Designing Speech Applications for Older Demographics
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Designing Speech Applications for Older Demographics. Caroline Leathem 8 th August 2006. A major concern of customers looking to invest in speech applications is … How their older callers will cope with an automated speech service

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Designing Speech Applications for Older Demographics

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Designing speech applications for older demographics

Designing Speech Applications for Older Demographics

Caroline Leathem

8th August 2006

Designing speech applications for older demographics

  • A major concern of customers looking to invest in speech applications is …

  • How their older callers will cope with an automated speech service

  • What implications will this have on caller satisfaction & overall transaction success rate



  • Older adults form a significant proportion of the population

    • Some 42 million aged 65 or older in the USA.

    • 13% of the population

    • 6% increase since 2000

  • This is predicted to climb to 21% of the population by 2050

Usability issues

Usability Issues

  • Aging may result in a combination of usability issues that must be taken into account to ensure the successful adoption of a speech service.

  • As adults get older they experience "a wide range of age related impairments including loss of vision, hearing, memory and mobility, the combined effects of which contribute to loss of confidence and difficulties in orientation and absorption of information“ 1

  • Response time of people over 75 is slower with a learning rate around half that of people in their 20s. 2

  • They remember fewer items at a time and are more likely to become distracted from their current activity 3

  • There is loss of high-frequency detection and discrimination 4

1 - Zajicek, M., Wales, R., Lee, A., (2004) Speech interaction for older adults

2 - Francik, E. (1999). Telecommunications problems and design strategies for people with cognitive disabilities.

3 - Hyponnen, H. (1997a). Disability and ageing

4 - Gardner-Bonneau, D. J. (2001) Meeting the needs of older adults in speech application design

Usability issues1

Usability Issues


    • Slower response rate does not mean an inability to perform a task.

    • Slower processing time does not mean that learning is not achieved

    • If new information fits into the mental model older adults may not show deficits in performance



  • In the UK interaction with automated telephony systems is becoming increasingly commonplace

  • 79% of respondents aged 50 and over use them at least once a week 1

  • Jupiter Research found that older people who have used speech recognition technology "are much more likely to prefer [it to] other demographic groups." 2

  • Research undertaken by Fluency in the UK showed that older callers tended to respond to speech recognition systems in a structured manner and were more tolerant of the system.

    • If a caller failed to complete their transaction it was rarely due to technological limitations

    • The prime reasons were related to dialog design - in particular the logic of the dialog and the intelligibility of the prompts.

    • The dialog flow of a speech system drives customer perception and clarity is the single most important aspect of the customer experience

1 - L Stevens (2003) View on speech recognition in UK exceeds expectations

2 - Jupiter Research (2001) Managing the Migration to Speech Systems

3 – Fluency reference

The lucky 13 design principles

The Lucky 13 Design Principles

  • Be consistent

  • Signal that the system is automated

  • Minimize the cognitive load

  • Support the mental model

  • Confirm data and get final confirmation for financial transactions

  • Include navigational and explanatory markers

  • Provide context-specific help and error recovery messages

  • Offer escape route

  • Be cautious with barge-in especially at confirmation stages

  • Increase time-out and JIT settings

  • Five, Nine, S, F should be enunciated clearly

  • Send out material in advance of go-live

  • Test, test, test


RNIB Guidelines

Nielsen, J. 1993, Usability Engineering, Academic Press, San Francisco.

The virtuous circle of design

The Virtuous Circle of Design

Designing speech applications for older demographics

Case Study: Standard Life Bank

The brand

The Brand

  • Consumer Demographics

    • 55 years plus, intelligent, traditional, secure, anti-marketing

  • Consumer Values

    • Professionalism, independence, honesty, self improvement

  • Brand Promise

    • SLB keeps you in control and allows you to plan for a secure future

  • Brand Essence

    • Grown up banking

  • Brand Values

    • Solid, principled, enthusiastic, pioneering

The decisions

The Decisions

  • Support the 55+ demographic

  • Don’t frustrate younger callers

  • Reduce barge-In

  • Allow agent breakout following 2 errors

  • Greater level of confirmation

  • Alternative ID&V

  • Follow the Lucky 13

The service

The Service

The results

The Results

  • 38% of callers are aged 60+

  • 82% of these callers above complete ID&V

  • 86% who chose a transaction completed the transaction

The voice

The Voice

  • It is vital for the success of a speech application that the agents buy in to it

  • SLB staff were encouraged to promote the system to the customers

  • As part of the process of promoting the service a competition was held to christen the application and determine her identity


Ivy comes to life

IVY comes to life

  • It was then decided that IVY should make an appearance

    • Full Size

    • And

    • In 3D



  • A well designed dialog that builds on the caller's mental model and increases the caller's confidence in using a speech application will ensure that older users are successful in their interactions.

  • The design features used to assist these callers are equally applicable to inexperienced users of any age, and with careful design can be unobtrusive for experienced users.


Questions …

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