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How post office handles inquiries: 68 postal answer lines take cost questions.


In 1988, the United states Postal Service implemented an interactive voice-response system.

The Postal Answer Line (PAL) was one of several internal USPS changes resulting from new technologies and evolving customer needs.

PAL was designated to let customers get information with autonatic touchtone-telephone convenience.

Before, when people needed info about postal services, they waited in line at their local postal-office station or branch, or they waited on the phone for an available service representative.

Today, Votrax (headquartered in Farmington Hill, Mich.) technology enables PAL to provide them a wide range of "routine" information quickly and easily.

After answering incoming calls, PAL instructs callers to key in codes to indicate the type of information they want. Spoken menus kick in.

PAL operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

System-generated reports help monitor PAL performance.

The scope of information available includes:

* branch office hours of operation,

* locations,

* postal delivery options,

* interational rates,

* services and prices,

* special instructions for mailing valuables,

* and mail forwarding.

On-Line Rate Quates

Postal rates for all First Class and Priority packages up to 5 pounds, and for most Fourth Class parcels up to 15 pounds, can be calculated online and communicated to callers automatically.

To date, 68 systems have been installed.

They serve more than 100 million postal customers.

On average, each system receives 3300 calls a month.

PAL has been well received by postal employees and customers alike.

Customers report the system is easy to use and messages are easy to understand.

These benefits to both the Postal Service and its customers will continue to grow as more systems are placed into service.

Additional benefits and capabilities of PAL were demonstrated during the San Francisco earthquake in late 1989.

During the days just following the quake, U.S. Postal Service branch offices in the area were deluged with telephone calls from customers and employees concerned about mail delivery and work assignments.

Normalcy Indicator

Thepublic generally seems to believe that if mail service continues, life is proceeding as usual. When the mail isn't delivered, many people's lives lack a sense of normalcy.

This high level of public expectation--that the mail will arrive just as surely as the next day's sunrise--made efective communications even more critical for the Postal Service following this natural disaster.

Faced with the confusion resulting from the quake, and the public's need for information during this crisis, the Postal Service decided to use PAL to provide immediate distribution of information.

The simplicity with which PAL vocabulary changes and additions are completed made it the logical choice for this specific task.

PAL provided the Postal Service with the appropriate means of communicating with the public, which ultimately helped restore its usual human comfort levels.

"Much of the public was reluctant to utilize voice-processing systems initially, because of the perceived lack of the human element in voice-processing transactions," explains Lisa gleeson, vice president of sales and marketing with votrax.

"However, that perception was challenged with the unique way in which the Postal service utilized its PAL system, as a proactive means of communicating with distressed customers and employees. This particular application will likely broaden the scope and perceived potential of the voice-processing industry in the future, by illustrating that technology can also have a human sude, which most people don't typically recognize."
COPYRIGHT 1990 Nelson Publishing
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1990 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:electronic messaging
Publication:Communications News
Date:Aug 1, 1990
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