Category: Industries

Category: Industries
West Corporation

Posted on March 4, 2015 by West Corporation 

Get Over Common Hurdles to Create the Synergy Customers Expect

“The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” We have all harped on the power of synergy a million times before, but the questions remain: Are we maximizing the whole? Have we stopped compartmentalizing our workforces, our offerings and our communication? Are our organizations creating a synergistic experience across any and all devices our customers want to use?

The answers are likely “no.” So, what’s stopping each of us from achieving success in an omni-channel world?

Interestingly enough, the roadblocks are similar for many organizations. As I described in conversation with Execs in the Know President Chad McDaniel (in the video linked above), disparate departments think they own the customer relationship, customer care roles are evolving, and not all customer data is universally available. The desire for “personalized communication” means something different to everyone, and it’s no wonder that leaders encounter internal challenges even when we’re mindfully mapping the customer journey!

Knowing that many of us are on the same track, we can look critically at our roadmaps and tackle the obvious hurdles; grab our customers’ shoes and take a lap. 

CRMXchange Virtual Conference

Lace up for a hurdling lesson at the CRMXchange Virtual Conference: Shaping the Journey of the Connected Customer. I’ll be delivering a presentation from 11am-12pm CST on March 18th called “Building the Customer Experience Blueprint: Common Roadblocks to Overcome,” followed by a Q&A session in the “lounge.”

The conference begins on March 16th and lasts through the 19th. Hopefully I’ll virtually run in to you in there…


West Corporation

Posted on February 24, 2015 by West Corporation 

Catch the next wave in self-service IVR

Voice technology is as relevant as ever in customer service space. But it’s not standing still; it’s evolving with consumers. (In fact, there’s a good chance you’re reading this post on a smartphone as we speak, which is proof that we aren’t just using “voice” in the same way we always have.)

All of us expect our phones to keep up, helping us to take care of something at the moment it crosses our minds; smart, easy and uniquely ours. Why wouldn’t we want the same from our interactive voice response technology?

We would. We do. And, at West, we’re helping brands strategically get ahead of the game with customer communications in the next wave of IVR.

Last week in Miami, I was fortunate to take part in the Execs In The Know: Customer Response Summit, attended by roughly 100 executives charged with their organizations’ customer care. In conjunction with insightful presentations from renowned brands like Amazon, GM and Verizon, West was asked to share an innovative idea in a session about the future of the customer experience.

I presented our fresh concept of a multi-modal IVR that combines traditional IVR services with a visual interface to help users self-serve in real-time. Consumers can interact with voice, Web and SMS channels simultaneously to complete any number of tasks – receive images, type responses, set preferences, verify transactions, make payments, you name it – without having to transfer, disconnect or speak to a live agent. Check out this quick video demo.

West’s multi-modal IVR solution will create a more effective, seamless, step-by-step self-service experience for customers, and reduce costly and potentially repetitive agent calls. It’s a win-win.

Like we say in the video, it’s time to see what IVR can do.

The response from summit attendees was phenomenal. Our multi-modal IVR solution generated interest, comments and questions from Execs In The Know, and the conversation is just beginning… We hope you’ll also weigh in on this next wave of IVR and explore what it can to transform the customer’s journey with your brand.

West Corporation

Posted on February 13, 2015 by West Corporation 

Find Ways to Improve Multi-channel Customer Service

Just like no two snowflakes are the same, each of your customers is unique. All have different likes and dislikes, favorite television shows and favorite foods – and they certainly have individual preferences when it comes to communication. So why would you connect with them all the same way?

Multi-channel customer service is increasingly important. Research from Econsultancy shows that 83 percent of online shoppers need assistance to complete a transaction. In what form? Not every instance is the same: 61 percent of people want to talk with customer service on the phone, 60 percent expect to be able to use email, and 51 percent simply look to an online FAQ page for a solution. Even within a channel, people have distinct expectations – from the promptness of a response, to type of content, time of day and tone of voice.

Creating an exceptional customer experience isn’t as easy as catching a snowflake, but identifying preferences, analyzing data and developing strategies for appropriate responsive and proactive communication in multiple channels are good steps.

Enhancing the Customer Experience with Interactive Voice Technology

Consumers like to be heard. (Literally.) Voice services are still the most popular mode of communications. In fact, roughly 92 percent of annual customer service interactions are phone-based.

Interactive voice response (IVR) is an efficient way for brands to help customers who prefer using the phone. An IVR supports automated self-service and cuts down on the need for time-consuming conversation with a live agent, which can be both inconvenient for the customer and costly for the company.

Typically, consumers perceive representatives who are unable to immediately improve a situation to be incapable; in reality, this disconnect is usually because they lack technologies that enable a most efficient response. A skill-based routing system can help grade agents’ skills in different areas of business so customers get support from the most fitting agent every time they call.

To proactively improve the customer experience with voice services, it is important to integrate phone-based service with other channels so there is a full picture of the customer’s information and the channels he/she has already explored. This saves time and prevents often frustrating repetition of information – thus, enhancing customer service efficacy. For some, multi-modal IVR solutions make it possible to guide customers step-by-step through different self-service functions, while they’re still on the line.

Improving the Customer Experience with SMS/Text

Customer expectations for quick and convenient service rise with their dependence on mobile devices. Text messages/SMS, particularly proactive SMS notifications, are an appealing form of communication because they reach customers anytime, on devices they already have handy.

SMS engagement rates are six to eight times higher than those of email messages, and the average click-through rate for SMS Web-links is 19 percent, compared to 4.2 percent for email.

Still, mobile internet users tend to be fickle; they expect quick loading times for websites and abandonment rates are high. Case in point: 40 percent of users will leave a mobile site if it takes more than three seconds to load, and 47 percent expect the page to load within just two seconds. A one-second delay in loading is shown to decrease customer satisfaction by around 16 percent.

Furthermore, customers are concerned about receiving inconvenient SMS alerts. In fact, more Americans report having received unsolicited SMS than eaten breakfast (68 percent versus 60 percent). Typically, SMS should be used between 11am and 9pm, so not to disturb early-to-bed or late-to-rise consumers, but this rule of thumb isn’t enough; to meet customer expectations and reduce opt-out rates, start with user data. Like with any medium, monitor peak mobile usage times among your target audience to identify when messages will be most effective and be sure to comply with regulations.

Elevating the Customer Experience through Email and Social Channels

Your well-rounded customer experience may also include email and social media interactions.

Customer Service Via Email

With 3.9 billion active email accounts at the end of 2013, and another billion expected by 2017, it’s no surprise that 60 percent of consumers want to be able to engage via email.

It’s imperative to be realistic about response time so customers feel confident that you’re taking care of them. Most consumers expect a correct answer via email within 24 hours, and the average customer service response time is around 17 hours. If possible, immediately acknowledge customer inquiries with a confirmation page or an auto-response email, telling them when to expect an individualized response.

Email messages should be easy to understand, well-written and brand-aligned. The same goes for customer service responses through social media, which users want to be prompt and effective.

Ninety-nine percent of brands are present on Twitter, where, within the hour, 72 percent of customers expect a response to complaints and 42 percent expect answers to questions. However, only 10 percent of companies on Twitter satisfy these expectations; the average response-time is closer to five hours.

Creating a dedicated customer service handle has been shown to improve response time by 43 percent, double the total rate of response, de-clutter brands’ main pages and encourage viral marketing.

By listening intently to communication preferences, your brand can go above and beyond to improve the customer experience across multiple channels.

West Corporation

Posted on February 10, 2015 by West Corporation 

Did You Know That Sometimes Customers Text Back?

 Are our customers’ voices really being heard? There can be hidden and missed engagement opportunities that may be impacting your business.

Why Two-way SMS Use is on the Rise for Retail

Engaging and having meaningful conversations with customers is a top priority for most companies. Consumers now expect brand interaction for a better experience. If you had a chance to have a conversation with your customers to improve their customer experience and increase engagement, wouldn’t you take it?

SMS Notification could be a Conversation Starter

Many businesses, including those in the healthcare industry, utilize SMS texting to communicate, alert, notify or engage with their customers as part of a multi-channel C Users nkdavis Desktop phone resized 600communication strategy. This was also the case with the large retail pharmacy chain, with whom we recently spoke and did a study on. Many pharmacies use this affordable and effective channel for one-way messages for healthcare alerts, refill reminders and benefit updates; never intending for an engagement opportunity to result.

Because these SMS messages are only going one-way as a notification, many pharmacies aren’t listening to the responses that actually come back from their customers. This gap in the pharmacy to customer communication loop can result in detrimental effects on wellness plans and a successful pharmacy.

Overlooking These Customer Engagements Could Create a Poor Experience

When customers respond to a one-way SMS text, they believe their message is being read and will be appropriately responded to. Through our research we were able to identify some examples of what happens when your customers believe they are in a two-way conversation with your company and the critical engagement opportunities lost.

We can show you replies of real responses when customers didn’t realize they weren’t participating in a two-way conversation:

  • Driving, I’ll get back to you when I can safely reply.
  • Seriously??…you guys are great!!…see u soon…how late r u open till?
  • Stop my order until further notice. Will advise later in the week.
  • You have the wrong #!

These opportunity that may reveal critical information are you missing out on by not being able to see the entire communication loop when using SMS. When you don’t know what your customers want or what they are saying, how can you better serve them?

How You can Take Advantage of Missed Engagement Opportunities

By integrating two-way SMS and effective business rules into your communication strategy, you can engage customers and increase overall satisfaction through meaningful conversations.

Engaging with your customers isn’t just beneficial for the healthcare industry, it relates to other verticals too. Whether a customer replies about their oil change appointment or prescription order, listening to your customers will always be a foundation for a successful business. If you let your customers know they’re being listened to, you’re connecting your customers with your brand, and building a longstanding relationship.


West Corporation

Posted on November 18, 2014 by West Corporation 

Drive Holiday Results With a Multi-channel Engagement Strategy

It’s that time of year again! Everyone is bustling trying to finish buying holiday gifts, preparing for visitors and the new year. Making your customer’s shopping experiences and lives easier during this time is more important than ever. Customers already want information immediately and conveniently but during the hectic holiday season – providing this information when they need it and how they want it, can be a differentiator and a business driver.

describe the imageWe’re all seeing the dozens of TV commercials for electronic holiday gifts, ranging from cell phones, laptops, tablets and more. Customers are always on the go and due to the increase of mobile usage; customers expect relevant content on their preferred channels.

Many companies are thinking about how to earn business during this high volume, high stakes season if they want to stay ahead of their competition. Three in five retailers dedicated over 20 percent of their online marketing budgets to holiday efforts.

Companies can ensure their holiday season will be a success by incorporating multiple channels into a customer communication strategy and by being proactive and engaging with customers. By sending notifications on a preferred channel, like email and SMS text, customers are more likely to read your messages and have a positive experience.

Eighty two percent of retailers are making investments in mobile this holiday season and you don’t want your business to be left in a snowdrift. By sending notifications to your customers on their preferred communication channels in a compliant manner, you are providing a convenient way for customers to engage with your company and making it easier for them to do business with you.

By proactively informing customers of holiday deals, special events, shipping updates or travel notifications on multiple communication channels, you are improving customer experience and providing the highest level of service consumers expect. You will not only stay ahead of your competition but you will improve the lives of your customers – and that’s the best gift of all!

West Corporation

Posted on October 28, 2014 by West Corporation 

Exploring The Care Coordinator’s Dilemma

Nurse care coordinators are a special breed, with many choosing the profession out of the desire for greater patient intimacy and the chance to spend more time educating and coaching patients toward a path of a healthier, happier life. In the new era of accountable care, where patients will take greater ownership of their health, the kind of patient advocacy that care coordinators bring to the table is just what the doctor ordered.

But in the wake of accountable care, the care coordinator’s role has become less proactive patient coach and more reactive administrator. Increases in nurse-to-patient ratios, more panels of chronically ill patients, and steady cost pressures are giving many care coordinators pause as they slide down the ladder and operate at ever-lower rungs of their license.

The typical care coordinator’s day is consumed with responding to alerts they’ve set up to manage their most critical patients and there’s only time for broad-brush education, like the “watch your diet” variety. If accountable care is truly about getting patients to take greater ownership, the dosage of intimacy and advocacy should be increased, not decreased.

So how can we help solve the care coordinator’s dilemma?

This is the question the Vanderbilt University Medical Center (VUMC), in partnership with West Corporation and West Health, is solving today.  On the heels of its CMS Innovation Award, VUMC embarked on an innovative, technology-driven project with West with three goals:

  1. Increase care coordination efficiency
  2. Raise the number of patients receiving services
  3. Enable care coordinators to spend more valuable time with patients

The approach? Technology-enabled care applications that offload care coordinators with automated interactions that empower and activate patients, as demonstrated in this video. Sure, communication like automated phone calls to patients to remind them of their appointments, or two-way SMS messages to collect blood pressure and other readings, may seem simple and obvious at first blush. But it is what’s under the covers that VUMC and West believe could represent the future of care coordination in particular, and population health management in general.

Envisioned is a sophisticated coordinated care management protocol engine that combines evidence-based medical guidelines with automated workflows and patient outreach. Think of it as a “clinical brain” with multi-modal communication capabilities.  The whole process will not only free care coordinators and their counterparts from the monotony of administrative, low-value tasks, but smarter, protocol driven patient communication will reduce practice variation and improve the quality of care and lower the cost of delivering care overall.

If you are a provider, how are you solving the care coordinator’s dilemma?

West Corporation

Posted on August 26, 2014 by West Corporation 

How Your Devices Learn to Talk to You

We may still be a few dozen years away from everyone having their own personal robot, but in a lot of ways, the future has arrived – especially in the realms of automatic speech recognition (ASR) and interactive voice response (IVR). After all, where would we be today without having Siri tell us whether or not it’s raining outside? You were probably caught in the rain without an umbrella, at the very least.

Automatic Speech Recognition Is a Process

Automatic speech recognition is any sort of technology that allows a computer to convert spoken language into text in real time. While the technology has been in government and military research since the 1950s, it’s only been used by the general public since the 1980s, when it was introduced as a way to help people with musculoskeletal disabilities.

To use ASR technology, you start by speaking into your device’s microphone. Your device then creates a wave form from the sound and background noise is filtered out while volume is normalized to a constant level. Then, the filtered wave form is broken down into individual phonemes (the sounds used to build words that are the most basic units of language, like the hard “k” sound in the word “kit”). Based on the first phoneme of a word, the computer uses a combination of statistical probability (usually the hidden Markov model) and context to narrow down options and figure out which word was spoken.

Talk to Me

Some ASR systems are so advanced that they can engage in “conversations” with you, a technology called natural language programming (NLP). NLP works through the process of machine learning and statistical inference, in which software searches through a programmed body of real-world examples to recognize and respond to speech. And some other methods of speech recognition search a hard-coded vocabulary.

NLP works best in fairly simple “conversations” that rely mostly on yes or no answers, or have few major possible answers. Instead of searching its entire vocabulary for each word in a question and processing them separately, NLP systems react to certain “tagged” words and phrases to respond appropriately – things like “weather forecast” or “pay my bill.”

Improving the Conversations

Over time, voice recognition software gets better by “learning” from each experience. In fact, speech recognition has been the main focus of machine learning research over the last few decades. ASR systems can either be tuned by humans, or they can engage in a process called active learning.

In tuning, programmers can review logs to identify and fix common problems. With linguists’ help, programmers can add words, pronunciations and grammatical structures that the system is failing to understand. Software is hand-coded with a variety of real-world examples for the software to search and draw from.

Active learning, meanwhile, is still currently limited in its capabilities; think about how often your phone autocorrects “top” to “too,” and you’ll have an idea. Data is stored from past interactions as the program gets to know the words and combinations of words that you most often use. Another example of active learning in speech recognition software is in homes or medical transcription when the software calibrates itself to the voice of its user, taking in certain words and phrases and then reacting with programmed examples to allow the program to work more easily with accents, speech impediments, and more.

While ASR technology is fascinating and fun to experiment with, it currently faces a few limitations. While average accuracy is 96 percent, this is usually accompanied by the caveat “in ideal conditions,” meaning with little background noise, no one else speaking nearby, distinct speech and more. Too much background noise, loud ambient noise, and/or low-quality input hardware can muddle the wave forms and lead to inaccurate output.

Computers and software also have problems distinguishing overlapping speech (two voices speaking at the same time), and the extensive statistical and contextual analysis from these programs often requires a large amount of processing power, taxing a computer’s processors and batteries. Finally, the always-tricky homonyms (words that have the same spelling but different meanings) are difficult for computers to process correctly, even as the ability of ASR programs to distinguish between words based on context improves.

As technology continues to progress, the future of speech recognition software looks to focus on making translation services more accurate and further developing computers’ ability to understand the words they’re taking in.

From Luke Skywalker communicating with R2D2 and C3PO to today’s helpful yet sometimes snarky Siri, ASR has evolved to have more functionality than ever, and as the software is tuned and perfected, the scope of artificial intelligence will only continue to grow. And we will no longer have to worry about being caught in the rain.

Inforgraphic to Explain ASR

West Corporation

Posted on July 22, 2014 by West Corporation 

Talk to Me Goose

1986 was the year the cinematic classic “Top Gun” came out on the big screen. It’s also happens to be the year West Corporation was founded. Even though it was a fascinating time for technology, not many people could imagine all the ways technology shapes how we now move through our day and our world.

Did you know there’s now even a text abbreviation for that famous utterance by Maverick in Top Gun? TTMG (Talk to me goose) is texting shorthand for asking your friend to stop texting complex ideas and pick up the phone for a conversation.

Fast-forward 28 years and we as consumers have an amazing amount of devices, channels and technologies all competing for our time and attention. For your company to be “the best of the best” finding ways to streamline and simultaneously enhance how you interact with your customers is paramount. Natural language (NL) as a part of a well-designed interactive voice response (IVR) system fits perfectly into that idea. NL-enabled IVR allows callers to simply speak their response to an automated question. Without having to fit their needs into a pre-defined set of choices, callers can self-serve using automation simply and effectively.

This infographic shows how leading companies in multiple industries have successfully used natural language-enhanced IVR. Encourage your customers to “talk to you” for complex tasks, better caller experiences and more satisfied customers who are delighted on the path to self-service.

We’ll be your wingman anytime.

Natural Language & IVR for Business InfographicShare this Infographic on your site! Please include attribution to West Interactive.

Are you heading to SpeechTEK 2014 in August? I’ll be there and I would be happy to talk with you more about the value of natural language-enabled IVR. Message me on LinkedIn to set up a time to get together.

West Corporation

Posted on July 18, 2014 by West Corporation 

Notifications Will Be a Differentiator in 2014 and Beyond

Some of you just shrugged and some of you with five to seven notifications showing on your smartphone right now just perked up. Notifications are an important part of our everyday life. We choose how they come to us, what they report and when it is reported.

Notifications can save lives, time, money and help keep us in the know. Think about it this way – can you imagine NOT getting your notifications?

What We’re Seeing

We process billions of Notifications for our clients each year and we showed an amazingdescribe the image increase over 2013. Our clients, some of the largest brands in the world who have been using notifications for years, are seeing the benefits and feeling impact across their businesses. SMS or text notifications showed the most rapid growth with a 51 percent increase over the last year.

Expectations Will Only Get Higher

In 2014, we expect that mobile usage to grow at the same rate or higher as customers continue to expect the best possible service and experience on their preferred communication channels; whether that is text, email, social media or phone. Communicating with your customers on their desired communication channel is important but for the best possible results, this needs to be integrated with the best possible customer experience.

Proactive Notifications

Notifying someone prior to an event versus after one may garner you the differentiating edge that you’ve been looking for. Communicating with your customers proactively is another way to improve your customer satisfaction. By proactively notifying customers of store closings, coupons, travel updates, shipping notifications, safety tips and much more, you are preventing possible customer service issues.

How will your 2014 communication plan compare to last year or to your competition? By integrating multiple channels and proactive notifications into your 2014 customer communication strategy, you will increase customer satisfaction, customer engagement and stay one or possibly two steps ahead.

West Corporation

Posted on January 6, 2014 by West Corporation 

The Future Expectations of Customer Service

My kids often ask me what I did in a world without mobile devices. They cannot even grasp the thought of not having a mobile device at their fingertips. I told them that back in the day we played outside and we talked on the house phone line to our friends. (Gasp, the horror!) They laugh and make me feel really old when I describe to them my first mobile phone, a big bag phone.

When I fast-forward and think about this generation as primary consumers in just a few years, I have to wonder if the customer care world is ready for them. This generation that is growing up on mobile applications of every kind that take care of all of their social needs now, including gaming, talking to friends, sharing pictures, video, etc. I can tell you that the last thing my son or daughter would want to do to solve a problem would be to pick up the phone and call a live person. They want everything to be at their fingertips. And, if you have teenagers, you know how quickly they can find an answer to any question by searching on their mobile devices.

This will also be this generation’s expectation of customer service, because quite simply, they know nothing different than for their needs to be serviced at their fingertips with mobile applications. Companies need to be in tune with this expectation and build applications to service their customers’ needs.

Does your company’s customer service plan include a mobile customer service application? The future expectation of consumers is beginning now. Be sure to plan accordingly and create a mobile strategy for your customer service care today and tomorrow.