centers

In any case, these announcements are good news for SMBs and should spark further development of speech analytics solutions that are easier to justify, implement and deploy. But I believe that instead of Envision and Verint competing with each other (or with other installed solutions) more serious competition will come from cloud-based vendors. In the CRM industry we certainly have seen that a cloud-based approach can work well to address cost and complexity, for both small and large enterprises.

There are a number of hosted contact center solutions available from companies like Contactual, Echopass, Five9 and others. Earlier this year, in a move that validates the long-term market potential, AT&T entered the game with a hosted solution based on the Genesys platform. NewVoiceMedia, a hosted contact center provider in Europe, is already offering a speech analytics solution based on Aurix.

It will be interesting to see how this right-sizing trend develops. I expect that more WFO/speech analytics vendors will attempt to enter the SMB market directly with conventional (installed) solutions via channel partners. But right now I think the long-term winners are more likely to follow the cloud-based model that has worked so well for NetSuite, RightNow, Salesforce.com and many other software vendors.

In the end, lower price points and new deployment methods are necessary but not sufficient for speech analytics to gain rapid adoption in the SMB space. As Elizabeth Herrell, VP and Principal Analyst at Forrester, notes, the key issue is still about whether companies “find true business value in the [speech analytics] application.”

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