Automating Directory Assistance

September 13, 2001

Automating Directory Assistance

Varetis’ ADIS Solution

Introduction

Our lives grow more complex, it seems, by the minute.  More things must be accomplished, more places must be visited, and more people must be contacted.  The pace of business is accelerating, and the rise of the global economy has brought the far corners of the world within our grasp. The engine of this growth has been the worldwide telecommunications network, and service providers worldwide are responding to this growth by providing more connections to more customers in more ways than ever before.  The integration of these vast and complex capabilities involves many technologies, but the most important, and most central to these is the directory.  Directories provide basic search and retrieval functions that are critical to nearly every type of modern telecommunications function.

From the user’s point of view, most directory operations can be boiled down to a single function – translation.  Think about it – when you dial Directory Assistance you are really asking to have a name translated into a telephone number.  These translations happen all the time in domains ranging from postal codes to web site addresses, and they are fundamental to the operation of the telecommunications network.  Directories can be thought of as translation engines that can store and retrieve a given piece of information in many different forms, each appropriate for a different specific use.

Directory Assistance

Directory Assistance (DA) is the granddaddy of these directory translation systems, and has been around as long as the telephone network itself.  As the size and sophistication of the telephone network has increased, so has the size and sophistication of the DA systems upon which it has been predicated.  For example, Varetis provides directory systems today that support in excess of 100,000,000 subscriber entries – a staggering volume by traditional directory standards.  And until now, these systems have generally required the involvement of a human being – an Operator – responsible for obtaining and announcing the number requested by the caller.  

The really interesting fact here, however, is that, like directories, Operators have been required in this process for one reason only – translation.  Whereas directories translate data from one form to another, operators translate that data from one mode to another – in this case, from verbal to digital and back again.  Many steps are necessary in this process – auditory, visual, kinesthetic – steps that have heretofore made the operator indispensable. But in recent years, advances in technology have been gradually diminishing the role of the Operator in providing DA services through automation.

Automating Directory Assistance

Computerized directories themselves were the first step in the automation process, eliminating the slow, cumbersome process of referencing a telephone number in the phone book.  Some time later, these directories were augmented by the use of Audio Response Systems on the back end of the call, which announced the requested number automatically using pre-recorded voice segments.  The next step was the introduction of Interactive Voice Response technology, which automated the front end of calls to Directory Assistance by prompting for, and collecting verbal information from the caller, which was then forwarded to the operator for processing.  

In total, DA systems comprised of these capabilities today constitute some of the most complex and sophisticated operational telecommunications systems ever devised.  And Varetis has been at the forefront of these developments, providing advanced systems to the Directory Assistance marketplace in each of these areas of automation.

Cost Reduction

To date, all of this technical wizardry has been employed primarily to one end – the reduction of costs.  Staffing and running a DA call center is expensive business, and because it is mandated in many countries, it must be sustained as a cost of doing business.  Telephone companies, therefore, have been keen to reduce these costs wherever possible, while at the same time preserving high levels of customer satisfaction.  These technologies have succeeded in reducing costs by reducing the amount of time, on average, that an operator must spend on each call.  It’s simple, really:  time equals money.  When spread across an entire call center, the small time savings on each call accumulate, adding up, finally, to a smaller operator staff, and lowered staffing expenses.  Worldwide, these technologies have saved billions of dollars in operational Directory Assistance costs.

Customer Satisfaction

As one might expect, the Holy Grail of this process is the complete automation of a DA call – that is, one in which no operator intervention is required at all.  Full automation has been sought after for several reasons beyond simply minimizing cost.   First and foremost, a fully automated call can provide a better user experience, which translates into better overall customer satisfaction.  There are three important reasons for this:

  • Humans are highly sensitive to mode switching – that is, to transfers between automated systems and human beings.  Mode-switched variations in voice quality, pacing, tone, and emotional content can reflect poorly on the user experience, and thus on customer satisfaction.  
  • Users prefer consistency to inconsistency.  Automated systems are by nature more consistent in collecting and presenting information than are human beings.  And well-engineered systems can minimize timing fluctuations and wait times that might occur as a result of, say, increased call traffic volume.
  • Users value their time.  Varetis’ research has shown that fully automated dialogs – even if they actually require more time – are often perceived to require less time than a mode-switched dialog.

Operator Satisfaction

Operators also benefit from fully automated calls.  As technology has shortened the elapsed time of the Operator on each call, it has commensurably required the DA operator to handle a larger volume of calls during the same shift.  Like all of us, Operators prefer to provide services that are unique and valuable, rather than merely rote and repetitive.  By automating the least complex and most frequent of these calls, Operators can be preserved for those situations that require the sophisticated services that only human beings can provide – services which can resolve difficult questions, effectively brand the service provider – even generate new forms of revenue. Full automation thus improves Operator satisfaction, and the overall quality of Directory Assistance service that ensues.

Varetis’ Automated Directory Inquiry System (ADIS)

Today, that Holy Grail has been realized.  After years leading the industry in the automation of Directory Assistance systems, Varetis is introducing ADIS – a system designed to fully automate calls to Directory Assistance.  ADIS represents a unique approach to automating DA calls; by combining best-of-breed technologies in speech recognition and text-to-speech with Varetis’ own NDIS, the world’s most powerful directory search engine, ADIS succeeds in providing a cost-effective solution that actually works under real-world conditions.

This is both critical and unique.  Systems that fully automate DA calls are not especially new, and the technologies that power them are equally commonplace.  But these systems have frequently been burdened by high costs, long installation and configuration periods, limited expansion capabilities, and burdensome administrative overhead.  This is a complex business, after all, and the costs and limitations of such systems have frequently offset the additional savings that they might otherwise have generated.

ADIS is different, for several reasons.  

  • Varetis long ago realized that the best way to leverage new technology is to develop platforms that will accommodate new technologies as they arise.  ADIS permits technologies such as speech recognition or text-to-speech to be selected and integrated on the basis of power, price/performance, or customer preference as the needs of any given installation dictate.  ADIS can thus “ride the advancing technology curve” and help preserve the customer’s capital investment as new technologies arise.
  • ADIS delivers more sheer capability than any competing solution.  ADIS can effectively fully automate DA queries for directories as large as 100,000,000 subscriber entries.  This represents a dramatic improvement over some competing solutions.  ADIS accomplishes this by tightly integrating these technologies with the NDIS search engine – an integration that produces better effective results than the raw capabilities of each technology might be capable of in isolation.  
  • Third, ADIS is not a single-point solution.  It can be leveraged for use in a wide variety of directory-based enhanced services that can be used to create new revenue streams to the service provider.  As part of Varetis’ Operator Services Architecture, (OSA) ADIS capabilities can be exploited for virtually any automated or agent-backed service – examples include voice portals, automated call centers, and premium concierge services.  DA-specific enhancements include Short Message Services (SMS) and automated call completion.  

It is important to recognize how widely variant the requirements of these services are.  In traditional Directory Assistance, with cost containment as the primary objective, short calls and minimal human intervention are the objective.  Voice portal and concierge services, on the other hand, represent the polar opposite – revenues based on longer call times and more frequent human intervention.  ADIS technology can service either of these extremes with equal facility.

Conclusion

Directory services have evolved in tandem with the telecommunications network.  They have become a critical, essential part of virtually every facet of communications, and end users have come to rely on Directory Assistance services as the cornerstone of this evolution.  Today, users can finally gain access to fully automated DA services that are fast, accurate, consistent, and consistently pleasant to use.  Service providers can minimize infrastructure costs and leverage capital investments in ways never before possible, and operators can evolve as well – from agents of service quantity to agents of service quality.  The technology necessary to do this is here today.  Varetis’ ADIS – The next generation of Directory Assistance.

 

Subscribe
RSS
Archive
January February March April May June July August September (1) October November December (2)
January February March (2) April May June July August September October November (1) December
January February March April May June July August September October November (1) December
January February March April May June July (4) August September October November December
January February March April May June July August September October November December
January February (1) March April May (1) June July August September October November December
January (3) February March April May June July August (1) September October November December
January February March April May (1) June July August September October November December
January February March April May June (1) July August September October November December
January February March (2) April (1) May June July August (1) September (1) October (1) November December (1)
January (6) February March April May June July August September October November (2) December (1)
January February (1) March April May June July (1) August September October November (1) December
January February March April May June July (1) August September October November December
January February (1) March April May June July (1) August (1) September October November (1) December
January February (7) March April May June July August September October November December
January February March April May June July August September October November (1) December
January February March April May June July August September October November December