Optus is developing an AI application to automatically transcribe and analyse customers’ calls. The capability was debuted in America earlier this year as a live translation service but is currently being piloted as a tool to assist contact centre agents.

“What that technology gives us is an ability to [do] when a customer calls in, is take voice notes, which is a live transcribe of what … the issues that they’re talking about [are],” Optus vice president of IT Australia, Seow Yoke Kong, told media in Melbourne today at a Red Hat user conference in Melbourne.

Optus’s traditional call centre system relies on manual inputs from agents to take notes on customer queries, a process Seow says typically takes around five minutes each call and relies on the agents’ memory of the conversation.

But a trial of the new technology allows AI to take over some of those duties, Seow said, provided the customer opts in to the service

“Using the technology that we developed, we are able to now do live transcribing and then apply AI to capture what are the essence of the customers complaints and inquiries.”

Red Hat’s ANZ VP and GM Max McLaren presents Optus vice president of IT Australia, Seow Yoke Kong with an innovation award in Melbourne. Supplied

Optus has not developed the AI or transcribing service itself, rather it has built the “bridge” between voice calls and “microservices” like transcription which leads to the new use cases for the telco.

Seow told Which-50 the focus with the new tool is to augment the jobs of service agents, allowing them to more easily record customer queries and direct them more appropriately, rather than collecting data from calls to improve services.

The project is also as a proof of concept for future applications which link microservices.

“[We made] voice programmable. Once you enable that, it’s where it allows you tap on to [other services]. Whether it’s an external service or a third party API exposed by Google or Amazon to process that.”

The application has been developed with Kubernetes and runs on Red Hat’s OpenShift platform meaning it can operate in different locations rather than being restricted to an Optus data centre.

Proof of concept

The application can also be extended to other use cases and directly assist customers in a way similar to the virtual assistants popularised by Amazon, Google, and Apple, according to Seow.

He suggested the new technology could be integrated with Optus customers’ live calls in the future, to do things like making a restaurant reservation during the call, without either caller needing to make a separate call. In that scenario the question of whether a certain restaurant might be available would “trigger” an automatic inquiry by a virtual assistant, providing an answer to consumers while they are still on the original call.

The project was initially launched as a live transcription service and debuted during the main keynote at a global Red Hat conference in Boston. But according to Seow, Optus decided there was more early value in using the capability within its own contact centres.

“Immediately we identified that in our contact centre there’s actually a lot of value in that [use case].”

Seow explained that the tech allowed the live note taking for agents as well as automatic call routing based on what customers said to agents. He also suggested the two early use cases could be combined to allow non english speaking customers to converse with english speaking agents and vice-versa.

The technology has not yet being trialled with real Optus customers and Seow concedes there are privacy and consent “challenges” to overcome before it is.

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