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Microsoft updates Tellme service

Microsoft's Tellme subsidiary, a test bed for partner-friendly, vendor-hosted services now supports Microsoft's own speech engine.

Microsoft is putting more of its home-grown speech technology into the company's Tellme hosted interactive voice system.

Tellme is behind many voice-driven 411 information services and now integrates Microsoft's own speech engine. But the company was quick to point out that partners and customers can opt for other supported engines if they prefer. Tellme still supports Nuance Corp.'s speech engine, for example.

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"The addition of the Microsoft speech engine increases the options for our customers. Our business is more [about] the platform and less about individual technologies," said Brooks Crichlow, director of enterprise marketing for Tellme Networks., a Microsoft subsidiary since May 2007.

Crichlow claims that the addition means that callers will get to what they want faster than with older technologies and without having to repeat themselves ad nauseum.

For better accuracy, new "online adaptation" technology trains the speech engine on-the-fly about a given user's voice patterns. And the system will better understand and route calls based on what the user says, he claimed.. For example, it will ask, specifically, for needed or missing information rather than prompting the caller to repeat entire sentences.

"There is increasing precision …. If we don't have a great understanding of what was said, rather than have you repeat yourself over and over, the new engine will prompt you for specific missing information and route the call accordingly," said Murtaza Amiji, senior product manager at Tellme.

Despite Microsoft ownership, much of Tellme still runs on non-Microsoft-oriented Java code. It supports common standard protocols, including VoiceXML, so VARs can customize applications, Amiji said.

Elizabeth Herrell, vice president and principal analyst with Forrester Research, said Microsoft continues to show support and investment in speech recognition in general and Tellme in particular. "This update shows continued emphasis and that Microsoft sees the importance of voice. They've added a lot more features and functions to their speech engine where Nuance is the runaway leader," she told

Tellme's goal is to handle "the turnkey customer transacation from end to end, not just steer [that transaction] to a call agent," Herrell added.

Channel partners can resell Tellme's service, use it to build voice portals for customers, and rebrand it as needed.

Tellme also launched a partnership with Global Crossing that will allow contact centers to utilize VoIP calling, which should substantially reduce long distance costs. Tellme already partnered with AT&T and Verizon.

Perhaps most important, the partners, not Tellme or Microsoft, bill for the services and can mark them up as needed. In this respect, Tellme is a test bed for partner-friendly vendor-hosted services.

Tellme competes with offerings from Nortel, Avaya and Genesis, most of which run on premise.

Microsoft Customer Care support numbers run on the service, although Microsoft's headquarters' call system does not.

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