Verizon's New 411 System: Is It a Live Operator, or Is It 'Darby'?

BALTIMORE - The new voice on Verizon's 411 service is so expressive, and the listings "she" gives are so effectively researched, that mid-Atlantic customers are about to befriend Darby, the California voice-actress on the automated directory assistance system being introduced in Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia and the District of Columbia this month.

Verizon has enhanced its 411 directory assistance service, applying advanced speech-recognition technologies to give customers the kind of fast, accurate and automated information they are accustomed to getting in their own Internet data searches. The newest version of 411 began in the District of Columbia, Virginia, West Virginia, and Maryland this week.

Because the automated system is so effective, many customers do not even realize that the voice they hear has been prerecorded, or that the listing they receive was researched instantaneously without human intervention.

Verizon is using the new system to handle routine, frequently requested business and government-listing requests, and when the listing is found, simply to deliver the number without the call ever reaching an operator. If there are options, such as a business with multiple locations in a given city, the system queries the customer, just as a live operator would, and then delivers the listing.

If a caller needs more than routine assistance, the call transfers to an operator for professional and expert service. The operator asks for further details and refines the search that "Darby" began.

The voice of Verizon's 411 enhancement is Darby Bailey. Originally from Salt Lake City, she is recognized as one of the best voice-actors in the world for telephone applications. To customers, her voice sounds as though a live person is speaking, rather than a robotic phone prompt.

"This represents a dynamic application of speech-recognition technology to efficiently and intelligently support customers, combining the expertise and professionalism of our operators, and ensures we remain the premier provider of 411 service," said Kitty Linder, president, Verizon LiveSource.

The system and technology that support the 411 enhancement are being provided by VoltDelta, the current provider of platform and database services to Verizon, and Tellme Networks, provider of the Internet and speech technologies and the application services.

"This is an innovative and exciting approach with which Verizon LiveSource has quickly solidified its leadership position in the operator services market," said Joe DiAngelo, president of VoltDelta. "Not only has Verizon LiveSource introduced economics that help maintain its competitive position, but the deployed platform supports many new services that were never before possible. The blend of technology with live operator services allows Verizon to provide callers with a pioneering 411 experience."

Mike McCue, president and co-founder of Tellme Networks, said, "Verizon's use of speech recognition, coupled with the Internet, is the most innovative use of technology for the 411 market to date. This is the largest Internet application on the telephone network. It is a huge milestone for Internet communications and permanently changes the directory assistance landscape."

Customers in New York, New Jersey, Delaware, eastern Pennsylvania, Idaho, Washington, Nevada, Oregon, Arizona and California are already using the service.

A Dow 30 company, Verizon Communications (NYSE:VZ) is one of the world's leading providers of communications services, with approximately $68 billion in annual revenues. Verizon companies are the largest providers of wireline and wireless communications in the United States. Verizon is also the largest directory publisher in the world, as measured by directory titles and circulation. Verizon's international presence includes wireline and wireless communications operations and investments, primarily in the Americas and Europe. For more information, visit www.verizon.com.

VoltDelta is a subsidiary of Volt Information Sciences (NYSE: VOL), a diversified technology and staffing company with $1.6 billion in annual revenue. VoltDelta is a leading provider of enhanced directory assistance solutions and information services to the global telecommunications market. Thirty years of operator services experience have enabled VoltDelta to meet evolving market requirements providing innovative technology and services to wireline and wireless markets. VoltDelta is reported as Volt's Computer Systems Segment. For further information, visit www.voltdelta.com or

Tellme Networks, Inc. is fundamentally improving how people and businesses use the phone by blending the capabilities of the Internet with voice technology. The company operates the world's largest IP application network for the phone, handling calls for enterprise customer service, national directory assistance and new consumer communication services. Tellme Networks in headquartered in Mountain View, Calif.