Optus' open dialogue call routing murders KPIs

Open speech not an IVR rip and replace

Optus has consolidated 119 telephone numbers, established solid call routing, and "murdered" KPIs during the first day of using its "bug-free", open dialogue mobile speech solution, codenamed Darwin.

While Optus senior business program manager David Williams, who has worked for four years on contact centre projects, could not talk directly about the project drivers, he said Optus was receiving up to 100,000 calls a day routed through ten different speech applications.

Customers now call a central number and speak freely to the open dialogue speech solution which routes customers to about 600 different areas, minimizing zero-outs and IVR routing errors.

"A critical point was to make the solution 'open', so we collected 80,000 open-phrased responses over four weeks by asking customers what they want before they entered the IVR system," Williams said, noting that this process of utterance collection was indispensable for the project.

The project began in January last year as Optus' first significant speech recognition project for its mass market, which includes seven mobile self-service applications and plans for automated identification and address verification across its portfolio. The design, building, and tuning phases each took four months, while testing was dragged out over six months to remove glitches.

"We took six months to test because the solution's customer-fronting nature demands perfection, and we could not compromise on quality," Williams said, adding the project was launched clean and bug-free.

Williams, an accomplished statistician, said vigorous testing is essential because speech recognition is based on probability.

He warned businesses undertaking similar projects to avoid using open speech dialogues as a rip and replace for IVR, because they are built differently for disparate purposes.

"[Open speech] isn't a touchtone replacement because the interfaces are different and the dialogue operates differently; open speech that replaces touchtone sounds clunky and stupid and you will get a lot of [zero-outs]."

Responding to comments that the project's bug-free launch was lucky, Williams said "the more we tested, the luckier we got".

Services partner Dimension Data's technical lead for the project Mitchell Hawk said the solution leveraged existing CTI routing and a Cisco Information, Classification and Management (ICM) system.

"Agents see all processes including whether a customer passes or fails authentication, and can hear their request so the customer doesn't need to repeat it to them," Hawk said.

He said the Statistical Language Model (SLM), which sits at the top level of the system, was built using 55 different types of phrases identified from the initial 80,000 collated responses across all of Optus' numbers.

The system now scores a 98 percent success rate for yes-no recognition, 87 percent for enquiry types, and 85 percent for phone number identification.

Optus has further plans for its sister voice project for sales, codenamed Spectre, and will also extend Darwin to fixed and non-telephony transactions, and for pre-paid registered mobile users.

Williams summarized by recommending business aim for "quiet success" and urged them to "understand the customer, thoroughly test applications, and educate the business on what is being delivered".

Williams was speaking today at the CustomerConnect contact centre event in the Hunter Valley.

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