In the next generation of customer service technology, the automated voice on the other end of the phone will know the customer's problem before the customer says a word, and offer a solution on the spot. Such technology is under development at tech firms such as Personetics and Angel.

Mark Schwanhausser, a senior research director at Javelin Research, says that while it's still "early stage," there's an opportunity for banks to combine existing customer and transaction data with speech recognition to deliver a more intuitive customer experience across mobile devices, landline phones and personal computers. "[Banks] can take data and what [they] know about customers to establish connections in ways they don't do today," he says.

Tech firms that provide automated customer service such as interactive voice response have long sought to make the interaction more personalized. The new breed of customer service technology improves the access and transport of customer data and combines it with business analytics and cross-channel integration to give the financial institution more information on a customer at the point of contact.

That information can then be used to anticipate the customer's problem. The platform will be able to ascertain ahead of time that a customer's payment card has been disabled, for example, and why, and be ready with an actionable response. This software could also be used to provide tailored marketing or cross-sales messages through voice or text while avoiding more time-consuming and costly options such as live agent calls or IVR "phone trees."

Personetics, for example, has developed a product called Digital Banker that engages consumers in a verbal dialogue on a mobile device or land line, while accessing the bank's CRM and back office system to find solutions to a problem.

"In most cases, that data is already available. We pull that data, perform analysis and deliver it to the consumer with a possible solution to an issue," says David Sosna, CEO of the Menlo Park, CA-based Personetics, who says there are several banks piloting the firm's new technology. The two-year-old firm is backed by Sequoia Capital and Carmel Ventures.

Personetics incorporates speech, data, and business intelligence to link a bank's CRM and other data to a voice recognition engine to craft solutions to problems, such as providing reasons why a payment was denied, then providing steps to resolve the problem such as removing a fraud-related halt on a card or accessing overdraft protection. In other cases, the application taps the data and analysis to offer tailored cross-selling by phone, mobile or web.

"If you dial into a call center and have just used your card in a store and authentication failed, you would have to go online or make a call to figure out why, even though the information on why the card isn't working already resides inside the institution's data center," Sosna says. "This system accesses that information to provide context to the query."

Personetics' voice recognition engine sits between a bank's network and its customer facing application and asks open-ended, natural language questions, letting consumers speak naturally in response. The firm's predictive analytics then matches those responses to current and historical data to produce a response or question. For live agents, the firm's LivePerson same uses the same technology to handle a customer's request for a customer service rep, and routes the call, email or text to the agent whose job description best matches the customer's call.

"It can be kind of like an SMS type transaction, with a series of alerts, but can also use voice commands to drive the dialogue. We're still early in the development of this technology, but it's going to be the next way to staff customer interactions," says David Albertazzi, a senior analyst at Aite. "I think there's an opportunity to do a better job of engaging customers, to make interaction more personalized."

Among other tech firms, analysts say Angel, a Tysons Corner, Va.-based IVR firm, also offers technology similar to Personetics. Angel provides a web-based toolkit that retailers can use to build an automated response engine that uses a web connection to integrate with databases, CRM tools and back-end processing systems. The software is designed to allow call routing and increase self-service since there's a richer flow of information to the point of contact. Angel, which in mid-2011 debuted a multi-modal app for the iPhone combining visual voice and text, lists Macy's, Cosi, Western Union and Quest among its clients. The company did not answer a query on bank clients by press time.