The group is set to launch a voice-response system that allows callers to request their account balances and other basic information using ordinary spoken sentences from a computer, which reportedly recognizes 35,000 English phrases and accommodates a range of North American speech patterns.
The system, designed by IBM, will first be made available to 60,000 customers for testing purposes. However, plans to expand the system to accommodate other voice command transactions and to offer the service to the group’s 1.2 million participants by year-end are in the works.
In contract to other speech recognition systems that guide callers through a narrow range of likely answers, the T Rowe Price system is billed as a “natural-language understanding” system, which is able to recognize commands phrased in a number of different ways, interpreting spoken sentences and passing instructions onto existing customer-account software.
Callers to the new system speak or enter their Social Security and personal identification numbers and are offered assistance by a voice, which responds to a broad variety of open-ended questions, such as:
- What is my vested balance?
- What funds are in my plan?
- What is the closing price of the Blue Chip Growth Fund?
- What is its performance?
Although the system can cope with background noises, awkward pauses and interference, it has a problem interpreting foreign accents and requests to repeat information fail occasionally.