Nuance Upgrades Text-to-Speech Software

Vocalizer 4.0 improves address handling and adds bilingual support.

NEW YORK—At the SpeechTek Exposition & Conference here, Nuance Communications Inc. on Tuesday announced the latest iteration of its text-to-speech software, with improvements to such features as address handling and bilingual support.

The new software, Vocalizer 4.0, adds support for all address abbreviations used by the U.S. Postal Service and recognizes more contextual ambiguities than did the previous version. For example, the software can distinguish between such similar words as "Co.," a common abbreviation for company, and "CO," the abbreviation for Colorado, said Regina Carriere, senior product marketing manager for Nuance, in Menlo Park, Calif.

Among the new bilingual capabilities is a feature that recognizes English words spoken in a string of non-English words, which could, for example, help a Spanish-speaking user find the address for a business with an English name.

Other improvements include improved voice quality and memory usage.

Vocalizer 4.0 is designed for such applications as directory assistance or account management, said Carriere. The new software, available now, costs $600 per port.

The American Automobile Associations Minnesota and Iowa division has been using Nuances natural speech application for three years, and it has allowed the company to automate 35 percent of all calls capable of being fully automated, which is about 15 to 20 percent of the total call volume, said Joe Alessi, vice president of marketing and information technology.

/zimages/6/28571.gifClick here to read about Nuances industry-specific speeech applications.

In addition to handling emergency roadside service, AAA also offers travel, insurance and financial services. So, "as you can imagine, our 800 number carries a big load," said Alessi, in the companys Burnsville, Minn., headquarters.

Alessi estimates AAA is saving about $2 on every call that uses the speech technology. But more importantly, said Alessi, the company has been able to retain more skilled workers in its call centers.

"Instead of taking mundane calls, the kinds of things that could literally bore people in a call center to death, they can now deal with more escalated issues. So they are more fulfilled and are helping people that need to be helped instead of dealing with things like address changes or membership renewals. And we are able to provide a better level of service," he said. "Speech is the quintessential app for today and into the future. The industry is really starting to define itself, and youre starting to know where to go to get the engineering you need. Anyone who stays married to a touchtone IVR is hurting their business."

Alessi says there are other compelling speech technologies out there he would like to deploy, but the costs are still too high. For example, Alessi would like to implement a voice authentication system so members could gain access to their accounts through the sound of their voice.

"The technologys there, its just a matter of budgeting for it," said Alessi.

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