Frustrated with Pressing '1' for This and '2' for That?

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. -- BBN Technologies, a subsidiary of Verizon Communications, announced today a new product that combines speech-recognition and language-processing technologies to replace touch-tone menus many consumers must navigate when they call a business.

Language processing is a technology that allows a computer to extract meaningful information from a string of spoken words and then perform an action, such as routing a person's call to a specific location.

The new BBN Call DirectorTM product, developed in BBN Technologies' research laboratories, automatically greets callers with a generic welcome and asks them to request -- using any words they choose -- what they need. Using BBN's speech-recognition and language-processing capabilities, the product is able to understand virtually any request the customer makes and then quickly route it to the appropriate live representative or department.

A person calling an appliance company could simply state, for example, that his new washing machine isn't working, and then be quickly routed to specific representatives in the repair department -- all without having to listen to a menu, memorize selections and then punch additional numbers.

"We are excited about making available a truly advanced language processing technology to businesses with customer-contact centers," said Erich Bender, executive director of Speech and Language Processing at BBN Technologies.

"This product reflects 30-years of work by BBN in speech recognition and natural language understanding. There has long been a need for a solution that yields greater customer satisfaction without being cost-prohibitive. BBN Call Director addresses that need by giving customers the kind of service they want, while also helping call centers to operate with much greater efficiency by quickly getting the customer to the correct representative. We've tested BBN Call Director in contact centers and it's proved to be an invaluable service that improves the customer experience," Bender said.

BBN Call Director differs from other call-routing solutions in that it recognizes, understands, and responds to the caller's spontaneous speech. Unlike systems that depend on using fixed, limited grammars, BBN's product uses what is known as topic-spotting technology and statistical grammars, letting callers express what they want in their own words.

Using a single prompt -- "Please tell me, briefly, the reason for your call," BBN Call Director spares the caller from lengthy menu descriptions. Callers can state their business or requests in their own words, and be routed quickly and accurately despite variations in dialect and word choice. The result is a more natural, intuitive, and satisfying experience for callers. In customer surveys conducted by BBN, 82 per cent of customers indicated that they prefer this kind of interaction to touch-tone menus.

For more information on BBN Call Director and call center automation assessment services, contact Dan McCarthy, BBN Call Director Product Manager at dmccarthy@bbn.com, or visit BBN's Speech and Language Web site, www.verizon.com/speech.

BBN Technologies, a Verizon Communications company, was established as Bolt Beranek and Newman Inc. in 1948. From its roots as an acoustical design consulting firm, to the implementation and operation of the ARPANET - the forerunner of today's Internet - to the development of the first network email, which established the @ sign as an icon for the digital age, BBN Technologies provides the same technical expertise and innovation to both government and commercial customers today. These areas of expertise include: system integration; distributed, collaborative applications; speech recognition; language understanding; wireless and satellite networking; network architecture and management; information security; structural acoustics; sensor signal processing; and real-time, multi-processor systems. With more than 750 employees in 15 offices across the country, BBN Technologies had revenues in 2000 of approximately $118M. For more information on BBN Technologies, go to www.bbn.com.

Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE:VZ), formed by the merger of Bell Atlantic and GTE, is one of the world's leading providers of communications services. Verizon companies are the largest providers of wireline and wireless communications in the United States, with more than 101 million access line equivalents and more than 27 million wireless customers. A Fortune 10 company with more than 260,000 employees and approximately $60 billion in 1999 revenues, Verizon's global presence extends to 40 countries in the Americas, Europe, Asia and the Pacific. For more information on Verizon, visit www.verizon.com.