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[July 1, 2004]

To Speak To An Agent, Don’t Press 1: AT&T Introduces VoiceTone To Medco

BY MICHELLE PASQUERELLO


You’re a consumer and you’re having problems with product ABC. Said product requires that you call a specific 800-number, but they don’t tell you what you’re in for when you dial the 800-number. Often, an automated voice answers your call and you are then guided into what seems an endless menu of number pressing.

 

To verify your account, press 1. To check the status of your order, press 2. To change or cancel your order, press 3. To speak to an agent, please wait on the line and the next available agent will be with you momentarily.

 

The music kicks in. You sit back and relax. Your call is placed in the queue, and then you find out that your estimated waiting time is just over 20 minutes (usually due to high call volume, which is the last thing you wanted). The wait becomes a hassle, you hang up and accomplish nothing. Now the company with product ABC has lost your business…and your faith.

 

With the telecommunications industry on the rise, new and improved products are being introduced to companies so that call centers can better assist their clientele, avoiding the “zero out” solution. 

 

Such a solution was presented in 2001 when AT&T (news - alert - quote)introduced VoiceTone, a new IVRU (define - news - alert) product to Medco, one of the largest pharmacy benefit managers in the country. According to Kenny Klepper, Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer of Medco “AT&T is a client of ours. We look for common ground where we can expand relationships from our client companies. AT&T presented their strategies around the VoiceTone product, and Medco was the first client that put it in service.”

 

With five call centers nationwide, Medco services large corporations such as managed care facilities, insurance carriers, third-party benefit plan administrators and local government agencies. Medco receives nearly two million inbound calls a week with an estimated 200 calls a minute. Since adopting the VoiceTone, customers are now identified through speech and triaged to a proper agent.

 

How It Works

 

AT&T VoiceTone is possible through AT&T Labs’ “How May I Help You?” (sm) natural language understanding. Designed and maintained by AT&T’s global network, VoiceTone recognizes a large area of vocabulary and speech. VoiceTone can determine a caller’s intent and will then direct the caller to the right place. Through natural dialogue, companies can offer a more effective experience for their customers, providing the comfortable experience of speaking to a “pseudo” agent, while requiring minimal or no agent involvement. This applies to web-based, PDA, or wireless telephone interaction.

 

Prior to VoiceTone, Medco’s callers were placed into a call prompter which provided four menu choices and zero for an operator. What they found was that too many callers relied on pressing zero, completely bypassing the menu, resulting in a longer wait time.  The solution was to put VoiceTone up front so that customers didn’t have to press buttons or decipher for themselves where to place their call.

 

According to Mark Harsch, Signature Client Director of AT&T, “We think we are unique in the market place. You can speak very naturally to the system and in some cases, some people feel as if they are talking to a real person. We feel we have the best algorithms in the business.”

 

It was an effort on Medco’s part to implement VoiceTone because they were the first adopter of the new IVRU.  But to their advantage, Medco was able to provide feedback to AT&T to customize menu options and make it fit for their call centers for the final product. Prior to VoiceTone, Medco had a successful call rate of 48%. Since its installation, the call rate went up to 55% which resulted in over a million dollars in savings.

 

There was very little training involved during the migration process. Technical staff were brought up to speed on how to set up the tables and from there, clients were moved over to VoiceTone one by one

 

The VoiceTone technology has proven success for both AT&T and Medco. To view an interactive demonstration, visit AT&T’s VoiceTone on the web. For more information on Medco, please visit www.medco.com.

 

Michelle Pasquerello is the Assistant Online Content Director for TMCnet. She welcomes your comments.

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