Microsoft and Tellme Deliver Benefits of Voice in the Cloud to Contact Center Customer Service
April 29, 2009
Speech innovations improve call automation; VoIP infrastructure shrinks telecom costs.

MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif.April 29, 2009 –– Tellme®, a subsidiary of Microsoft Corp., today announced three core speech and network innovations that advance its platform for cloud-based voice services. The new technologies significantly reduce costs for enterprise customer service while enabling a faster, smarter caller experience. These advancements include the rollout of a voice over Internet protocol (VoIP) carrier service that reduces customer transport costs, advanced speech services that improve automation of customer service calls, and a new ’voice font’ technology that delivers a more natural text-to-speech experience.

The new speech services are a result of collaboration between Tellme and Microsoft’s Speech Components Group. These jointly designed technologies will be leveraged to advance natural user interfaces across Microsoft products to benefit billions of customers worldwide. Because Tellme operates as an on-demand service, the new capabilities are immediately available to enterprises across Tellme’s platform. In addition, Tellme is now using these technologies to power its mobile services, including the Windows Mobile 6.5 application announced today.

“Providing quality customer service is a top priority for E*TRADE. Tellme’s flexible platform has helped us unify our customer service experience across multiple channels and deliver improved performance year over year,” said Hartley Caldwell, senior vice president, Software Engineering at E*TRADE Financial Corp.

“Our goal is to provide enterprises with technology that improves their customers’ experience, while affording them the ultimate financial flexibility when deploying voice services,” said Jamie Bertasi, senior director of Business Solutions at Tellme. “From initial deployments we’re seeing impressive cost savings and results that we’re sure our customers will be excited about.”

Saving Money on Operating Costs

Handling customer phone inquiries represents a multimillion-dollar expense for many Fortune 1000 companies, with telecom being one of the largest technology costs. Now with carrier VoIP service, enterprises can extend their VoIP strategy to customer service calls and eliminate transfer fees, lowering the average per-minute cost 60 percent per call and reducing transfer fees by 100 percent.

In addition, Tellme enterprise customers have another option to save significant money on telecom beyond the expensive maintenance of toll-free numbers: local number service. With the rising, widespread use of mobile phones, nationwide caller plans lessen the need for consumers to use toll-free numbers. With the benefit of toll-free numbers diminishing, having an alternative local number can save costs without affecting the consumer experience. Now, Tellme’s VoIP service makes it possible for enterprises to use less expensive local numbers for their customer service.

Getting the Right Answer More Often, Increasing Automation

One of the biggest frustrations of speech services is that they do not always understand the caller. Increasing the odds of getting it right makes the overall customer experience better, improving their confidence in using the system, and lowering the total cost per call to the enterprise.

Partnering with Microsoft’s speech team, Tellme provided tuning data from its billions and billions of calls and design expertise to develop new acoustic models, phonetic dictionaries and grammar products that increase the accuracy of every response. The teams built an “online adaptation” capability where the system can adapt to a caller’s acoustic patterns within the first three seconds of speaking. These new platform features make it possible to get the right answer to the caller more often.

Results in early deployments are impressive. With an average of $3 per customer service call handled by a live agent, a phone service handling 200,000 calls per day would save just over $2 million per year for every 1 percent improvement in call automation. Trials of the new services with customer applications that handle millions of calls every week indicate an up to 2 percent increase in automated task completion, which translates to millions of dollars in savings every year.

Creating a Faster and More Natural Experience

Both the way customers request information and the way they hear the answer have been improved with two new technologies: expanded multislot recognition and a new voice font called Zira.

Multislot technology makes it possible for callers to ask for information in a full sentence or phrase, such as “I wanna buy 5,000 shares of Coca-Cola,” and the system listens for the relevant words, in this case “buy,” “5,000 shares” and “Coca-Cola.” Then, if any information is missing or not understood, the system can ask just for the specific word clarification without re-prompting for the entire answer, making the call faster and increasing the customer’s satisfaction.

In addition, Tellme, leveraging the Microsoft Text-to-Speech (TTS) engine, has developed a new custom TTS service with its voice font called Zira. Zira has been created with a patented technique designed for consistency in voice quality and delivery that provides a more conversational experience. The voice talent for Zira was coached by audio engineers to record popular phrases and words used in customer service requests. The Zira technology benchmarks close to actual human pronunciations — delivering the industry’s highest quality TTS service and reducing the expense of custom audio recordings for enterprise interactive voice response.

About Tellme

Tellme (http://www.tellme.com) fundamentally improves how people use the phone by providing services that allow people to use the power of voice to access the people and information they care about. Tellme makes it possible to simply say what you want and get it. Today Tellme powers billions of calls every year and is used by more than 40 million people every month. Located in Mountain View, Calif., Tellme is a Microsoft Corp. subsidiary.

Tellme plays an exciting role in achieving Microsoft’s vision around the limitless potential of voice as a way to find information, connect with people and enhance business processes, any time and from any device.

About Microsoft

Founded in 1975, Microsoft (Nasdaq “MSFT”) is the worldwide leader in software, services and solutions that help people and businesses realize their full potential.

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