Given the current economic environment, proposed budget allocations must be tied directly to tangible business benefits. Recognizing this, Tellme, a Microsoft subsidiary, has unveiled an update that promises to improve customer service while reducing costs.
"We're excited about the enhancements for two reasons," boasts Brooks Crichlow, director of marketing for the business solutions division of Mountain View, Calif.–based Tellme. "We're approaching our two-year anniversary of Microsoft acquiring Tellme, and this is a great example of what we can do together. Also, all of these features are focused on delivering hard business benefits."
First, Crichlow says, Tellme's speech services have been enhanced to improve the automation of customer service calls -- the result of collaboration between Tellme and Microsoft's speech components group. The four new features related to speech services are:
- online adaptation, assigning the best possible acoustic model for recognition within three seconds of the beginning of the call;
- improved support for mixed-initiative dialogue, enabling selective reprompting for words the recognition engine has low confidence in;
- large statistical-language models management, improving support for natural-language applications; and
- late-binding, lowering the cost and complexity of building and maintaining applications.
Elizabeth Herrell, vice president at Forrester Research, explains that the breadth of Tellme's announcement proves that Microsoft is looking to make great strides in the voice arena. "The company is serious about voice," she says. "It is committed to improving its speech engine and providing more intelligence. The leader in the speech engine world is Nuance, and it looks like Microsoft is putting a lot of development efforts into becoming a stronger competitor."
Tellme's second major new enhancement on the speech front, the custom voice font that runs on Microsoft's text-to-speech (TTS) engine, has been affectionately named "Zira." According to Crichlow, Zira delivers more-consistent voice quality to improve the conversational experience. "This voice integrates seamlessly into the prerecorded audio, and is a more-natural, less-jarring experience," he says.
The third major upgrade includes the roll-out of a Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) carrier service. Thanks to an integration with Global Crossing, an Internet Protocol (IP) solutions provider, Tellme's VoIP service is intended to reduce customer transport costs. "If you look at the typical cost of using [time-division multiplexing] as opposed to VoIP through Global Crossing, there is up to 60 percent telephony cost savings our customers can take advantage of," Crichlow says. "The ability to also support local numbers helps give our clients more marketing flexibility to brand those numbers…not just toll-free ones."
Herrell calls the Global Crossing relationship a tremendous benefit opportunity for Tellme customers. "When you can use the IP network to allow companies to use local numbers," she says, "it reduces the need [to have] all-toll-free numbers. That is a very attractive offer."
Herrell also notes the existing greenfield opportunity represented by the many companies still using interactive voice response (IVR) systems for basic call-steering. "I'm a firm believer that IVR is an underutilized tool for business today," she insists. "It can automate customer interactions effectively, and [customers] can get what [they] were calling for without ever having to speak to an agent.… Too many organizations are sitting on old IVRs and not recognizing that it's a business tool, not [merely] some technology for handling call flow."
At the end of the day, Crichlow says, the most important takeaway is that Tellme's new enhancements are geared explicitly toward the tangible business impacts they can have for contact centers. "It ties back to what we believe to be the key drivers for contact center and IVR investment," he says. "Improve customer service, improve IVR performance, and drive down costs."
[Editors' Note: For more on the Tellme release, see the coverage in our sister publication, Speech Technology magazine.]
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