Maya rings true for Bell Canada work force

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There’ll be no more leafing through bulky phone directories, fretting over misspelling a co-worker’s name or spending time in IVR jail… for Bell Canada employees at least.

Employees of the communications giant report that their newly installed speech-enabled auto attendant application – dubbed Maya – has done away with these irritants and reduced the time it takes to make internal calls by as much as 50 per cent.

Maya is based on SpeechAttendant, a natural speech-enabled auto attendant application developed by Nuance Communications Inc. in Burlington, Mass.

The system was deployed by Bell Canada early this year to streamline communications among its 5,200-strong bilingual workforce in Quebec and Ontario.

Heather Forrester, director of Bell’s global portfolio, says Maya functions as an interactive voice response (IVR) application, enabling callers to directly access their colleague’s desk phone, cell phone, or pager by simply uttering the person’s name and the department or region they would like to reach.

And that feature has great appeal for Mark Schober, associate director, enterprise solutions at Bell Canada.

Schober is on the road most of the time and makes around 70 calls a day. Manually searching his phone diary is not always an option. “Leafing through my directory to contact a co-worker would take a minute max, but you can’t do that while driving,” he says. On the other hand, to access the company’s on-line directory, Schober had to wait until he got to his office or home computer.

Maya has resolved many of these issues. Schober says the application, enables him to get in touch with colleagues anytime and from any place. “Now all I do is get on the phone, dial 310-MAYA and say the person’s name and location.”

The Bell executive says Maya cuts in half the time it takes to connect with a contact.

Such a streamlined process, says Forrester, translates into better customer service. She said it’s too early to estimate the dollar savings Bell Canada will reap from Maya, as the application is still in its initial stages of deployment.

However, cost savings are not the only – or even necessarily the principal – benefit. Maya saves Bell Canada staff a great deal of time and trouble as well.

Previously, with no auto-attendant system in place, Bell employees attempting to contact co-workers were bogged down by touch tone “spell by name” or complex extension number retrieval systems, or the need to wait for an operator.

In addition, a caller who went through a cumbersome process to retrieve a colleague’s desk phone number (for instance) would have to repeat that process to access that person’s mobile phone or pager number.

By contrast, Nuance SpeechAttendant serves as a single, unified access point, according to Richard Martel, general manager of auto-attendant solutions at Nuance. He said the system “stores multiple numbers for each employee” and makes them available to callers.

The application supports English and Canadian French.

According to Martel, Maya’s ability to recognize the speaker’s language and continue in that language is one of its most attractive features.

Such capabilities, says a Canadian telecom analyst, is taking IVR technology to a new level.

“Five years ago, it was primarily touch tone prompts, [and] voice recognition quality was not there,” says Fox, principal of the Canadian IT and telecommunication consultancy firm Fox Group Consulting in Markham, Ont. “Now applications can recognize accents and are more intuitive.”

Fox says implementation of IVR is becoming more widespread. While the technology has been productively used by enterprises for the past 20 years, it’s only in the past few years that [falling] prices have made it possible for mid-market firms to invest in the technology.

She said having a top of the line application is not enough. You need to know how to use it right to keep your callers from zeroing out or hanging up.

“Eight levels might be too much for a caller to remember or navigate through and having to spend 15 minutes in IVR jail brings out strong negative feelings.”

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