Tellme Upgrades Are in the Clouds and Beyond

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Microsoft subsidiary Tellme Networks has enhanced its voice platform with several features that it says will slash costs for enterprise customer service and launch itself into the cloud. 

Included among the features, introduced in late April, are the following: 

  • multislot technology, which allows callers to utter entire sentences or phrases, with the system listening for relevant keywords;
  • online adaptation technology, based on data from billions of calls, which allows the system to adapt to a caller’s acoustic patterns within the first three seconds of speaking; 
  • a custom voice font, affectionately named Zira, which runs on Microsoft’s text-to-speech engine; 
  • improved support for mixed-initiative dialogues, which enables selective reprompting for words in which the engine has low confidence;
  • large statistical language models management, which improves support for natural language applications; and
  • late-binding, which lowers the cost and complexity of building and maintaining applications.

Another major upgrade includes the rollout of a Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) carrier service. Thanks to a partnership with Global Crossing, an Internet Protocol (IP) solutions provider, Tellme’s VoIP service is intended to reduce customer transport costs. “If you look at the typical cost of using [time-division multiplexing] as opposed to VoIP through Global Crossing, there is up to a 60 percent telephony cost savings our customers can take advantage of,” Brooks Crichlow, director of marketing for the business solutions division of Tellme, told Christopher Musico of destinationCRM.com (“Tellme Delivers Voice in the Cloud,” April 29). “The ability to also support local numbers helps give our clients more marketing flexibility to brand those numbers…not just the toll-free ones.”

As one might expect, Tellme and Microsoft view these announcements as significant steps as Tellme prepares to celebrate two years since its acquisition by the software giant, a move that was seen by some analysts as a serious bid on Microsoft’s part to become competitive in the speech arena.

“It is committed to improving its speech engine and providing more intelligence,” Elizabeth Herrell, vice president at Forrester Research, told destinationCRM.com. “The leader in the speech engine world is Nuance, and it looks like Microsoft is putting a lot of development efforts into becoming a stronger competitor.”

However, Daniel Hong, lead analyst at Datamonitor, has a different assessment. “Unless Microsoft decouples their engine and sells it separately, I don’t see them posing any threat to Nuance,” he says.

Hong points to the lack of success Microsoft had with past ventures, such as Speech Server, which offered automatic speech recognition, text-to-speech, and an interactive voice response system bundled with the platform. He attributes the flop to the offering being “too [information technology] centric.” The company did not, and still does not,  have the required expertise or heritage in telephony, Hong asserts.

“If you’re looking at all the decision- makers for speech and IVR, they’re not IT people—especially not at a large enterprise,” he says.

Should Tellme go into the hosted contact center market providing not only IVR but intelligent routing and virtualization, Microsoft would finally have its play in the contact center market, says Hong, who remains sober over the significance of such a move for the Redmond-based company at large.

“Tellme is a great company in in-the-cloud hosted speech. They’re very much a competitor, but they’re one subsidiary of Microsoft. They’re not Microsoft,” he says. “[Microsoft] is still deeply entrenched in the traditional model of software license and premises-based deployments. They do have some hosting and in-the-cloud services, and it does seem like they’re moving more aggressively down that road, but it’s going to take a while before there’s an entire paradigm shift within Microsoft.”

At the end of the day,  the most important takeaway is that Tellme’s new enhancements are geared explicitly toward the tangible business impacts they can have for contact centers. “It ties back to what we believe to be the key drivers for contact center and IVR investment,” Crichlow told destinationCRM.com. “Improve customer service, improve IVR performance, and drive down costs.” 

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