Amcom Speech Recognition Answers a College's Call

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Middlesex County College, a two-year community college in Edison, NJ, serving nearly 13,000 commuter students, receives between 800 and 2,000-plus phone calls on any given day, depending on the time of year. Though that number pales in comparison to much larger colleges and universities, Middlesex still needs to make sure that the calls that do come in get routed to the right person or department. Speech technologies are making that happen.

The college, which offers 71 associate's degree programs and 29 certificate programs, a few years ago installed Amcom Speech Recognition, a call attendant, interactive voice response system, and automatic call distributor from Amcom Software, across its central New Jersey campus. Speech recognition and natural language understanding technology help guide the call steering application, which accurately routes calls more than 90 percent of the time.

This solution offloads a portion of routine calls with a user-friendly experience that enables callers to speak their requests instead of keying in responses. An important consideration for the college was the speech recognition solution's ability to give callers detailed options for busy departments.

The Amcom Speech Recognition implementation became necessary when the college noticed that callers to its main phone line were being forced to wait several minutes to get answers to even the most basic questions and needed a way to automate the process. "A lot of people were sitting in the queue for a long time, and they were, of course, getting aggravated," recalls Lynn Somers, manager of IT support services at Middlesex County College. "We had one operator who was pretty much handling every call, and she couldn't do it all. It was not efficient at all."

Now, the lone operator plays a role in less than 25 percent of the total call volume.

After callers to the school's main phone line are presented with an initial greeting, they can be routed directly to the employee or department they are seeking. Five departments—admissions, the registrar's office, financial aid, student account services, and accounts payable—present advanced menus that provide additional information and options that better guide callers to the answers they need. "We don't want people with very specific knowledge answering very simple questions like 'How late is the office open?'" Somers says.

Since Middlesex is a public college, New Jersey state law required putting the project out for bid. Amcom, a subsidiary of USA Mobility, based in Eden Prairie, MN, eventually won the contract, not because its solution was the cheapest but because the company "came out as the most cost-effective for all the features and menus we wanted," Somers says.

Also in Amcom's favor was the fact that it specializes in campus-wide deployments. The company's products are used by leading organizations in higher education, medical, military and government, senior living, and casino, hotel, and resort segments.

Once the contract was awarded, implementation took a couple of months to complete. The project required setting up the campus with new hardware and software and creating a full database of all the department and campus contacts. Within the system, college officials had to be sure that multiple department names or query terms were recognized for proper routing, so that a caller is taken to the same office whether he asks to be transferred to the bursar's office, student accounts, or tuition.

Another benefit of Amcom's solution is a program Middlesex created called Dial 50. From anywhere on campus, people can access the employee directory online or by dialing 50 for voice assistance. The completely automated Dial 50 portal helps direct calls without involving the operator, pulling information from the phone directory maintained online. The database is updated once a month.

Somers says this new system is "way more accurate and efficient than anything we had before.

"It was a nightmare before, with different departments maintaining different paper directories and us trying to collate everything," she recalls. "Now we don't have to maintain the paper directories." That has saved the college roughly $5,000 annually.

The Amcom system also allows college officials to record emergency information to be played after the initial prompt for special circumstances, like when the school will be closed because of a snowstorm. They can also program in special holiday and after-hours greetings as needed. "This way, people are not leaving messages and wondering why no one is getting back to them," Somers says.

The system also provides reports on call volume, where calls are being routed, which calls went to a person and which ones were handled completely through automation, what the caller requested, and more. "There are all types of valuable reports that are available to us," Somers says. "We can see and run reports on everything coming in."

Despite all the capabilities the Amcom system provides, Somers says Middlesex is only using a small subset of the total offering. Amcom Speech Recognition also comes with a paging functionality, emergency notifications, and an option to transfer calls to employees' mobile phones when they are away from their desks. The company offers solutions for secure smartphone texting, contact center optimization, public safety response, scheduling, and clinical alerting and workflow management.

"Amcom does meet our needs very well," Somers states.

Still, that doesn't mean that the college isn't willing to add to the system as needs change. "We're always eager to have other departments add to their menu trees" to further reduce the strain on college employees, Somers says.

"We might even move from department-specific menus to a more high-level, college-wide menu structure," she adds. "We're looking for a one-stop shop rather than [having callers] go through multiple departments to meet all of their needs."

App at a Glance

Since implementing Amcom Speech, Middlesex County College has seen:

  • calls successfully routed to the right person or department more than 90 percent of the time;
  • more than 75 percent of calls handled without involving the operator.

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