[LINK] Number's up for call centres
Mon, 13 Nov 2000 15:54:19 +1100
This got me thinking about potential scenarios.
Suppose that VeCommerce's voice recognition technology is real and catches
Suppose that a Federal government IT outsourcer wanted to make use of the
technology to reduce the cost of IT services to the government.
Suppose it proposed such a scheme to an agency whose IT it was outsourcing
and received an enthusiastic response.
It would then go to the folks monitoring Industry Development (poor old
DCITA) and say, "we want to reduce the cost of IT Services to the
government, but we would be reducing the number of people working on the
contract and, according to our contracted ID commitments, we are not
allowed to do that".
What would happen?
Would the outsourcer be forced to employ the same number of people, at
greater expense, just to meet the ID commitments? I reckon this wouldn't
delight the agencies involved very much.
Would the outsourcer be allowed to use the new technology and employ fewer
people? This would make a mockery of the ID contract.
Of course, if the agencies were looking after their own technology, this
wouldn't be an issue.
And one of the arguments for outsourcing is that agencies could get more
rapid access to new technology - it's a pity about the Industry Development
A bit of a mess really. It's almost as though they haven't thought it
Number's up for call centres
13 November 2000
THE call centre industry's huge growth is about to be stunted by the
creeping introduction of natural voice recognition technology, which allows
computers to understand human language. Call centres have proliferated
because they are cheaper than non-centralised personal delivery. But voice
recognition will in turn undercut call centres, ironically by emulating
humans. "We have used taxpayer funds to entice battery style call centres
to a particular area," says VeCommerce managing director Paul Magee. "This
growth rate will go into reverse. Voice recognition will radically affect
the level of employment in call centres."
The listed VeCommerce owns voice recognition technology for Australia and
New Zealand as part of a six-partner alliance using the so-called Nuance
system. It has a handful of local clients, including the Queensland TAB and
the Australian Taxation Office, but is aiming to attract an unnamed big
bank as a client.
Mr Magee said financial services was the "holy grail" industry for voice
recognition, given the high volume of transactions and a customer backlash
against "impersonal" delivery. "Human beings are more competent at talking
than listening," Mr Magee says.
He notes that a typical call centre agent paid $50,000 handles 25,000 calls
a year, at a cost of $2 per transaction, while VeCommerce could do it for
the equivalent of 20c a call. Internet delivery has been viewed as the
panacea, but Mr Magee criticises the technology-driven nature of this
medium. "They forgot about the customers, who by and large are reluctant to
use the internet," he says.
He believes customers are more willing to use the phone, but have been put
off by synthesised voices and elaborate button-pushing routines. Under
natural voice recognition, the computer recognises language and speech
patterns, eliminating the need for button pushing.
Formerly called Scitec, VeCommerce recently sold its other business units
to focus on voice recognition, which yielded $5 million revenue in the year
to June 30, 2000. VeCommerce shares have traded between 38c and $1.20 this
year. They closed on Friday at 53c.
I guess some people never change. Or, they quickly change and then quickly
-- from The Simpsons