Taxi Company Adopts Speech Recognition Technology

Taxis and natural language speech recognition (NLSR) technology seem an unlikely match, but an Australian taxi service company sees it as a tool to improve customer service.

Gold Coast-based Regent Taxis is implementing TeleCab Express, an NLSR booking application developed by VeCommerce, which will enable customers to place their taxi bookings directly with the taxi dispatch computer instead of via an operator.

According to John Foley, general manager of Regent Taxis, the company decided to go with the voice-enabled system to help it cope with busy evenings and tourist seasons. Regent Taxis receives about 220,000 calls a month, and expects its new NLSR booking system to take 30 per cent of the calls, and more on busy evenings.

The system will also eliminate customers having to wait in phone queues and ensure accuracy in the entry of booking requests, Foley said.

It will also reduce call-handling costs and enable the company to expand its booking capabilities without the need to increase building or labour resources.

"We are using the system to expand our capabilities, not reduce our number of staff," Foley emphasised. "It will free up our staff to spend more time with each customer and handle more complex enquiries and requests." The company's call centre also is also a bureau for other taxi companies in the Gold Coast area.

According to Foley, the company looked at voice-enabled solutions from three vendors before deciding on the TeleCab Express. "We needed a system that not only identifies words of speech, but also with customers' point of view," Foley said.

"The VeCommerce product was able to take customers through the booking procedure by asking for things like number of passengers and name of destination. It then reiterates booking orders before sending them off," Foley said. "In cases where customers speak with a heavy foreign accent or broken English, the system will connect them to a call centre supervisor." Regent Taxis' computer dispatch system, which taxi drivers access for booking orders, was developed by Raywood Communications. As part of the implementation, VeCommerce has worked with Raywood to develop an interface to connect Telecab Express to the taxi dispatch system, said Paul Magee, managing director of VeCommerce.

VeCommerce has also developed an interface to Regent's Lucent telephone switch. The interface enables the Lucent switch to work with and connect to Telecab Express as well as identify where the caller is located.

VeCommerce receives a transaction fee for every call placed through the Lucent system.

Regent Taxis operates a fleet of more than 220 vehicles, employs 50 staff and has abnout 1500 drivers who operate under bailment agreements. According to Magee, Regent Taxis is the first taxi company in the world to implement an NLSR booking system. A large number of taxi companies in Australia are looking to do the same, he said.

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