Small Talk: BT and Addison Lee book Eckoh for voice technology

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The Independent Online

Investors in Eckoh are set to receive some good news this morning, with the Alternative Investment market-listed voice-recognition specialist set to make two contractannouncements. If you aren't familiar with the business, think of the last time you dialled a customer service number: Eckoh's voice-technology powers the bits that let you make payments and get answers to basic queries without needing to talk to another person.

This morning, it will confirm that minicab firm Addison Lee, which deals with some 150,000 telephone calls per week, has extended its deal with Eckoh following an initial two-year pilot agreement. Alongside, it will also announce the renewal of its strategic partnership with BT for another three years.

Eckoh's initial deal with Addison Lee was unveiled in November last year and centred on the minicab firm's cash customers. The company stepped in to help customers book cabs without necessarily speaking to one of Addison Lee's agents. The idea – as with other Eckoh clients – is to save time and money on simple queries, leaving staff to deal with more complex questions and transactions. The new contract will see an extension of the company's automated service to the minicab firm's 28,000 corporate account customers (if you're wondering, the roster features half of the FTSE 100).

"Addison Lee has established a tremendous reputation for technical innovation combined with high- quality customer service, so we're delighted that they've selected Eckoh as their exclusive partner for speech automation," Eckoh chief executive Nik Philpot says.

The company's relationship with BT dates back to 2003 and today's renewal is another vote of confidence in its technology.

The two deals come hot on the heels of a significant announcement about Eckoh's 'EckohASSIST' offering. This product answers inbound calls with an automated greeting that asks the caller: "How may I help you?" The caller's reply is picked up by Eckoh's voice-recognition system, which then routes the call to the correct department.

Last week, Eckoh announced that a major government transport body – believed to be Transport for London – had decided to implement the product in the first such deal in the UK. "With the implementation of this sophisticated call-steering solution, callers will have an effective but friendly experience when interacting with the automated technology in a totally natural manner," Mr Philpot said.

"We expect other organisations will follow in adopting this solution to improve the service provided to their customers and to maximise the reduction in costs."

The agreement came about after a successful feasibility study for the organisation, which showed that the new product can cut down the number of misrouted calls by more than 75 per cent, which will save a minimum of £500,000 per year.

City analysts welcomed theannouncement, with Edison saying: "For Eckoh, the expansion of the product range provides incremental revenue opportunities and the ability to deepen customer engagements. For customers, EckohASSIST offers an additional way to reduce contract centre costs and to provide a more fulfiling customer experience."

Others in the City are also positive on the company. Back in September, when Eckoh issued an update alongside its annual meeting, the analysts at Singer Capital Markets said the combination ofrecurring revenues, a strong balance sheet and scope for continued double-digit growth pointed to further share price gains for the company, which has seen its stock climb by more than 20 per cent since the end of August.

"We believe the group's operating margins still have some way to improve as it continues to deliver double-digit, top-line growth," Singer says. "Recurring revenue is also one of the highest in the sector, which in the current environment is highly valuable."



Little change in pace of small-cap deal activity

Last week, we looked at the state of deal activity on London's junior market, where there has been a slowdown on Aim. But new figures published since then reveal that activity in the wider small-cap market has remained broadly unchanged from last year.

Looking at deals worth up to $50m, small-cap mergers and acquisitions announced in the first nine months of this year totalled $95.5bn (£60bn), according to Thomson Reuters.

That is down 1 per cent on the same period last year.

In terms of regional breakdown, the research shows that, going by the domicile of the targets, the Asia-Pacific region led the way in terms of value, with $41bn in announced deal activity.

But Europe, the Middle East and Africa led the field on numbers, according to the research, with 10,318 mergers and acquisitions out of a global total of 26,951.

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