Enabling Exchange’s Voicemail Preview for en-AU and other languages

“Voice Mail Preview is a feature that’s available to users who receive their voice mail messages from Microsoft Exchange Server 2010 Unified Messaging (UM). Voice Mail Preview enhances the existing UM voice mail functionality by providing a text version of audio recordings. The voice mail text is displayed in e-mail messages within Microsoft Office Outlook Web App, Outlook 2010, and in other e-mail programs”.

I’ve been quite excited by Voicemail Preview since I first saw it. Way back in the late steam-age (2007) Microsoft included a pretty damned funky speech-to-text engine in Exchange at a time when customers are paying 6+figures for speech-reco solutions. Roll forward to Exchange 2010 and the text in the e-mail message you receive has each word individually hot-linked so you can commence the replay from a specific word, or to check the phone number was transcribed correctly without needing to bother with the waffly preamble.

Yes, it can come up with some hysterical mis-translations, but I’m prepared to overlook them. It’s not too hard to break much more expensive speech-recognition systems: just put on your best fake accent, speak quickly, slur, use jargon with acronyms, and do it all while standing in the middle of 6 lanes of peak-hour traffic or on the freeway with the windows down.

One frustration I *do* have with Voicemail Preview is that it doesn’t understand Aussie, and that if we enable the AU language pack in the Dial Plan it disables Voicemail Preview altogether.

There is however a reasonable work-around, provided one of the available Voicemail Preview languages is a passable variant of your native tongue. The obvious examples for me are en-AU, en-GB & en-US, where only en-US provides message transcription.

Don’t confuse the available language packs Exchange will talk to you in with its ability to understand and transcribe the spoken word. This Microsoft Exchange article lists the 26 language packs available for Exchange 2010, and the *7* that support the more exciting Voicemail Preview feature.

The language you set for the Dial Plan dictates whether Voicemail Preview will work. It MUST be one of the 7 referenced above. So for our Australian work-around, we’ll set it to Yankee:

Set-UMDialPlan -Identity <YourUMDialPlanName> -DefaultLanguage en-US

Now go and manually set all of your users to use your preferred language – in this case AU. This is the language that Exchange plays to people calling your voicemail (“After the tone, please record your message”), and also *after* you’ve logged into Exchange and start navigating around:

Get-Mailbox | Set-Mailbox -Languages en-AU

If you have a mixture of languages applied across your users and don’t want to change it globally, use a filter instead:

Get-Mailbox | Where-Object {$_.Languages -ne "en-AU"} | measure

Get-Mailbox | Where-Object {$_.Languages -ne "en-AU"} | ft DisplayName

Get-Mailbox | Where-Object {$_.Languages -match "en-US"} | set-mailbox -Languages "en-AU"

Your Auto-Attendants are probably already set for your preferred language, but let’s make sure:

Get-UMAutoAttendant | Set-UMAutoAttendant -Language en-AU

Summmary

So what we’ve done is set the Default language of the Dial Plan to US, and then changed EVERY other reference to the language back to Aussie English. The end result is that the only time you hear a greeting in the American accent is when you dial the Subscriber Access number, before you’ve logged-in.

Once you’ve logged-in you’ll hear all of the greetings in your nominated language – but sometimes you’ll still need to fake up the Yankee accent to be understood. At the main menu, “say voicemail, e-mail, calendar, personal contacts, directory or personal options”, I need to add a syllable (“voice may-yul” or “e may-yul”) to be understood. (“I heard you say goodbye…“).

But as far as compromises go, I think it’s a pretty good one.

(Theoretically – from my perspective as the mono-linguistic descendant of a colonial-era convict – you might be able to get away with using fr-FR in French-Canadia, or es-ES in Mexico. And remember that this deliberate misconfig is setting the language Exchange is *listening* for, not speaking (beyond the bare minimum) – so any errors are going to simply manifest as poor transcriptions, rather than prompts in an obviously ‘foreign’ accent played to your users and callers. If you try this I’d appreciate if it you were to post your experiences and how effective it is).

References:

http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/library/dd638119.aspx

http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/library/ff629381.aspx

4 Comments

  1. Hi Greig,

    I found this article after a little Googling on the topic of Aussie accents and Voice Mail preview. It has something that has bugged me for years too.

    What is the bottom line with voice mail preview in more recent releases of Exchange Unified Messaging?

    We are on 2010 SP3 right now and are planning a move.

    • Hi John,

      Alas, no change there; still no specific Aussie recognition. (The UM role in Exchange 2016 is unchanged from Exchange 2013 BTW).

      You’ve presumably seen demos of the amazing progress Microsoft is making with live translations in Skype, and we can expect this will eventually migrate into their Enterprise offerings. I think if we’re going to see a formal voicemail transcription service (as distinct from the current “preview” feature) it’s going to take some horse-power, and that’s only going to be available in Exchange Online / Office 365 not on-prem.

      <GeekyFanBoyMode>I’m on record as telling everyone who’ll listen that I’ve long been impressed by Exchange’s voicemail preview feature. Offering that type of natural language speech-reco functionality out of the box in a single on-prem server is nothing short of incredible. Canned grammar recognition – like your local taxi company’s language file only needing to recognise a few hundred suburbs – still takes lots of dedicated grunt to do well, but Exchange does all of that and more with a lot fewer resources. I forgive it the occasional slip-up.</GeekyFanBoyMode>

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