Category: Industries

Category: Industries
West Corporation

Posted on December 31, 2013 by West Corporation 

Don’t Lower Your Standards

Enterprises are structured in a modular way. There are functional separations between the many parts: HR, finance, IT and so on. The individual parts are hopefully related by well-defined processes and interfaces. This is a natural way to organize complexity on the human scale to make it manageable.

A similar principle applies in the structuring of technology. A large and complex system is implemented as a cluster of interacting subsystems, each one with a defined role and (hopefully) well-defined processes and interfaces. This division of labor enables different teams or even different enterprises to focus on a single, more manageable part of the whole.

Defining the processes and interfaces is hard but crucial. It takes a lot of forethought, discussion and time, but a system with poorly or vaguely defined interactions among its parts will be dysfunctional, just as an enterprise with ill-defined processes will be dysfunctional. If it works at all, it does not work efficiently.

This is where standards come in. As experience with specific functional decompositions of systems accumulates, it can be used to build up standard definitions of processes and interfaces among components. Then, as long as each team or enterprise responsible for a type of component focuses on staying compatible with the defined standards at the component boundaries, the components can be combined with confidence that the system as a whole will be effective and relatively efficient.

At West, we have been working for over a decade at implementing components that conform to standards defining Internet-based IVR components. Standards like SIP, HTTP, CCXML, VoiceXML and many others enable us to offer rapid deployment of flexible solutions to customers’ IVR needs. We can combine components of our own with components provided by our expert partners, reliably situated in a framework of standards. And, customers can be confident that their solutions are maintainable over the long haul.

So, follow the standards, and let’s work together.

West Corporation

Posted on December 30, 2013 by West Corporation 

Using Predictive Analytics to Prevent Agent Attrition in Your Call Center

A perpetual obstacle for any call center manager is the revolving door of agent attrition. Each lost employee represents recruitment and training dollars flying out your front door. If only there was some way to detect that an employee was about to leave so that management could intervene, attempt to address the employee’s concerns and keep him or her a part of the team. Where can one buy such a crystal ball to detect the future?

Recently, here at West, we began investing in predictive analytics to identify the behaviors consistent with employees who have left the company to see whether those behaviors represent a potential risk of churn from current employees. How did we do it? We pulled three years’ worth of data across our thousands of agents — attendance trends, efficiencies, key performance indicator (KPI) adherence — and we looked at the employees who left to find patterns of behavior.

Some of the nuggets we uncovered include the following:

  • Higher wait times between calls lead to lower attrition
  • Agents who can flex their schedules up or down are less likely to leave
  • Drastic changes in schedule (uptimes/downtimes) represent a risk of increased attrition

How well can we predict future churn? The model used evaluated more than 400 variables, and over 75 percent of future churn could be isolated to 20 percent of the workforce population.

So, imagine you have a workforce of 100 agents. The model we’re using can isolate 75 percent of your future churn (churn that would occur within the next 30 days) to just 20 agents. Wouldn’t you want to know which 20 of your employees were most likely to leave in the next 30 days?

The predictive analytics can also identify potential reasons for attrition. What we see trending includes on-boarding, KPI performance, schedule changes being denied and recent disciplinary action. There are two ways we’re using this information. First, we schedule an intervention with employees identified as likely to churn to try and determine what management can do to help. In the first 90 days of our study, an employee who had an intervention was three times more likely to stay than an at-risk employee who was not provided with an intervention.

The second way we’re using this information is to evaluate our HR practices globally to identify changes that can reduce attrition. As an example, we identified that we needed to make changes to our disciplinary action process. Of all terminated employees from our three-year study, 41 percent of employees who received a mild form of disciplinary action left within three days of receiving it. That accounted for 9.5 percent of all churn. Those leaving within one month of the disciplinary action represented approximately 20 percent of the churn. With numbers this shocking, we revamped our disciplinary action procedures, and over the last 90 days we have seen a significant reduction in churn. Our annualized attrition has been projected to drop by 20 percent — leading to a savings of $2.2 million in training expenses.

You don’t need a crystal ball to see that your call center needs to begin using predictive analytics to reduce attrition.

West Corporation

Posted on December 19, 2013 by West Corporation 

Get Ready for the ‘Immobile’ Revolution: What’s Next?

When I was a young programmer in the mid-1990s, a colleague showed me my first Web page. It was, by chance a Star Trek fan page, and my thoughts were, “This World Wide Web thingy is going to be great for Star Trek fans!” I think it’s fair to say I lacked foresight. Within a few years, of course, the Web had revolutionized the way everyone used personal computers and spawned whole new industries. Then, in the early 2000s the Web was introduced to mobile phones and a second revolution began.

The irony of the “mobile” revolution is that, in the developed world at least most people aren’t very mobile at all; they are in fact mostly immobile. We live a sedentary existence, often on the couch in front of the TV to the detriment of our health. According to a recent Nielsen survey, the average person spends a whopping five to seven hours per day watching TV compared to only 45 minutes browsing the Web with PCs, tablets and phones. Ninety-nine percent of U.S. homes have a TV with an average of more than two per household. For these reasons, the next Internet revolution is expected to occur as Web and TV technologies converge and the combined industry players, who don’t give a fig about your health, scramble to capitalize.

Internet-connected TVs, or smart TVs, have been with us for some time, and major vendors all produce models with embedded apps to support video streaming services, such as Hulu, YouTube and Netflix.

However, sales of smart TVs, while strong have not taken off in the same way as smartphones or tablets. And although streaming providers like YouTube and Netflix are revolutionizing content broadcasting, “TV apps” are not popular, and an experience in which the TV and Internet truly converge hasn’t materialized as expected.

This may be because the browsing experience on a smart TV is poor. Using a TV remote controller to navigate is cumbersome, and the TV itself suffers from the so called “10-foot” interface, or the “lean-forward” versus “lean-back” problem — the ergonomics of watching TV content is very different from browsing Web content. In fact, surveys have found that many smart TVs in the home are not even connected to the Internet, and the typical consumer experience is to use the TV for watching TV, and to turn to laptops, tablets or phones for anything that requires interaction. This is, however, about to profoundly change.

The “disrupter” here seems to be Google’s Chromecast device released in July. Chromecast is a dongle device that plugs into the HDMI port of any TV and enables content from a laptop or tablet to be “cast” to the TV. You can surf the Web on your tablet in the normal way, but when you want to watch video content you beam the signal to the superior capabilities of your TV over the home wireless network. In this way, Google has solved the smart TV interface problem by taking the smarts out of the TV altogether. But what really got everyone’s attention is the price. At a mere $35, the device is equivalent to a family trip to the movies.

Chromecast users have found some glitches, and there are grumbles around Google’s method of “intercepting” certain cast requests (such as Netflix). Also, the casting technology isn’t particularly novel; Apple TV supports Airplay (although only for Apple devices) and there are other, equally cheap set-top boxes and dongles being produced out of Asia, which achieve similar results.

Nevertheless, the attention Chromecast has received has energized the thinking here. Significantly, it opens up the capabilities for “second-screen” functionality with associated content displayed simultaneously on both devices, allowing viewers to interact and perhaps influence a live show, or join real-time discussions. Where all of this will eventually lead is anyone’s guess, of course, and I have a poor record of prediction. I guess we will just have to “stay tuned.”

West Corporation

Posted on December 18, 2013 by West Corporation 

No. 1 Rule of Life: Double-Check Your Work

Picture yourself driving down the interstate. You’ve just stopped for fuel and refreshments and you’re back on the road to get through your last two-hour leg before reaching your destination. You’ve just hit the speed limit and turned on cruise control. You go to take a drink from your fountain soda that you just purchased and a problem arises: the soda tastes awful.

We have all been there. The carbonation is off and you are left with your taste buds sounding alarms. Now it comes down to a few questions you have to ask yourself:

  • How parched am I?
  • Can I make it two hours without another drink?
  • Or, worst case scenario, do I grin and bear it while taking that next drink?

This soda face didn’t have to occur too many times for me to create my No. 1 rule of life. Always taste-test the fountain soda before you take off. This rule applies inside at the gas station or sitting in line at a drive-through.

The idea this rule represents can be applied to more things than just fountain sodas. I use the rule for business purposes in sending reports and emails. The rule applied generally is: double-check your work.

In a previous blog, I wrote about presentation being the key to all reporting. You must understand and consider what your audience wants and needs from your reports and emails. It is your responsibility to exceed their expectations and make your communications more efficient.

Here are a few areas to consider for improving your business efficiency and applying my No. 1 rule.

Print Settings
Use the print preview option. This makes the reporting and printing options easy for the end-user. It is a pet peeve of mine when I go to print the report I received and it needlessly runs to two pages. I am left flipping the page over, having to juggle between two sheets of paper or going back to adjust the settings myself and wasting more paper in order to print it again.

Number Formatting
Make sure your column widths support the length of your numbers. Looking at financial reports expecting to see amounts makes the report rather useless when you are left looking at #####.

Emails with Attachments
There are many times when we include attachments to our emails. However, using the “Snipping Tool” (Windows: Start – All Programs –Accessories – Snipping Tool; Mac: Command – Shift – 4) allows you to snip and provide a preview of data that your email recipient truly needs without requiring them to open the attachment. They can then decide whether they need to review the attachment.

Reporting Display
Is the most important data you want to display easy to see and find? If not, then find the best location that draws the recipient’s eye.

These are just a few areas where you can improve efficiencies, not only for yourself but also for others. And, if you remember my No. 1 rule of life on your next road trip, report or email, you won’t be left with a sour face.

West Corporation

Posted on December 2, 2013 by West Corporation 

The Secret to Being More Effective: Pareto’s 80/20 Rule

The true secret of Pareto’s 80/20 rule is not in the understanding of the rule itself, but in remembering to consistently apply it to everything you do.

Vilfredo Pareto was an Italian economist who in 1906 made a scientific observation that evolved into the Pareto Rule, or 80/20 Rule. This rule states that 20 percent of a process’ inputs drive 80 percent of the outputs.

Some common illustrations of the rule are the following:

  • Twenty percent of your clients are most likely driving 80 percent of your profitability.
  • Twenty percent of your employees are most likely driving 80 percent of your productivity.
  • Twenty percent of you expense drivers are causing 80 percent of your costs.

This rule is useful and can be powerful, but it is an easy rule to overlook and forget. In today’s fast-paced environment of information overload and constant multitasking, sometimes we forget to stop and take a moment to focus on what really matters.

Every project or initiative should start with the identification of the vital few. What are the most important priorities that will make the biggest impact? Can you identify the 20 percent of inputs that are driving 80 percent of you client dissatisfaction? Can you identify the 20 percent of actions that will drive 80 percent of your revenue growth? Three simple steps can assist you in using this rule:

  1. Stop. Take time to stop and think about what you are doing before you jump into a work effort or project.
  2. Analyze. Identify what data is available. Can you identify the top drivers of the process? If data is unavailable can you do a quick survey or poll? Can you gather a small team to make a collective guestimate?
  3. Prioritize. Select the project that will make the biggest impact and focus your effort there. Focused energy on one driver will have a greater effect than small amounts of energy spread across numerous items.

To leverage Pareto’s rule for the greatest potential, you must actively analyze where you invest your time, energy and resources, and you must continuously prioritize your efforts so you impact the vital few. Knowing the Pareto rule is not the secret to being more effective. The secret is in continuously using the rule, so that you are always impacting the 20 percent that will provide you with the greatest results.

And remember, stop, analyze and prioritize.

West Corporation

Posted on November 26, 2013 by West Corporation 

Give Me a Great Customer Experience

What is a great customer experience? To some degree a great customer experience is in the eye of the beholder. However, there are attributes that most customers would agree make for a great experience.  Things like:

  • Personalization
  • Intelligence
  • Relevance (right time, right place, with the right products, services and messages)
  • Overall value

In today’s economy, there is a lot of competition for a share of my wallet. The company that most closely aligns with the attributes of a great experience will have a higher share of my wallet. It’s as simple as that.

Examples of great customer experience:

  • My bank. When I visit the ATM, my preferences are stored and offered to me up front at every transaction. I feel like they know me. They wish me happy birthday and offer me relevant and timely add-on services.
  • My pet store. When I visit the store, they help me find the right product. They provide advice and consultation on pet issues

Examples of a poor customer experience:

  • My cable company. Over the last two or three months, I have had numerous problems when attempting to order on-demand movies. There’s an app for that! They have a mobile app, but I have never been offered the mobile app during any interaction. As a loyal customer who has three of their services, you would think they would understand that I have been having issues with the service.

You would think my cable company would see a pattern in my buying and notice that I haven’t purchased a movie for months, and maybe ask why. They could offer me a coupon for a free movie, or call me or message me to ask if I would like an agent to contact me to correct the issue. That would be a great customer experience  — showing they know me and care about me. Instead, I am actively searching for an alternative service. I plan to cancel my service as soon as I have an alternative identified. Now I won’t give them another chance — it’s too late.

Why is the burden on the customer to tell an enterprise when the service isn’t working or is not satisfying them? Why can’t companies use all of the information they have about me and my interactions with them to create a great experience? The companies that figure this out will see a great benefit — increasing customer loyalty and share of wallet — guaranteed.

West Corporation

Posted on November 25, 2013 by West Corporation 

When in Doubt, Just Reach Out

The nature of business dictates that your products and services must be available to your customers 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Your customers demand that your services work, regardless of the day or time. Therefore, it only makes sense for you to expect that, as your partner, West Interactive will support you and your services whenever the need arises.

Did you know that West Interactive has a monitored, 24-hour live help desk dedicated to answering your questions and resolving impact to your services?

The West Interactive Help Desk is an always-open support team dedicated to helping our customers, with the care and support of West Interactive’s products and services. There are many questions, tasks or issues that our help desk can immediately resolve. If your concern needs escalation, then the West Interactive Help Desk will coordinate to ensure that the right team members are working quickly to resolve your concern with as little impact to your business as possible.

  • Want to know why your reports are showing an unexpected change in the numbers? Call the help desk, and we will ensure that your report and its corresponding systems are working correctly.
  • Having problems getting an agent logged in to the system? Call the help desk and we can assist with getting your staff productive right away.
  • Are your customers not being contained in your IVR? Call the help desk and we can ensure that the right people are working on your issue to provide the best possible customer experience and shortest turnaround time.
  • Do you have questions at midnight on the eve of a major holiday? Call the help desk to talk to a live person and get the answers you need.

The West Interactive Help Desk has the training, knowledge and experience to quickly help resolve any problem. Whether your support issue is large or small, the help desk will provide the assistance you need. Please don’t hesitate to reach out. West Interactive is always here to help. Call the help desk at 800.388.9713 or email us at

West Corporation

Posted on November 18, 2013 by West Corporation 

One Size Does Not Fit All, Especially When It Comes to Customer Care

If you’ve ever wedged yourself into a seat on a tiny regional plane you know that one size does not fit all. We know this. But when you call into an IVR you get one treatment — regardless of what you’re calling about or who you are.

Personalization is not just about knowing someone’s name or language preference. It’s about catering to their lifestyle, product skills and overall ability to identify and agree to a resolution. IVRs have come a long way with their ability to personalize the customer experience.

We are broadcasting our personal preferences, likes and dislikes to the world with Facebook, Instagrams, tweets and genius lists. For each of us, it’s not about just knowing who we are; it’s about knowing what make each of us unique.

West conducts consumer research to identify these personality traits and how they pertain to customer service when we are looking at IVR experiences. To a medical team, a patient with high blood pressure possesses some risk. If that patient also has diabetes, they are at a higher risk they are considered co-morbid, or have multiple diseases. If they have cardio vascular disease they’re at an even higher risk. This risk or stratification determines their treatment and how often they must see the physician.

Just like a patients, callers can be given stratification. For instance, callers who have high technical skill and product knowledge can easily self-serve with minimal direction. Callers with reduced skills and product knowledge will need a more empathetic and simplified experience. Those with the least amount of skills need a human. This has evolved from a single customer experience to segmented customer experiences.

Many companies use some form of segmentation to determine the value of their customers and priority routing protocols. Using caller skill stratification lets you offer specific treatments to increase IVR containment within the caller’s terms, or skills. So when an 86-year-old who thinks a flip phone is challenging calls for technical assistance, should she get the same treatment as the hipster on an iPhone 5s who can’t remember a world without a cellphone in his pocket? Or how about the guy who learned how to use his smartphone by reading a yellow For Dummies book? Triage your customers according to their risk and skills. Make them feel valuable, and, above all, leave them with a clean bill of health.

Oh, and someone please tell the airlines we all need better seats.

West Corporation

Posted on October 30, 2013 by West Corporation 

Is Your IVR Like a Traffic Jam?

Have you ever seen the movie Office Space? Perhaps a better question is who hasn’t seen Office Space? I have seen the movie well over a dozen times, and each time I watch it I laugh because many of the scenes depicted resonate in my professional life. In fact, the very first scene inspired me to write this article. You know what I am talking about. That’s right, it’s the scene where Peter Gibbons (played by Ron Livingston) is on his way to work and he is stuck in traffic. He tries to anticipate traffic lights and driver behavior by changing lanes only to fall farther behind in traffic. Just as he switches lanes because he thinks traffic is moving, it slows down and the other lane picks up. He soon realizes that the elderly man walking with the help of a walker is gaining ground on him.

So, it’s a typical Monday and I am on my way to work mentally preparing for the workweek ahead, faced with the recurring frustrations of my typical commute. Traffic is as usual moving at a snail’s pace, and I am just waiting for that elderly man with a walker to appear. It would be easy to blame the traffic jams and accidents on drivers, but it is a combination of the people behind the wheel and traffic (business) rules that cause this early morning headache day in and day out.

In today’s nonintelligent customer world we have traffic lights that are on a timer and programmed to respond based on the other traffic lights. There is no intelligence built in. If there was, then the traffic light at 120th and Military would not turn red and make me stop when there is in fact no traffic coming from either direction. Instead, it would sense there is no traffic and keep the light green until there was traffic from the east or west. Better yet, the lights at that intersection would store the history of traffic for that time frame and for that day. Over time, the traffic light intelligence would build and make traffic much more smooth, leaving drivers with minimal stress and increased speed to their destinations. The same thought process holds true for the way an IVR routes calls for some companies. Routing calls in a linear fashion does nothing for the customer.

So, let’s tie this traffic reference to today’s IVR transactions. Today, as a loyal ABC banking customer of 18 years, I complete 80 percent of my transactions online, 15 percent via mobile and 5 percent via voice self-service (IVR). For some reason the Web cannot help me with the transaction I need to complete, due to business rules, so I am forced to call in to the IVR. I am greeted by the typical, “Press 1 for English,” “2 for Spanish,” etc., and so the proverbial traffic jam begins.

I quickly say “One,” for English (which I’ve done hundreds of times before, yet nothing changes) where I am then asked to enter my account number, PIN, blood type and every other answer known to man. After doing all of this and wasting two minutes and 15 seconds of my life, the system cannot perform the transaction I am requesting and routes me to a contact center representative, where I spend even more precious time waiting in queue. It is at this point where my mind wanders and I can see that elderly man in the walker gaining ground on me — funny when watching the movie, not so funny in this scenario. I finally get to a representative, and I am again asked to repeat all of the security questions I was asked in the IVR. No intelligence whatsoever.

If we embrace the concept of intelligent customer interactions and use the data to do the heavy lifting for us, we can perform all transactions in any channel we desire, leverage the context of those transactions when abandoning one channel and entering another, and spend less time in the IVR (or in traffic, if you will), we are left feeling much more satisfied and have more time to be productive, going about our day. The future technology is here and we must embrace it now. Once we do, everyone will have access to the carpool lane, minimize traffic congestion and get to their destinations on time with reduced effort and stress, and ultimately saved time. And, in case you were wondering, the elderly gentleman making his way down the street gets to his destination unscathed and ready for that 69-cent cup of coffee he has been craving.

West Corporation

Posted on October 28, 2013 by West Corporation 

The Joys of Travel

Travel seemed so glamorous when I first started working. The chance to leave town for a couple of days, see a client or two and enjoy the time away from the office. “And wouldn’t international travel be even better?” I thought. Flying halfway around the globe to visit a client in another country. That would be cool.

I have been fortunate, or unfortunate depending on your view, to have this opportunity. Not long ago, I had a chance to go to the Philippines. I flew roughly 30 hours, one way, for a four-hour meeting, only to fly home the next day. Uh, maybe not so sexy.

After being cramped up on a plane in a coach seat for roughly 60 hours back and forth, I tried to use my credit card in the San Francisco airport, only to have it denied. I had no food or water in my travel case, hadn’t eaten in 24 hours, and was fairly miserable after being up for more than 24 hours. When I landed in Chicago, I called the bank to find out why my credit card would not work.

My experience went something like this: I called the bank’s 800 number, and listened to the IVR for 30 seconds as I walked through O’Hare carrying my bag and briefcase. “How can I help you?” the IVR asked.  Since I knew the IVR would not understand, “Make my card work!” I navigated the IVR, input my card number, gave the IVR my name — all of the usual information to identify me as a cardholder, only to find out the IVR couldn’t help me.

Because I am in the call center business, I said, “agent,” trying to effectively bypass the remaining the IVR prompts and applications. If you have never traveled through O’Hare, just let me tell you it is not the quietest place in the world. I found myself yelling, “AGENT!” at my phone as travelers looked at me.

When that didn’t work, I hit “0” a bunch of times … maybe 50. Or it felt that way.

After this mess, I finally landed with an agent. Her first question was, “Can I have your card number?” You gotta be kidding me. I just spent five minutes in the IVR giving it to the automated system. The IVR didn’t collect and pass that information to the agent, and subsequently the agent didn’t recognize me, even though I had a credit card, mortgage, savings account and investments with the bank.

After giving the agent all of the information I had just provided to the IVR, she proceeded to tell me that since I had not told the bank that I would be traveling internationally, they canceled my credit card. No warning. No text message. No phone call asking if I was out of the country using the card. No email to either my work account or home account. Nope. They just canceled it. And by the way, for my convenience, they would issue me a new one. In 10 days. 10 DAYS!? Really?

I found myself in a heated discussion with the agent about the available technology for the bank to call me, text me or email me immediately about suspected fraud. None of this widely available technology was being used by the bank. Ugh.

One last thing: I had no idea how I was going to get my car out of the parking garage without a credit card.

Needless to say, this experience caused quite a bit of friction between the bank and me. It could have been avoided. The bank could have reduced my frustration (and likely many others) had it tracked various customer journeys and implemented various technologies that enable data to transverse the various IVR, Web and agent channels and applications.

I am no longer a multiple account holder at that particular bank. And I wonder how many other people the bank has lost due to its inability to leverage technology that persists data across channels and applications across its customers’ journeys.