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Coronavirus and the switchboard challenge: how can speech technologies help face this global emergency?

today.jpgAlthough it will take some time to calculate the real economic impact of the Coronavirus, the social effect is before everyone’s eyes. Public administration, government authorities, healthcare system, all are trying to cope with an urgent need to provide answers to concerned citizen.

For instance, the Lombardy region in Italy, where of a large number of coronavirus positive cases have been detected, has activated a toll-free number that is already receiving over 300 thousand calls per day, meaning an average of 12,500 calls per hour. As result, citizens are experiencing long and frustrating queues, despite a specialized team of 60 operators and 90 dedicated lines. We may really say that at the time of Covid-19, healthcare runs along the wireline; moreover, to avoid queues and gatherings there’s a directive that requires people to call ahead of time to undergo medical examinations and/or ask for prescriptions.

Thus, amongst the lessons on crisis management we’ll learn from the Coronavirus experience, there will certainly be the difficulty experienced by human operators to manage a high number of incoming calls, from people in real distress or panic. Luckily, innovative speech solutions have come to support; for instance, an automated solution for remote reservations have already been implemented in Italy, specifically in the healthcare sector.

In 2019 Spitch, an international company specialized in the development and implementation of speech technologies, together with their partner Dotvocal, delivered a specific solution on behalf of Casa della Salute, a private healthcare group based in Northern Italy. As a response to an increasing number of medical reservations through the call center, a multichannel solution was designed to include as contact points a speech-enabled IVR, a Bot on the website (text and voice) and Facebook. Based on Artificial Intelligence and Natural Language Processing (AI / NLP), the solution manages a totally coherent and automated process of booking, either via IVR, chatbot or social media, which does not require the immediate involvement of a human operator.

This kind of solution allows a real management of incoming call peaks, not only in emergency situations such as at the time of Coronavirus, but also in usual business processes. Providing a better service to citizens by reducing waiting times and improving public administration / companies’ levels of service and internal processes by dedicating human operators to more complex tasks – are just some of the inherent benefits. As an example, in the Coronavirus situation, all calls about simple and repetitive pieces of information could be easily automated.

"The Coronavirus put a strong emphasis on two real needs, namely how people remotely access to public services and how important the smartworking is becoming; at the same time, the emergency highlighted how traditional switchboards are still far from being successful in coping with sudden peaks of telephone calls", comments Piergiorgio Vittori, Global Development Director and Country Manager Italy, UK&I. "The Italian Casa della Salute solution was implemented before this emergency, and it is a clear proof of how automated interactions, such as those provided by Spitch, can effectively manage calls and schedule reservations, with significant advantages to companies, public organizations and private citizens, also in normal business and social circumstances."

Click here to access original press release in Italian.