The Austin Capital Metro CIO deserves a lot of credit for owning up on the Austin CapMetro blog to some major issues with their IVR applications for bus schedules, etc. It sounds like they have some grammar definition, timeout setting and confidence level setting issues with their app, though it is harder to know for sure without taking a look at it. I would love to help, but it depends on how they have written the app.
I do have to disagree with one of his other IVR-related posts where he states that:
But when a rider calls in to find out how to get from Downtown to Highland mall in the shortest time possible, an IVR will not do a good job of handling this question (a lot of human judgment and discretion is required which an IVR just can’t muster).
You would be surprised how well a speech app can handle that kind of problem. Of course, it won’t be cheap, as you have to think through the common starting and destination points callers might use, know when to ask for more detail (downtown isn’t sufficient info for providing directions unless you are in Mayberry RFD), algorithms for computing shortest time based on the schedules, etc., but it can definitely be done. Now, there are certainly many customer service kinds of apps that are very difficult to handle with a speech app, but directions is not one of them.
In deciding whether it is worth building an app for this function, you have to look at the total number of minutes of calls like this being handled by live agents. If the number is low (and “low” varies with the complexity of the problem, and thus the solution cost, of course), then it may better to leave the calls to a small number of trained agents who can handle many other types of calls. But, once you want to offer this service beyond regular working hours or if you expect the call traffic for this type of call to be very spiky, it may be worth building an app to take the calls.