Agent Assistance Meets Directory Assistance

Spoken Communications and Call Genie announced today at the Voice Search Conference in San Diego a partnership that leverages Spoken's agent-assisted interactive voice response (IVR) technology with Call Genie's targeted advertising services.

While the directory-assistance (DA) market has gained popularity in recent years, no DA companies have employed technology similar to Spoken's hybrid technology/agent in its solutions. Rather than relying on speech recognition to route calls, Spoken uses open-ended prompts and allows behind-the-scenes silent agents to guide calls to the appropriate spot in the IVR system.

But, with the popularity of free services like 1-800-GOOG-411 on the rise, pay-for or advertising-supported directory services must find ways to attract customers. According to Llance Kezner, vice president of sales at Spoken, increasing accuracy and resolving calls quickly is the way to the consumer's heart, not cost.

"If a [DA] service works; if it understands the caller, they're more apt to use it," Kezner states. "If a service offers a different way to dialogue with it, then it's better, and people like it and use it. They will tell their friends, and so on."

Under the partnership, Call Genie will use its CG Interact and OpenAgent products in concert with Spoken's Guided Self-Service components. Spoken's guided agents will route calls using the Yellow Page and White Page directory information provided by CG Interact and OpenAgent. According to the two companies' reasoning, more accurately-routed calls will lead to better targeted advertising. And the more DA providers can assure advertisers that their messages will be placed appropriately, revenue will increase. Currently, Call Genie provides local search and advertising services to Yellow Pages, DA providers, and wireless carriers throughout 11 countries.

Kezner also points to the fact that local search's popularity with on-the-go users dialing in from mobile phones has led to a need for increased accuracy. Because mobile users can call in from noisy environments, speech recognition can be greatly compromised. In addition, using a free service such as GOOG-411 means no access to a live agent throughout call touchpoints.

"If you go to a Verizon or a T-Mobile, if the speech recognition doesn't understand you, you go to a live agent who mitigates the call," Kezner says. "In the cases where speech recognition runs into a stumbling block because of the domain of the question or environmental issues, all [Spoken is] doing is having that live agent handle the call proactively in our system."

Kezner also claims that because Spoken's agents can accurately route calls behind the scenes, less callers will need to transfer to a live agent, freeing up resources throughout the contact center. Of course, the obvious profitability in the DA advertising realm was another draw for both companies.

"We see this [partnership] as a great way to make sure callers looking for information are being fed the advertising that may match what they're looking for, and really doing away with problems in complex queries," Kezner states.

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