automated speech recognition (ASR)

Automated speech recognition (ASR) is a technology that allows users of information systems to speak entries rather than punching numbers on a keypad. ASR is used primarily to provide information and to forward telephone calls.

In recent years, ASR has become popular in the customer service departments of large corporations. It is also used by some government agencies and other organizations. Basic ASR systems recognize single-word entries such as yes-or-no responses and spoken numerals. This makes it possible for people to work their way through automated menus without having to enter dozens of numerals manually with no tolerance for error. In a manual-entry situation, a customer might hit the wrong key after having entered 20 or 30 numerals at intervals previously in the menu, and give up rather than call again and start over. ASR virtually eliminates this problem.

Sophisticated ASR systems allow the user to enter direct queries or responses, such as a request for driving directions or the telephone number of a hotel in a particular town. This shortens the menu navigation process by reducing the number of decision points. It also reduces the number of instructions that the user must receive and comprehend.

For institutions that rely heavily on customer service, such as airlines and insurance companies, ASR makes it possible to reduce the number of human call-center employees. Those people can then be trained for other jobs that are more profitable and interesting, such as complaint resolution, customer retention, or sales.

The technology of speech recognition has been around for some time. It is improving, but problems still exist. An ASR system cannot always correctly recognize the input from a person who speaks with a heavy accent or dialect, and it has major problems with people who combine words from two languages by force of habit. Marginal cell-phone connections can cause the system to misinterpret the input. And, although the cost is gradually diminishing, ASR systems are still too expensive for some organizations.

This was last updated in May 2007

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