Telco punts $1.9m on interactive-voice XML

AAPT Ltd. will invest more than A$2.5 million (US$1.87 million) on a new, retail-customer interactive voice project that ports directly back into its mainframe billing and transaction systems in an effort to reduce call centre and administration costs.

Based on a VeCommerce natural speech recognition engine and Simple Object Access Protocol/Extensible Markup Language (SOAP/XML) interface, the solution will allow customers a voice interface directly into the telco’s billing system to perform transactions — rather than waiting for a call centre employee to do the same thing.

While AAPT says that inbound customers will still be able to speak to staff, under the new system, the voice-driven, self-serve regime is clearly designed to eliminate both customer-service bottlenecks and cut the call centre staff costs that go with them.

Analysts say such systems may offer competitive advantages because of operational cost reductions through shifting inbound call centre functions from a human base to robotic base.

Gartner’s vice president of research for enterprise networks, Geoff Johnson, confirmed that the uptake of voice-driven XML (VXML) has been swift over the last 18 months, largely led by investments in voice-over-IP (VoIP) infrastructure and voice engine and application improvements.

“It’s the diplomacy and sophistication along with fluency and fault tolerance that is driving this. It’s the personal productivity (to the customer) that makes this attractive,” Johnson said Despite obvious pay offs, Johnson warned risks still existed in deploying voice-driven XML systems, noting some cultures (like Japan) simply do not tolerate non-human interfaces. Johnson said rollouts can come unstuck if enterprises attempted to port “too many complex functions” to such systems.

“Pick an application that will give you a high return on investment (at a nominal entry cost) — something with narrow function and high volume. If you have to spend a lot of money, it may not be worth it. You don’t want to have to do a forklift (infrastructure) upgrade and have the risks that go with it. Don’t wind up in voice-mail jail,” Johnson said.

AAPT claims the system will flatten existing touchtone menus of its main contact numbers, while its current touchtone payment systems will be replaced by the voice-driven VePay application.

The move represents the second stage in a major upgrade of the telco’s customer-facing systems in three months; it launched a self-service, online billing reports system for enterprise customers last November. AAPT’s general manager of customer and network services, Rhoda Holmes, said the rollout was a milestone in the development of AAPT’s customer service capabilities.

Other recent major VXML rollouts include Centrelink, which went live with an earnings activity declaration application to more than 30,000 students last year.

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