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AUTOMATED CALL CENTER THROUGH SPEECH UNDERSTANDING SYSTEM

Objetivo

ACCESS is developing call centre technology for the insurance industry to automate handling of customer claims and enquiries. Applications will deal automatically with incoming telephone calls, recognising and understanding what is being said, or received by fax or mail, in the case of written material. Besides routine calls, the centre is also intended to handle special situations, such as an exceptional volume of enquiries after advertising campaigns. The initial focus will be on standard contract matters, with subsequent development to cover more complex issues like vehicle damage reports.
The initial phases of this project have been concerned primarily with general market assessment and definition of specific user requirements. The project has the benefit of the committed participation of two insurance companies: Tellit in Germany and Interamerican in Greece. With their help the functions of an initial demonstrator were specified and plans for integration, evaluation and testing completed. An early version of the demonstrator is already running.
Analysis has been carried on relevant human dialogues as well as the process of automatically filling an insurance claim form using a computer directed dialogue with the customer. In practice, this work indicates that the project is very ambitious and will need highly advanced technology.
Implementation of the ACCeSS system is in progress and will lead to a demonstrator in the insurance environment at the end of 1997.
Market Prospects
Telebusiness is an important part of one of the fastest growing markets in the world: the telecommunications market. Analysis has shown significant growth in the market for voice products, in general, and call centres, in particular.
Customers have high expectations of support provided over the telephone and companies recognise the need to offer efficient services which are available at all times. They also realise that automated call handling is the most cost-effective way to provide such services. A situation analysis has analysed the prospects and risks in the market and identified the potential customer base as well as the most important competitors.
The major volume and growth for speech understanding systems is expected to be in telephone-based markets. The market volume is currently still relatively low (in Germany approx. US$ 50 mill; in Europe approx. US$ 190 mill.) but considerable growth (approx. 35% per year, on average) is expected to change the situation rapidly.
User Requirements
ACCeSS addresses the automation of call centres for intensive applications in the insurance industry, which are concerned directly with the individual customers. In this case the insurance companies' requirement is not only optimisation of its call centre but also the reduction of the cost of recording data from forms (such as Claims forms) sent in by customers, by capturing the information directly through an automated dialogue. The main issues to be addressed are:
- quality of understanding diverse speakers
- design of dialogues with which customers are comfortable and which gather accurate information efficiently
- integration with existing systems
The applications require advances in technology in the areas of speech recognition, natural language understanding, dialogue, and speech synthesis.
The Way Ahead
Now that the specification phase is completed, the implementation is underway and is expected to continue through 1997.
Intelligent services offered by call centres for handling routine information provision and transactions will become more and more relevant in the future. The project intends to develop systems, which are based on speech dialogues combined with handling of written documents. Such automation of call centres will provide efficient services at any time and everywhere over the telephone.

The first users addressed within the project will be insurance companies. These have the problem that they have intensive and often permanent customer contacts, which often need only some limited information about status of contracts or e.g. about the state of a damage handling case. The information needed is normally fully accessible in a computer.

Presently the market for call centres is rapidly growing due to the fact that more and more telephone based business activities are created. It may be expected that already in a few years nearly every financial services business will need large call centres with some automatic speech understanding.

Progress and Results

The project results will be twofold: on the one hand the development of speech understanding systems for call centres with full integration into an existing PABX system and connection to the normal service as it is usually provided by humans and, on the other hand, intensive investigation of user behaviour with automatic information systems. The latter will result in an in depth knowledge about design of speech dialogues between man and machine.

The relevant public deliverables are:
- User requirements for complex assessment dialogues.
- Market study on speech dialogue systems for call centres.
- General project information.

Exploitation

Exploitation will be carried in different directions. The system providers will build up new business areas in the wide market of 'added value' for call centres, and in addition the operators of call centres will be able to offer new and better services for their customers.

The results of this project will open new business chances for Europe. The main activity in call centre automation presently is still in the United States, but in the next years such new services will get wide distribution in Europe too.

Régimen de financiación

CSC - Cost-sharing contracts

Coordinador

Daimler-Benz AG
Dirección
Wilhelm-runge Str. 11
89081 Ulm
Alemania

Participantes (5)

DAIMLER-BENZ AEROSPACE AG
Alemania
Dirección
85,Wörthstrasse
89077 Ulm
INTERAMERICAN HELLENIC LIFE INSURANCE COMPANY S.A.
Greece
Dirección
117,Kiffisias
151-80 Marousi-athens
KNOWLEDGE S.A.
Greece
Dirección
35,Gounari Street
26221 Patras
PATRAS UNIVERSITY
Greece
Dirección

26500 Patras
TELLIT DIRECT VERSICHERUNG AG
Alemania
Dirección
13-15,Siebenmorgen
51427 Bergisch-gladbach