Speech recognition helps sell pizzas

Friday, 17 July, 2009

When Hell Pizza managing director Mike Hird first contemplated launching the New Zealand pizza franchise concept into the Queensland market, he knew that success was about getting noticed fast.

It was also about managing the anticipated volume of calls coming through to retail outlets in an efficient, cost-effective and flexible manner.

Says Hird, “Because 53% of pizza business is done over the phone, I needed a central system that would not only streamline all calls but one that would engage with customers.

“Having a single point of entry for all callers, and a number that was easy to remember, would also be a powerful mechanism for building the Hell brand.”

Hird had considered telephone speech recognition but found that standard systems were bland, boring and inflexible. “To have callers hearing exactly the same message every time they called us would be like seeing the same advertisement over and over again on TV.

“In time, they’d just turn off!”

Hird’s brief was specific. “I needed a speech system that would give me the flexibility to regularly change and modify dialogue and prompts in house in order to include the detail, discovery and constant surprise that is a key element of the Hell brand.

“Because the phone is the first point of contact for many customers, I also needed to be sure that their first experience was a good one and that they would come back for more.”

At the advice of his IT consultant, Hird agreed to consider fledgling Melbourne-based speech recognition solutions company Inference Communications.

Formed in 2004, Inference Communications is a privately owned Australian company and was the brainchild of several Melbourne Business School graduates looking to further develop and commercialise raw technology developed in the former Telstra Research Laboratories.

Known as grammatical inference, the technology is the end product of years of research into artificial intelligence and is now used to develop the back end of speech recognition systems.

Says Hird, “I was sold on the fact that instead of the usual months or years it takes to build a speech recognition system, the Inference solution could be turned round in just weeks.

“I also liked the fact that the use of grammatical inference ensures that callers are readily understood and responded to appropriately. The last thing I needed was for callers to be put off by a system that didn’t understand them.”

The installation of Inference’s pre-packaged store locator system — which was customised with Hell Pizza’s brand and image as well as the voice of the ‘devil’ — coincided with the opening of the first Hell store last June.

In essence, the system ensures that callers coming through to the central 13 HELL number are rapidly connected with their nearest pizza outlet.

So just how successful has the speech system been?

“My customers are delighted. I often receive emails from them congratulating me on the efficiency and accuracy of the system and the fact that it gives them a laugh every time they call,” says Hird.

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