Vodafone has introduced its latest voice recognition software and created its persona to match its pre-paid customers' stereotype ideal. 'Her' name is Lara, a 28-year-old brunette with a penchant for popular music. And naturally, she is single. Very single.
Lara has been designed to "lead" customers for Vodafone's pre-paid registry and is a culmination of what Vodafone staff consider the telco's key demographic to be, the 18 to 35 year-olds.
Lara is a speech-enabled self-service application, developed by Dimension Data, which automatically greets pre-paid users attempting to register their pre-paid mobile account.
According to Vodafone officials, Lara has already proved her worth within three months of full deployment, automating 60 percent of all calls to the pre-paid registry and completing thousands of registrations herself.
But the trick with the voice recognition systems is not giving the user free rein to ask Lara anything at all - the trick is ensuring all questions asked of Lara are answered in a way she wants them answered.
Sound confusing? According to Jane Curtain, user interface and linguistics consultant with Dimension Data, Lara is just a result of Vodafone finding the voice of its key demographic.
The speech recognition system deployed by Vodafone is not 'intelligent'. It is designed in a way so users answer questions in a way the system is prepared for.
"A lot of people had problems with speech recognition software before," Curtain said.
"The requirement of design is directing people to answer questions the way we [Vodafone] want them answered.
Since Lara was introduced in May, 80 percent of callers to the Vodafone pre-paid registry are comfortable with talking to the automated system, with 90 percent of callers saying the language used is easy to understand.
Russell Hewitt, Vodafone chief operations officer, said Lara is now seen as an e-colleague who possesses a unique, virtual personality.
"In fact, when it came to the final selection, Lara was given a 'job interview' and Vodafone employees selected her for the role," Hewitt said.
"During her development, we conducted extensive research, surveying both employees and customers, to ensure that she was the right cultural fit for the company.
"We designed Lara to deliver a 'wow' customer experience and deliver simplicity, speed and choice through self-service in line with our new business model."
Vodafone was selected as winner of the "Global Best Practice Award" at the 2004 US Conversations Conference for its development and implementation of Lara.