Voice Recognition technology is currently being used by over 2 million people each and every day. From Delta Airlines to FedEx to 411 telephone information, thousands of corporations and public services have implemented Voice Recognition technology into their services. According to CIO.com, “Voice Recognition technologies will replace keyboards by 2010.”
To experience voice recognition technology, you can call the directory assistant for toll free numbers: 1-800-555-1212. The computer generated voice, which sounds incredibly like a human voice, asks the user to say the name of the company and then returns the matched company and phone number. This automated system gives you access to any toll free number without having to talk to a person or by pressing numbers on your phone.
Telephone access to real estate information and applications just makes sense since, unlike the Internet or the Wireless Web, telephone penetration in the United States is almost 100%. Real estate professionals, along with consumers who want real estate information, almost universally have access to a telephone. Since everyone knows how to use a telephone and how to verbally respond to questions, there is no need for the kind of end user training and support that plagues web applications, not to mention the frustration many users feel when those applications don’t work as expected. This entire experience is what technologists refer to as a natural interface. This concept implies a human interaction with technology that has no learning curve for the end user.
Unlike computer applications, telephone applications don’t demand that users keep a computer secure and updated with the latest browsers, drivers, patches, and other bothersome elements of computer use. Telephone application users don’t have to replace their telephones every few years to maintain ‘minimum system standards’. This isn’t to say that telephones can replace computers entirely, but rather that telephones continue to be a cost-effective, easy to maintain technology. Creative use of telephones to access computer-based information and applications can continue to enhance that value.
Microsoft has invested heavily in bringing Voice Recognition to the consumer market. Voice Command, featured at the 2004 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas on January 8th, transforms a Pocket PC into a virtual personal assistant, letting users use their voice to look up contacts and place phone calls, get calendar information, play music, launch applications, and navigate a GPS (Global Positioning Satellite) system.
The ubiquitous use of cell phones, the necessity to access information at any given moment and the mobile nature of real estate professionals makes this industry the perfect candidate for widespread use of Voice Recognition technology. This paper will highlight the benefits of utilizing Voice Recognition in the real estate industry.
History of Voice Recognition Technology
Voice Recognition dates back to 1985 when a company named Apricot Computers produced a portable PC fitted with a microphone on the side of the display. Users of the computer were able to perform simple dictated tasks in DOS. Other companies, including a current leader, IBM, were among the first to produce PC based speech recognition software. Early versions required special hardware to be included within the PC build, and additionally, systems required “discrete” dictation, i.e. where – every – word – needs – to – be – said – separately.
Continuous speech recognition was developed in 1996 allowing users to dictate in a more natural manner of up to 120 words per minute. Accuracy levels of current speech recognition technologies have improved to near perfection resulting in rapid adoption of both consumer and enterprise grade voice products.
How Voice Recognition Works
Pattern recognition is the basis of today’s voice recognition software: the user’s voice is converted into digital data, which is then compared to information stored in the program’s database. The comparison process uses algorithms based on detailed relational statistical techniques for predictive modeling known as the Hidden Markov Model or HMM. The process makes educated guesses about the audio sound pattern of voice to predict the words that the user might be using.
The scenario can be complicated by taking into account words which sound the same but may have different meanings and spellings. For example: “for” and “four” are two similarly sounding and similarly spelled words with different meanings. Voice recognition programs have to be able to differentiate the contextual uses of words, and have evolved to do so.
Voice Recognition in Real Estate
During the dot.com heyday, real estate agents were bombarded with new technology and systems that were built either; to increase productivity, attract more clients or facilitate communications. The great majority of these new products were designed by technologists who lacked understanding of, and exposure to, the real estate industry. The technology imposed too heavily on the existing industry processes, adding to the work rather than making it easier, and involved expense and training. This discouraged agents from wide adoption of many of these products.
Voice Recognition technology is different. It integrates into the real estate agent’s primary tool of communication, the mobile telephone. As previously reported by Clareity Consulting, 97% of real estate agents are active cell phone users. By combining an intuitive technology with a familiar tool, the learning curve is virtually flat, and real estate practitioners can benefit from Voice Recognition technology with negligible training.
Applying voice recognition to the MLS system highlights the technology’s potential benefits. While the majority of MLS systems are accessible via the internet, users are still required to be in front of a computer that is connected to the World Wide Web. There are mobile display devices (PDAs) that can connect to the Internet, but these devices can be expensive and are not as intuitive to use as a voice interface. Additionally, they do not leverage the existing investment in and market penetration of cell phones. Agents are very mobile and spend the majority of their time in the field, yet access to information is vital throughout every step of the transaction lifecycle. Being able to use a telephone to access listings will provide the agent with a powerful sales tool.
The following scenario demonstrates how this technology works in the Real Estate Industry:
It’s a sunny Sunday morning in San Francisco. Jane, the Realtor is driving with her clients, Jim and Mary Smith. Together, they are on their way to view three open houses that Jane found early in the morning on the MLS. While driving up a steep incline crossing over the cable car tracks, Jim notices a home on his right that looks appealing. As he expresses interest in this home that Jane did not find on the MLS, she quickly grabs her cell phone, dials into the MLS and simply says “Search”. She then naturally recites the street address and the MLS quickly returns the matched property. Within seconds, Jane is able to share all of the information with the Smiths and together, they decided that it’s not exactly what they are looking for. Jim recognizes the value of having immediate access to this property’s information. As they continue on their way, Mary mentions to Jane that she saw a property for sale on her way home from work last Friday night. Mary jotted down the address on a paper napkin and asked Jane to do a quick voice search. Repeating the same steps, Jane is able to tell Mary all about the home.
After viewing all three homes that Jane had pulled up from the MLS, the Smiths are a bit disappointed that none were the right fit for their needs. Discouraged, Mary thought aloud, “If only that house in Pacific Heights that we saw three weeks ago was in our price range, I’d take it right now.” A light bulb went off in Jane’s head: “I’ll call into the MLS right now and see if there has been a price change!” The Smiths incredulously react to Jane’s ability to access this MLS information while driving around! To their pleasant surprise, the sellers had recently dropped their asking price by $30,000 and while on the phone checking the MLS, the automated voice prompt asks Jane if she would like to be automatically connected with the Seller’s Agent by phone. After a quick discussion with the Seller’s Agent, Jane quickly drove the Smiths back to the office to write up an offer.
Voice Recognition can provide immediate benefits to the real estate industry. Some current and future possibilities for this technology are:
- Brokers instantly transmitting new leads to agents via an automated voice call
- Transaction management systems informing participants of progress via voice or text messages
- Web site leads streaming to the agents cell phone or pager, wherever they are, allowing the agent to respond almost instantly, converting more leads to clients.
- Agents utilizing an automated voice system that automatically calls home buyers alerting them of new listings, similar to current e-mail listing watch functionality, but allowing for voice response and connectivity back to the Agent.
Clareity foresees Voice Recognition applications creating ROI for brokers by:
- Increasing the breadth of responsiveness to clients
- Decreasing staffing for routine inquiries and call routing, focusing employees on revenue generation opportunities
- Improving client loyalty through new higher levels of responsiveness and communication
- Collecting market intelligence through voice-enabled self-service systems
- Differentiating from the competition
Voice Recognition and the addition of the telephone as an access-point for real estate applications may be one key to increasing the usability of and participation in initiatives like Transaction Management. (For more information on Transaction Management, read Clareity’s free white paper, “Online Real Estate Transaction Management: Is it ready for prime time?” available at http://www.callclareity.com/2003-tmp.cfm.)
As Voice Recognition systems converge with the IP Telephony trend, each will benefit further. (For more information on IP Telephony, read Clareity’s free white paper, “IP Telephony: The Real Estate Telecommunications Future”, available at http://www.callclareity.com/IPTelephony/.)
Existing Real Estate Applications
Clareity has researched several voice application providers including NewportWorks, Smarter Agent and VoiceRealEstate. Clareity has chosen to focus on NewportWorks to provide an example of how this technology is being applied in the real estate industry.
NewportWorks, Inc., an IBM Business Partner based in Irvine, California, offers a service that gives mobile real estate professionals immediate access to information from mobile phones regardless of time, location, or data source. NewportWorks’ flagship product, AnytimeMLS, is currently used by multiple MLSs in Southern California, Arizona, Indiana, Georgia and Texas serving several thousand end-users. This product accesses the MLS data via a voice recognition interface, freeing the agent from a computer with an internet connection.
NewportWorks’ AnytimeMLS has gone beyond a simple speech-based MLS listing search, accessing listing details and showing instructions. A user can also set up searches for specific clients and automatically receive phone, email or text message notifications when there are new search matches or changes to a matched listing, like price decreases. This information can be forwarded to the client’s email, cell phone or pager. When hearing about a specific listing, Anytime MLS also lets the user issue a voice command to seamlessly make a phone call to the listing agent or office, or the owner, without having to write down phone numbers, hang up and start another phone call.
Another area where AnytimeMLS has added value to the service is by allowing the MLS, broker, or a third party to brand the service by customizing the message the agent hears each time they access the service. Additional possibilities this feature might enable are interesting: this service could become advertising supported or allow users eliminate advertising based on their level of subscription. NewportWorks is already beginning to innovate outside of the MLS space, with an initiative designed to integrate their voice recognition technology into both title and transaction management systems.
Currently, AnytimeMLS is available by subscription to individual agents in participating MLSs, and the pricing varies by market. Additional information can be found on their website: http://www.anytimemls.com/
Voice Recognition in Other Industries
Voice Recognition is being used by millions of people everyday, most of whom are not even aware of it. A leader in providing this technology to businesses is Tellme Networks, a 170 person company founded in 1999 and based in Mountain View, California. Tellme unites the Internet and standard telephone network by utilizing an elegant speech user interface to provide the world’s largest Voice Application Network.
Last year, Tellme and Merrill Lynch launched 1-800-MERRILL to handle retail banking and customer service for clients around the country. Merrill Lynch is one of the world’s leading financial management and advisory companies, with offices in 36 countries and private client assets of approximately $1.1 trillion.
Prior to their relationship with Tellme, Merrill Lynch needed to invest in regular telecom hardware and software upgrades, manage complex telecom integrations, train employees on proprietary platforms, and integrate new technology developments. This inefficient process and mounting support costs led Merrill Lynch to consider network-based alternatives.
Today, Tellme’s Voice Platform handles over 80,000 calls per day by answering over 70 different 800 numbers for Merrill Lynch including its flagship 1-800-MERRILL retail banking line. Merrill Lynch achieved its ROI goals in 9 months and can now focus exclusively on serving the needs of its customers rather than worrying about the day-to-day operational issues associated with telecom infrastructure.
The real estate industry will soon apply Voice Recognition technology to areas where multiple participants, especially the consumer, wants frequent status updates. Voice Recognition will become an important part of making Transaction Management System more robust if all parties relevant to the transaction are capable of receiving information via a telephone.
As evidenced in other industries, Voice Recognition technology is emerging as a primary method of inputting and retrieving data. From booking a ticket on Delta Airlines to searching for toll free numbers, using voice instead of tedious keypad entry is becoming more popular as the technology has reached near 100% accuracy levels. The mobile nature of real estate agents coupled with this technology’s ease of use will result in ubiquitous use of Voice Recognition in the real estate industry.
Founded in 1996, Clareity continually strives to provide our clients a truly independent and unique perspective. Clareity has successfully executed a vast array of consulting projects for our clients, related to:
- IT Security Audit and business continuity assessment
- Development and analysis of RFPs for MLS systems, public records, broker systems, and TMPs
- Mergers and acquisitions and strategic alliances
- New product marketing and business plans
- Product integration specifications
- Competitive analysis
- Contract negotiation
- Project management and implementation assistance
- Quality assurance testing
- Market research including agent, broker, and staff electronic and telephone surveys as well as onsite focus groups
For more information please contact:
President and CEO
(480) 368-8100 x201
Share this post: