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Stabroek News

Welcome to the automated attendant
published: Sunday | May 8, 2005

Mary Mitchell gives the human touch on a standard telephone switchboard at the University Hospital of the West Indies in St. Andrew.

Gregory Harrison, Contributor

Star Trek showed us long ago how to speak to computers. The cultist sci-fi series featured machine-human interaction through speech recognition software. Today, that sometimes still seems futuristic since we are more used to computer monologue ­ them talking to us. Phone cards, voicemail and interactive voice response (IVR) telephone systems speak to us, often in demanding tones, but our response is usually in the form of number punching.

Well, not anymore.

Since the introduction of IVR technology more than 10 years ago, its use on major telephone systems has become quite common, typically providing automated attendant applications, call routing and information retrieval functions. Recently, however, IVRs have begun integrating speech-recognition software in their systems. Now a system that many people thought was irritating, has become sufficiently user friendly to be gaining popularity.

The new generation of IVR systems that feature Speech Enabled Automated Attendant (SEAA) technology are now available in Jamaica, and Interactive Voice Solutions, a small firm at the Technology Innovation Centre at UTech, is the company behind it.

The system will allow you to get information or connect to employees by speaking instructions over the phone. So if you want to call a particular employee in an organisation, you need only to speak the name at the appropriate prompt. Gone is the need to struggle with time-consuming numeric keypads.

In typical IVR systems you must dial a toll-free number and then go through perhaps six menus requiring several strings of account-related numbers to get your account information.

save valuable time

"The complex menus in most IVR systems forces callers to punch the '0' button for a live voice to make life easier," says David Riley, managing director of Interactive Voice Solutions. "That defeats the purpose of the IVR. Our Speech Enabled Automated Attendant will make this process much easier and save you valuable time."

For those who are concerned about the system adequately coping with the many variations in pronunciation, tone and pitch of callers, Riley advises you not to lose sleep over it.

digital signal processors

Speech recognition engines have progressed beyond those systems that only recognised voice commands when users speak in slow, discrete pauses as if the people themselves were computers. Today's systems use digital signal processors that store speech samples and recognise patterns. The system compares these patterns with dictionaries and databases relating to acoustics and language. The end result is a system trained to understand specific vocabulary units such as digits, even if spoken in fluent sequences, as well as naturally spoken speech.

A SEAA system handles the average call about twice as fast as the traditional customer service representative. This efficiency dramatically reduces call costs, while increasing the number of calls that can be handled.

For customers, it means quick and efficient service with less likelihood of facing a busy signal.

World-wide, the sectors that are already benefiting from the technology include airlines, banks, stock brokerages, telephone companies, call centres and retailers with large help desks.

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