Pizza Hut serves up voice recognition solution

Pizza Hut, a division of Tricon Restaurants Australia, will implement a voice recognition solution in its call centres in Sydney and Brisbane.

A total of 7.8 million calls are put through Pizza Hut's Sydney and Brisbane centres annually. That's a lot of dough.

To ease the load on those busier Friday night periods, a voice enabled pizza ordering facility will let customers eliminate queuing or confusing push-button menu systems. Customers can talk directly to a computerised pizza ordering system using any telephone. The natural language speech recognition (NLSR) lets callers interrupt during the ordering process, and understands various accents.

The contract is transaction-based, having a forecast value expected to be more than $2 million, subject to user take-up rates, over the term of the contract.

Tony Lowings, general manager of Pizza Hut Australia, said: "Given voice recognition is in its infancy and depends on the acceptance of consumers, we are not sure how many customers will use it. But we are fairly comfortable it will grow and, in a couple of years, voice recognition will be a significant part of the consumer landscape.

"We want customers to explore and be taken through the voice recognition system at their leisure. Initially what would happen is we will make it available to a small amount of our customers that we have identified as potential because they frequently ring with a similar orders," he said.

The solution will be based around VeBook, an order fulfilment solution from VeCommerce. The solutions is developed on its FirstContact platform and uses the speech recognition technology provided by Nuance Communications. The platform is scalable to allow for growth in the number of telephone lines being used to take incoming calls.

VeCommerce solution was chosen over other providers due to its innovative approaches to speech recognition and its experience with other organisations, according to Lowings.

"Some voice recognition solutions are clunky and don't allow flexibility. They model themselves on the old push-button phone system. This is natural speech solution so [customers] can talk to it in a normal way and interrupt it. You enter into a low-level conversation with it. Unlike push-button technology it does recognise things and repeats for confirmation, confirms pricing, and is tailored to pick up different voices and accents."

Pizza Hut will also achieve tangible bottom line reduction in infrastructure and labour costs, although Lowings couldn't give specific information regarding the investment or when the company expects to see a return on investment.

"The project is cost driven and consumer driven. It's hard for us to say [when we will see ROI], but it's not a 10-year project and we expect to get return over the next couple of years, in terms of operational efficiencies," Lowings said.

Pizza Hut also went live with a new online ordering facility, and, Lowings said, voice automating telephone ordering is another project to enhance customer service.

"We pride ourselves in using technology that continues to drive customer service."

Tricon's largest call centre, based in Sydney, will be the first to pilot the application in about three months, according to Lowings.

The service is scheduled to go live in the second quarter of 2002, with the system being located in both Sydney and Brisbane to serve the respective local customer bases.

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