Kara Swisher

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New Tellme Mobile Product to Try to Help Microsoft Fight the iPhone With Voice Power


Tellme, the voice services subsidiary of Microsoft, is announcing a “one-button” voice access for Windows-enabled mobile phones, as well as some new technologies to improve call automation for customer service centers.

Aiming at smartphone users who might prefer to use voice over the Apple (AAPL) iPhone’s popular touch, tap and swoosh features, Microsoft (MSFT) is trying to differentiate its mobile offerings.

“Unlike other voice-based services, Tellme is the first to allow people to press one button, say what they want and get it, whether that is to send a text, make a call or search for information,” said the company in a press release, which noted the service would be available in the fall on WIndows mobile phones.

Here is a video of Tellme GM Mike McCue, showing off the new one-button service:

And, here are the full press releases:


More than 75% of Smartphone Users Prefer Voice and Would Buy Phones With Tellme; Free to Carriers and Handset Manufacturers for Windows Mobile 6.5 Phones

APRIL 29, 2009–Mountain View, CA–Today Tellme®, a subsidiary of Microsoft Corp. and pioneer of voice services, announced the first mobile voice service to combine content and communications, simplifying how people interact with their phones every day. Unlike other voice-based services, Tellme is the first to allow people to press one button, say what they want and get it, whether that is to send a text, make a call or search for information. Tellme has designed a unique version of this experience specifically for Windows phones due out this fall.

The new service puts many of the most popular phone functions behind a single button. Windows phone users just press the side button of their phone to:

– Send a text by saying “text” to open a text box, then speak the text message and send to call anyone in their contact list

– Initiate a call simply by saying “call” and then the name of anyone in their contact list

– Search the Web with Microsoft Live Search by speaking your request, such as “weather in San Francisco, California”, “Pizza in Kansas City” or “mother’s day gift ideas”

“Because it’s so intuitive, we believe there is a real opportunity for voice to materialize as the leading user interface for the phone,” said Dariusz Paczuski, senior director of consumer services at Tellme. “By bringing voice access to calling, texting and searching together we reduce ‘menu surfing’ on phones and make the convenience of voice more tangible for everyday needs.”

In a head to head comparison, it’s clear why people prefer voice over touch. For example, it requires four touches and more than 20 keystrokes to find a business with the Apple iPhone, while it only takes one button push and one verbal command to find the same business with Tellme. Tellme’s research shows similar results for other tasks, such as making calls, sending text messages and searching for content like traffic, movies, news and sports.

“For example, Sprint has integrated our voice access to the Live Search application on Sprint Instinct phones and subscribers love it,” continued Paczuski. “In fact, we’ve seen impressive adoption of voice with 3 of every 4 search queries being initiated by voice.”

Finally, in a recent study conducted by Sanderson Studios, more than 70 percent of respondents said that voice is superior to keypad or touch-based methods to perform some of the most popular mobile tasks. This includes looking up a business listing or location (78 percent), sending a text message (72 percent), placing a call (79 percent), getting information such as movies, weather, traffic or sports (77 percent) and getting directions (81 percent).

For the past decade, Tellme has been pioneering voice services for businesses and consumers, answering billions of calls every year and helping millions of people get the information they need simply by speaking a request. Now the convenience of voice is coming to Windows phones, bringing people closer to the things they want by providing easier access to more of the phone’s functionality. With Tellme, people using the latest Windows phones will be able to simply say what they want, such as “call mom” or “text Jim” or “pizza,” and results display on the screen.

Tellme will be available for free on Windows Mobile 6.5 phones in the Fall 2009 when the phones hit store shelves. Initially available in the Windows Marketplace for Mobile store, Tellme will also make the service available for free to mobile operators and carriers to embed ‘on-device’ for a voice experience right out of the box.


Speech Innovations Improve Call Automation, VoIP Infrastructure Shrinks Telecom Costs

APRIL 29, 2009–Mountain View, CA –Tellme®, a subsidiary of Microsoft Corp., today announced three core speech and network innovations that advance its platform for cloud-based voice services. The new technologies significantly reduce costs for enterprise customer service while enabling a faster, smarter caller experience. These advancements include the roll-out of a VoIP carrier service that reduces customer transport costs, advanced speech services that improve automation of customer service calls, and a new ‘voice font’ technology that delivers a more natural text-to-speech experience.

The new speech services area a result of collaboration between Tellme and Microsoft’s Speech Components Group. These jointly designed technologies will be leveraged to advance natural user interfaces across Microsoft products to benefit billions of customers worldwide. Because Tellme operates as an on-demand service, the new capabilities are immediately available to enterprises across Tellme’s platform. In addition, Tellme is now using these technologies to power its mobile services, including the Windows Mobile 6.5 application announced today.

“Providing quality customer service is a top priority for E*TRADE. Tellme’s flexible platform has helped us unify our customer service experience across multiple channels and deliver improved performance year over year,” said Hartley Caldwell, Senior Vice President, Software Engineering at E*TRADE FINANCIAL Corporation.

“Our goal is to provide enterprises with technology that improves their customers’ experience but also affords them the ultimate financial flexibility when deploying voice services. From initial deployments we’re seeing impressive cost savings and results that we’re sure our customers will be excited about,” said Jamie Bertasi, senior director of Business Solutions at Tellme.

Saving Money on Operating Costs

Handling customer phone inquiries represents a multi-million dollar expense for many Fortune 1000 companies, with telecom being one of the largest technology costs. Now with carrier VoIP service, enterprises can extend their VoIP strategy to customer service calls and eliminate transfer fees, lowering the average per-minute cost 60% per call and reducing transfer fees by 100%.

Additionally, Tellme enterprise customers have another option to save significant money on telecom beyond the expensive maintenance of toll-free numbers: local number service. With the rising, widespread use of mobile phones, nation-wide caller plans lessen the need for consumers to use toll-free numbers. With the benefit of toll-free numbers diminishing, having an alternative local number can save costs without affecting the consumer experience. Now, Tellme’s VoIP service makes it possible for enterprises to use less expensive local numbers for their customer service.

Getting the Right Answer More Often, Increasing Automation

One of the biggest frustrations of speech services is that they don’t always understand the caller. Increasing the odds of getting it right makes the overall customer experience better, improving their confidence in using the system, and lowering the total cost per call to the enterprise.

Partnering with Microsoft’s speech team, Tellme provided tuning data from its billions and billions of calls and design expertise to develop new acoustic models, phonetic dictionaries and grammar products that increase the accuracy of every response. The teams built an “online adaptation” capability where the system can adapt to a caller’s acoustic patterns within the first three seconds of speaking. These new platform features make it possible to get the right answer to the caller more often.

Results in early deployments are impressive. With an average of $3 per customer service call handled by a live agent, a phone service handling 200,000 calls per day would save nearly $6 million per year for every 1% improvement in call automation. Trials of the new services with customer applications that handle millions of calls every week indicate an up to 2% increase in automated task completion, which translates to millions of dollars in savings every year.

Creating a Faster and More Natural Experience

Both the way customers request information and the way they hear the answer have been improved with two new technologies: expanded multi-slot recognition and a new ‘voice font’ called Zira.

Multi-slot technology makes it possible for callers to ask for information in a full sentence or phrase, such as “I wanna buy five thousand shares of Coca Cola” and the system listens for the relevant words, in this case “buy,” “five thousand shares” and “Coca-cola.” Then, if any information is missing or not understood the system can ask just for the specific word clarification without re-prompting for the entire answer, making the call faster and increasing the customer’s satisfaction.

In addition, Tellme, leveraging the Microsoft Text-to-Speech (TTS) engine, has developed a new custom TTS service with its ‘voice font’ called Zira. Zira has been created with a patented technique designed for consistency in voice quality and delivery that provides a more conversational experience. The Zira voice talent was coached by audio engineers to record popular phrases and words used in customer service requests. The Zira technology benchmarks close to actual human pronunciations–delivering the industry’s highest quality TTS service and reducing the expense of custom audio recordings for enterprise IVR.

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