Office Depot to Add Speech Recognition to Ordering Options

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Office Depot is expected this month to add speech recognition to its remote sales options.

Office Depot, Delray Beach, FL, an operator of office supply stores, for the past six months has been testing speech recognition technology to help customers locate a store or order a catalog. The company will now allow customers to place orders, determine the availability and pricing of products and check the status of their orders.

The speech recognition service, provided by NetByTel, Boca Raton, FL, also will allow customers to determine the component products they need for existing equipment.

While the company hopes the system reduces call center costs by lowering the percentage of calls handled by a live operator, Office Depot views the speech recognition technology as a replacement service for customers who might order from the Office Depot Web site but are away from their computers.

Ken Jackowitz, vice president of business systems at Office Depot, said the speech recognition technology has been well received during the six months it has been available. He said about 13 percent of callers are choosing to use the system, which is more than his prediction that 5 percent to 8 percent would use speech recognition.

He declined to disclose total call volumes.

Customers have the option of speaking to a live sales agent at any time during a call by saying the word "operator." The system will also transfer a caller to an operator if it has difficulty understanding a customer's voice.

He is confident in the system's ability to handle hard-to-hear calls. If it cannot understand a command, it apologizes and asks the caller to repeat it. If it still cannot understand the caller, the call is transferred to a live operator.

"Based on the early preliminary results, on a scale of one to five, with five being the best, everything was coming up above three," he said.

"What that ostensibly is giving you is e-commerce without the Web.

"For Office Depot there is very little work required because we are using what already had been done for other transactions," said Jackowitz.

The speech recognition system uses the same protocols as the Web to connect with the company's back-end order-entry system, Jackowitz said.

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