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Issue Date: June 2007

A growing voice in customer service

1 June 2007
Andrew Seldon

Our first profile on Intelleca showed a company making inroads into the services industry (such that it is) in South Africa. Our follow-up highlights an even more successful, expanding company changing this much maligned industry that may soon be listing.
Phoning the Johannesburg airport in an attempt to find out whether a plane is arriving on time can be a surprisingly pleasant experience. You are not subject to the usual delays, hassles and bad service, mainly because you do not speak to a human being, it is all automated.
The ACSA call centre is the result of Intelleca's work in voice recognition technologies, specifically voices emanating from South Africa. The company can accurately be described as the leader in its field in South Africa.
But that is only the beginning. Michael Renzon, MD of Intelleca, believes the market is still wide open for Intelleca's voice services. He says technology has advanced to the level where automated voice interaction with customers can take on a broader role in the contact centre.
Michael Renzon
Michael Renzon
Renzon sees the contact centre as the 21st century face of an organisation and has set Intelleca to work on providing the technology and services (based on voice, of course) to create a Customer Front Door. This idea will see customers in any industry being greeted by an automated voice system which will guide them to the solution or the real person they need.
When calling any call centre today, one is normally asked to press numerous keys on your keypad only to be cut off or be sent to an agent who knows absolutely nothing of what you want or who they are. Intelleca wants to provide the technology to automatically identify the person and his/her problem.
"We have all called a call centre and keyed in our ID number while we waited, only to be asked for it again when we eventually get hold of an agent and yet again when that person transfers us to another person who is supposed to know how to help us," Renzon explains. "Not only does this waste time and frustrate clients, it is also unnecessary."
Using voice biometrics, a person can be identified by their voice print in conjunction with their providing their ID or account number. This information can be automatically passed to an agent who can get down to business and deal with the client's problem in the least amount of time. Realistically, often repeated tasks can even be completely handled by the voice system.
Transferring money from one account to another or paying an account over the phone, for example, does not need an agent's help. Once identified, the caller can simply ask for the transaction, verbally confirm the details, and it will be done. Renzon says the technology to do this type of transaction is available, it is only a matter of convincing suppliers and customers to embrace it.
And can it be that bad to have technology help us hasten and de-stress our interactions with call centres?
Speaking Sefrican
Furthering its voice recognition leadership as a result of its efforts to get technology to understand South African English in cooperation with Nuance, Intelleca is now releasing Tessa onto an unsuspecting public. This new voice system reads text, including local colloquialisms in a voice most, if not all South Africans will understand. It's versatility is such that it can be put to work in almost any industry.
The impressive part of this technology is not that it merely reads text, but that it does so clearly and concisely. The twang associated with an automated system has been removed and the voice quality improved to such an extent that for short sentences it is easy to mistake Tessa for a real person. It is only when longer texts are read that the automation can be detected.
This technology is especially useful for applications in which set questions and answers cannot be pre-recorded. The voice recording work was done in iStudio, Intelleca's own production studio.
On-demand contact centre
Extending its technical expertise further into the contact centre, Renzon claims Intelleca is the first company locally to offer a completely on-demand call centre offering to small and medium businesses. The solution is web-based, allowing customers to simply choose the technology they would like to use by ticking a checkbox.
"This is a totally remote contact centre based on IP technology," Renzon explains. "Smaller companies no longer need to worry about the costs of buying or renting the infrastructure needed for a contact centre, we supply everything from dial tone to voice loggers, outbound capabilities, etc."
From around R1000 per seat for a basic configuration, companies can almost immediately build themselves a contact centre or expand their current one for special promotions etc, use it for as long as needed and then switch it off. They only pay for what they use and can expand or contract their contact centre dynamically as needed.
And the company's grip on the contact centre market does not end there. Intelleca's acquisition of inContact Centre Solutions will assist it in improving the Customer Front Door concept. This will be achieved by improving the contact centre's workflow to the extent that automated solutions that can not deal with a query will take a customer to the right agent who can complete the transaction - saving time, transfers, nerves and money for both parties.
Although one expects every company to downplay their competition, in the case of Intelleca, the technologies and high-level of skills it brings to the party set it far apart from its competition - remembering its skills are local and it does not promote its technologies but the solutions they deliver. And with growth prospects and competition that does not really manage to feature in comparison to the solutions Intelleca brings to the table, it should not be a surprise to anyone to see a stock exchange listing on the cards.

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