While working as a telecom industry research analyst for Minneapolis investment firm Wessels Arnold and Henderson in the late 1990s, Peter Leppik heard a lot of complaints about people’s experiences with call centers and voice recognition systems.

He soon realized he had a business idea. Launching Vocalabs in 2001, Leppik focused at first on doing usability testing of over-the-phone speech-recognition systems—making sure these systems respond correctly to customer “prompts.” As clients develop their systems, Vocalabs gathers quantitative data from thousands of consumers to uncover potential trouble spots that the client firm’s engineers can repair.

Within a few years, Leppik and his Golden Valley company saw another opportunity. Vocalabs became one of the pioneers in conducting live phone surveys immediately after a customer service “transaction.” Performed by independent survey personnel, the interviews produce real-time data for Vocalabs clients seeking to boost customer satisfaction.

Instead of asking customers to mail in postcards about their service experience or fill out a paper or online survey—all options that have low response rates—companies can glean up-to-the-minute feedback and in-depth opinions from these live phone interviews. One Vocalabs client, for instance, discovered through the surveys that a significant number of customer service calls were going unresolved because of a cumbersome security verification process. The client soon streamlined the process.

Customer-satisfaction research is a competitive field. Leppik says that Vocalabs differentiates itself by focusing only on data collection, and getting the data to clients as quickly as possible and in a way that they can act on it. Leppik’s firm doesn’t perform analysis on the results. (It does partner with large research firms for clients seeking such analysis.) Clients include mobile phone companies, financial services firms, and telecommunication systems providers. The company has four employees and contracts with 40 interviewers.

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