Speech recognition saves Aussie Post $500,000

Australia Post has invested in a speech recognition system for incoming calls, reducing call costs by 80 percent and allowing Post staff to be transferred to more complex tasks.

Australia Post has invested in a speech recognition system for incoming calls, reducing call costs by 80 percent and allowing Post staff to be transferred to more complex tasks.

Implemented in June, the Inference Communications speech recognition system answers calls requesting information such as the location of post offices, postcodes of suburbs, trading hours and passport application enquiries.

Australia Post's NSW contact centre receives 10,000 calls a day, according to the company, 1,500 of which are now answered by the speech recognition system.

The average call time with a human operator was 135 seconds, NSW Australia Post customer contact centre manager Eddie Sayad said, while the average call time with the speech recognition system is now 89 seconds, with customers tending to ask fewer questions to the automated system.

The system doesn't just save the Post time — customers also get their calls answered quicker. Under the automated system, calls are answered within one second with no hold time.

According to Sayad, 82.6 percent of queries put to the system can be resolved successfully, with the rest put through to an Australia Post operator. In these calls, people have normally asked for information outside of the system's capabilities, Sayad said.

The staff who previously would have taken the calls now handled by the system will remain with the Post, and will work on more complex calls, according to Sayad. "We're not reducing any staff. We're just allocating them to more complex calls," he said.

The Post estimates the savings at around AU$0.5 million per year, with ROI taking around one or two years, he said.

The Inference system was chosen after doing a study which looked at different speech recognition systems in terms of quality and cost effectiveness. The system is hosted by SmartSpeak, Sayad said — by opting for a hosted rather than in-house system, the company has been able to avoid significant infrastructure investment and shortened the timeframe to get the system up and running. The Post obtains the service on a per call basis.

In the future, the Post is looking to implement a call back system where customers waiting on hold can give their number and have their call returned later on. Another future development will be to have the system run outside of business hours, Sayad said.