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Top 10 Tips for Designing Telephony Applications : Page 3

Using Microsoft Speech Server, .NET developers can build telephony or voice-only applications quickly and easily. This article lists 10 tips to consider before designing these types of applications.




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Tip 7—Provide Help, Back, and Repeat Commands
At any time during a call, telephony users should have the option to ask for help, go back to the main menu or repeat a prompt. In addition, your application will need to tell callers and remind them that these options are available. It is not enough to tell them about these commands at the beginning of the call. Periodically, or at the end of each question you need to remind them of these commands with a prompt such as, "At any time, you can ask for help, go back to the main menu or repeat a prompt."

You can use user controls to simplify the implementation of these commands. Just as in an ASP.NET application, user controls help to group similar functionality used throughout multiple Web pages. For example, you could place the following HTML tags inside a user control included with each Web page in an application.

<speech:command id="HelpCmd" runat="server" Settings="GlobalQASettings" type="Help" width="129px" xpathtrigger="/SML/HelpCmd"> <GRAMMAR src="Grammars/Common/Help.grxml"> </GRAMMAR> </speech:command> <speech:command id="RepeatCmd" runat="server" Settings="GlobalQASettings" type="Repeat" xpathtrigger="/SML/RepeatCmd"> <GRAMMAR src="Grammars/Common/Repeat.grxml"> </GRAMMAR> </speech:command> <speech:Command id="MainMenuCmd" runat="server" Settings="GlobalQASettings" xpathtrigger="/SML/MainMenuCmd" AutoPostBack="True" type="MainMenu"> <Prompt ID="MainMenuCmd_Prompt"></Prompt> <Grammar Src="Grammars/Common/MainMenu.grxml" ID="MainMenuCmd_Grammar"> </Grammar> <DtmfGrammar ID="MainMenuCmd_DtmfGrammar"> </DtmfGrammar> </speech:Command>

Tip 8—Log and Review Exceptions
Telephony developers may need to debug their applications long after the initial development process. Logging the results of interactions with actual users will be critical in the success of these applications. By default, Microsoft Speech Server logs each call and stores the results in a Windows event trace log file with an .etl (event log tracing) extension. Developers can then import these files into a SQL database and use tools provided with the SASDK to extract data from the interactions.

Obviously, developers will want to monitor these logs closely after an application is first deployed. However, after a telephony application is considered stable, this exercise should not stop. You should establish periodic reviews of the logs to monitor the success of user interactions.

Tip 9—Allow Time for Application Design, Testing, and Revisions
In the world of speech application development, the GUI (Graphical User Interface) has been replaced with the VUI (Voice User Interface), which has different challenges and considerations than traditional applications. To identify and face these new obstacles, telephony developers should allow plenty of time for application design. The call flow should be designed carefully so that it guides the user through the application and never abandons them. Tools such as Visio can be helpful in diagramming the call flow, making it easy to visually identify all the possible paths a user can take.

Tip 10—Strive for Intuitive Prompts and Navigation, Test with Real Users
New developers using the Microsoft SASDK must realize that just because telephony applications can now be built in the same way as traditional Web applications, they are not the same. The way that callers use telephony applications and the expectations they have for them are very different than that of traditional applications. Developers should strive to design prompts and navigation so that the flow is natural and intuitive. More importantly, user feedback is critical. Before proceeding too far with the development of a telephony application, perform some type of field test using a sample of actual callers. This will help to ensure positive user acceptance and the least amount of rewrites necessary.

The Microsoft Speech Server and SASDK are wonderful new tools every developer should be familiar with. If you have not had a chance to play with this product, I encourage you to visit the Microsoft Speech Server Web site and download a copy of the SASDK.

Speech-based applications will continue to grow in use as companies like Microsoft and others remain committed to making speech mainstream. Just like there were mistakes made when the number of Web applications seemed to double every day, the maturity of speech-based applications will undergo similar challenges. Developers will be quick to implement telephony applications using the newly available tools like Microsoft's SASDK without first considering the complexity of speech-based applications.

Sara Morgan Rea is a 2007 Microsoft MVP for Office Communications Server. Her first book, Building Intelligent .NET Applications, was published in 2005. In addition to co-authoring several Microsoft Training Kits, she recently published Programming Microsoft Robotics Studio. She currently works as a robotic software engineer at CoroWare.com.
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