<p>RIVERDALE, Utah – Seeking to reduce call center costs and free up staff hours handling routine member calls, America First Credit Union here will debut next month a voice recognition product used by some large U.S. banks and brokerage firms. The $2.3 billion America First, largest in Utah, said it has signed on with InterVoice-Brite, Dallas, and SpeechWorks International of Boston to offer a speech recognition product on top of existing touch tone phone services. "We formally announced the program last Thursday at a meeting of managers and sales reps, and they were so excited they were clapping since they seem to agree the new service should reduce volume and give staff more time to devote to those in depth calls," said Keisha Chapman, public relations specialist for the CU. The service, called "SpeechAccess" and to be marketed on Utah TV, radio and internet starting July 8, allows members to get balances, make transfers, loan payments and do other tasks without pushing phone touch-tone buttons. In Utah, America First is not alone in introducing the InterVoice product. The $1.048 billion Mountain America Credit Union of Salt Lake City is planning a similar launch "later this year" after having already purchased the software from the Dallas firm. The $1.3 billion Mission Federal Credit Union of San Diego has had an InterVoice system called "Mission Line Voice Response" in operation since February, though a spokesman said initial member response was "less than we expected." InterVoice contends there can be a four to six month lead time before a system wins full customer acceptance. The Dallas firm noted that Mission Federal's problem about "immediate return" on usage related to members "not wanting to immediately switch from a traditional touch tone application to a speech enabled application." "Generally, people don't like immediate change but tend to `adopt' and `convert' to new technologies if they are properly informed and educated" about applications and benefits, said InterVoice. Richard Syme, vice president of E-services at America First, says a canvass of InterVoice clients including big banks like First Union Corp/BankAmerica in North Carolina shows the system "developed by speech scientists at MIT" winning acceptance. He said America First decided on the SpeechWorks/InterVoice system "after we took a couple of bids and decided we were comfortable with SpeechWorks." One big Speechworks user has been Credit Union of Australia with marketing literature quoting the system's favorable usage with its 160,000 members. SpeechWorks noted that Credit Union of Australia is processing around 90,000 calls per month on the system which has cut call length by 20-30%. In the meantime, loans "generated through the call center" at the Australian CU have increased 20% "because the agents have more time to spend with members," said SpeechWorks. Syme of America First said the system should help reduce call volume "which has been growing for us at 10% a year." The Utah CU with 310,000 members and 48 branches has 60-80 on its call center staff. "We keep adding bodies and that gets pretty expensive," he said. The system should be useful to cell phone users since "it is easier to simply speak into the phone set instead of taking it away from your ear to press the keys," said Syme. SpeechAccess will represent "another channel of service" that is available to America First members and "represents another reason to do business with us," he said. Nina Saavedra, senior project specialist at Mission Federal in San Diego, said the CU decided on the system "to make the experience" of account access easier for members "so they wouldn't have to memorize transaction codes." However, the usage of the system has been at 23-24% of call volume "and we thought it might be higher than that." But InterVoice-Brite in a statement said Mission Federal now has "an 85% success rate" though it was unclear how that number was derived. "We're really very pleased with the system and particularly those who use it though I have to admit we have been a little impatient," acknowledged Diane Buck, vice president of marketing. The San Diego CU said it records about 200,000 calls a month of which about 23-34% have been through the voice system. "Mission Federal is currently taking such actions to promote the new speech application and are surveying the members who are currently using the speech application to garner feedback and make modifications if necessary," said a spokesman for InterVoice. [email protected]</p>

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