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Voice mail gives students prompt answers, options.

Handling the communications needs of approximately 7700 students and 560 faculty members is a challenge faced by the Santa Clara University (SCU) of California.

One way the private university is meeting this challenge is through innovative uses of voice processing, with applications that include audiotex and MESA-Forms, a voice-forms product.

SCU is using the Voice Memo II voice processing system from Centigram Communications Corp. of San Jose, Calif. Voice processing enables users to store, send, receive, broadcast, and redirect with voice messages through touchtone telephones.

The system was installed in December 1989, and is used throughout the university. One use is in the Institute for Paralegal Education, a part of SCU's law school. The institute uses "tree" and rotational mailboxes, along with a voice-forms application and distribution lists, to disseminate information about its paralegal certification program.

Tree mailboxes guide callers through qualifying questions into appropriate mailboxes. Voice-forms mailboxes prompt callers sequentially for needed information, simulating the "prompts" readers get on paper forms.

Here's how it works. Callers are initially greeted by a recording that gives them several choices. (This is the tree.) By pressing "1," callers can talk with a staff member or leave a message if no one is available. By pressing "2," callers can leave the needed information to receive material on the certificate program and/or class schedule.

Callers are initially sent to a rational mailbox that guides them into four voice-forms or template mailboxes. (This is the distribution list). One mailbox prompts the caller for his or her name. Once that has been recorded, the caller is sent to the second mailbox where he is prompted for his address.

The third mailbox prompts for the zip code, the last for the phone number. All this is "transparent" to callers who simply know they are responding to the directions presented by the recording.

"This voice-forms approach has significantly improved the efficiency of the operation," says Dennis Bell, SCU's telecomm director. "Before, the department had an answering machine, but people often left only a portion of the needed information. The sequential prompting, because it waits for the callers to record their answers before moving onto the next question, has really made a difference." The voice-forms application, MESA-Forms, is a software option from Centigram.

At any time during the recording, callers can press "O" if they wish to talk to someone or "3" if they want to hear the original recording again.

The university also uses VoiceMemo for information mailboxes. Mailboxes are set aside for recording of job listings, athletic schedules, and transcript requests. Even here, there is diversity.

"Any number of people can listen at the same time and each starts out at the beginning of the recording. That's the difference between using a product such as this one and a regular answering machine for this type of application," says Bell.

Two other departments use the Receptionist II automated attendant that answers, accesses, and forwards calls to any extension 24 hours a day. The Communications Department and the Division of Counseling Psychology and Education use the system to direct routine callers to faculty members by asking them to press a given number for particular professors.

"It's interesting that some of the most people-oriented departments are the most enthusiastic about the technology. I think it's because it frees them from routine calls so they can spend more time with callers who really need help," notes Bell.

The university presently has 170 voice mailboxes and is expanding to meet demand. "We plan to grow slowly. Even then, we expect virtually everyone will be on the system within two years."

Right now, the system is just serving the faculty, but the university is considering including students as well. "Two features make that idea attractive," says Bell. "First, new mailboxes and passcodes can be set remotely. Secondly, the system has an individual billing feature, similar to that used in hotels, to expedite record-keeping and billing."

One reason SCU installed the voice processing system was because the university had purchased electronic telephone sets that do not drive standard telephone answering machines. "I had people ordering separate telephone lines just for answering machines," says Bell. "We had to do something more cohesive and cost-effective. Voice processing was the logical solution and VoiceMemo met our criteria." Those criteria were:

* Integration with the university's Mitel SX 2000 PBX.

* Expansion capability. It will take an estimated 30 to 40 access ports to accommodate the entire staff and student body. (A port is a measure of the system's capacity.) VoiceMemo has a modular architecture so the university can easily expand its capability while retaining its investment in the hardware.

* A reasonable price: "I took the cost of purchasing, maintaining, and expanding the system over a five-year period," says Bell.

"All in all, the system fits our needs. It has proven to be very reliable and flexible. We haven't had a failure and I can make the product do virtually anything I want."
COPYRIGHT 1991 Nelson Publishing
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1991 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Education
Publication:Communications News
Date:Jul 1, 1991
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