Category: Connected Customer Experience

Category: Connected Customer Experience
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.

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 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 August 12, 2013 by West Corporation 

Designing IVR Applications From the Inside Out

I have been designing automated phone systems, otherwise known as interactive voice response (IVR) systems, for many years. Anyone can take stab at writing an IVR script — just like anyone can draw a pretty picture — and everybody is a critic. Designing IVR scripts requires a thick skin.

So, who do I think is the most important person in IVR design? The caller is. And to listen, you need to talk to customers. It may seem obvious, but it’s not as common as it should be.

We’ve all used a really bad IVR or web site. What makes them offensive is their lack of intuitive interaction. Simply put, you just don’t know what to do. That’s what can happen when you design for flashy technology and not for your customers. This is what I like to call “inside-out design.” It is like hiding the seaweed that binds a sushi roll with the rice on the outside.

So, you have some new shiny database and big switch that can react to three pieces of customer information. Therefore, three options on an IVR menu, right? Ideal. Expectations are high for good performance. But the callers have other ideas and ask for a live person.

At West, we like to talk to customers in several ways:

  • Moderate Focus Groups
    Focus groups are a marketing technique used to introduce new products or ideas, and to measure emotional reactions to brands and demonstrations. Avoid overreacting to comments. Just because customers dislike speech recognition, doesn’t mean you must avoid it. Make it better. Use your design skills to offer solutions.
  • Talk With Call Center Agents
    Use agent roundtables. Agents have an ear to thousands of callers. They know how callers talk and what they ask for. Talk to agents to hear their experiences. Then, use your design skills to offer solutions.
  • Conduct Usability Testing
    We have customers test drive our IVR design. They tell us what they like and don’t like. But don’t overreact if what you see during the tests is negative. Again, use your design skills to offer solutions.

In reality, the caller already knows why they are calling you. It’s you who doesn’t know. You need to get OUT in front and talk to customers to get the INSIDE scoop … the actual reasons they call. Then use your design skills to offer solutions.

West Corporation

Posted on August 7, 2013 by West Corporation 

The Speech Bandits: Who Is to Blame When an IVR System Can’t Help Your Customers?

There are three diabolical criminals on the loose, and they’re coming to steal your company’s money. But make no mistake, this is no smash and grab — they are thieves in the night, prowling cats for the chance foul up the IVR caller experience and send the call to a costly call center agent. They’re so conniving that they even have a scapegoat: speech recognition.

It happens when a speech-enabled IVR shows a rise in callers failing at prompts, resulting in transfers to an agent. “Speech is broken!” they’ll yell. The speech bandits slink off into the shadows while speech recognition gets framed.

So who are these masterminds? Just like with any great twist, they’ve been under your nose the whole time. The three usual suspects that can mask IVR trouble as a speech problem are the following:

1.       Middleware
There are uncountable parts to the deployment of an IVR: data tables, API queries and hits, client-side systems, Web services, data centers — all important to the operation of the application. And as with any system, more complexities mean more possibilities for something to go wrong.


2.       Internal Marketing Miscommunication
In response to a recent promotion, callers might be saying, “Survey coupon,” but was that added to the list of possible utterances recognized? If not, then it counts as an error. Two or three of those, and just like that, they’re off to an agent.

3.       User Interface Design
Is there a business rule getting in the way of a streamlined, confusion-free experience? Maybe the questions are asked in a confusing order. Do the response prompts fail to constrain possible caller responses by not giving clear instructions (e.g., please say yes or no)? Is cognitive overload being caused by too many options in one menu? All of these can cause problems with the turn-taking nature of the speech user experience, and it’ll be in the user interface design where they’ll be fixed.

So, When Is Speech to Blame?                                                                                            
Yes, you can blame speech recognition, but only when specific exceptions occur. These include:

  • Synonyms for accepted responses are missing. For example, “billing” is an accepted response but “pay my bill” is not.
  • The standard by which the speech recognizer judges utterances to be understood well enough (the “confidence threshold”) is set too high. That means the IVR is ruling out otherwise acceptable utterances.
  • One of the expected responses has a weighting that is set too high. So, when the IVR compares your utterance to the list of accepted options, one of them is weighted to be chosen more frequently than the others, which can invoke an entirely different option than what the caller requested and send the caller down the wrong path.

In the world of maintaining speech applications, these are quick fixes that are usually a mere oversight.

It’s easy to see why speech recognition gets framed as the culprit so often. It’s a complex human faculty that serves as the only way the caller “touches” the IVR. As such, it’s in plain sight and is an easy target to make into a patsy. So, while speech may sometimes be the issue, due diligence to fix a problem demands that we chase down every possibility, from middleware and system interactions to marketing and user interface design, before we bang the gavel and proclaim the guilty party to be speech recognition.

West Corporation

Posted on July 29, 2013 by West Corporation 

The Customer Is Always Right. But Is That Always the Case?

Clients often ask for complicated changes to their applications, and most of them time, they are done without question. But, what would happen if we took a step back and asked, “Why?” Most of the time the answer is to save money on agent expenses, telecom costs, etc. With application development resources often being tight and expensive to the client, what if we consulted with our clients on whether or not those changes would benefit them significantly in the long run? Ask your client the following questions:

  • What is the business reason for making the change?
  • What result are you currently seeing?
  • How much are you currently spending? What are you expecting/wanting to save?
  • What results do you expect to see after the change has been implemented?

Your customers expect you to be the expert, so do your homework. Have these types of changes been implemented with other clients before? What was the result? Share these results with your client. Was this type of change successful with other clients? Did it save them money? Share these results with your client. Help them decide if the long-term cost savings is worth the application development costs.

If the client decides to implement the change, then take the steps to prove that the changed added value. When doing development, make sure you’re properly capturing data that can be used to track the results of the change. Post-implementation, use data to compare before and after results to prove that the change was effective. Always make every attempt to put a solid, measurable ROI to your success story. It makes it far more valuable.

Make sure you share your results with your organization. Chances are that other clients have or will contemplate the changes your client asked for. Good or bad, the results help your colleagues consult with their clients. In addition, it allows your team members to be proactive: “Hey, look what we did for this client, and look how much we saved them.” If this exercise was done every time a change was made, your team will have a solid library of success stories, making consulting with clients on application changes common practice.

And remember, being consultative with your clients builds and strengthens partnerships, creating solid references and generating new prospects.

West Corporation

Posted on July 9, 2013 by West Corporation 

Warren Buffett’s Words of Wisdom Apply to Customer Experience Management

Many readers are aware that Warren Buffett, otherwise known as the “Oracle of Omaha,” is one of the most successful investors and wealthiest people in the world. Each year in early May, thousands of Buffett-worshippers make the pilgrimage to Omaha to the annual Berkshire Hathaway shareholders’ meeting. They come to hear Buffett and his business partner, the effervescent Charlie Munger, talk about the global economy, stock markets, government and politics — and of course, to hear about the company’s progress.

There is little argument that Buffett is an investing icon. There are lots of reasons for his and Berkshire Hathaway’s success, including his uncanny ability to choose stocks at an affordable price, Berkshire’s strong yet relatively low-profile management team, their ability to capitalize on market uncertainties and their focus on investing in what they know.

Along the road to becoming the world’s most iconic investor, Warren Buffett has offered sage pieces of advice for investors, which many continue to live by and treat almost like a religion.

Although much of Buffett’s advice and one-liners are tightly focused on investing, many of his most famous quotes are also applicable in other areas of business or life, including customer relationship management (CRM) or customer experience management.

So, with that in mind, I’ve uncovered three of Buffett’s quotes and taken the liberty of relating them to the world of CRM and customer engagement management.

“Your premium brand had better be delivering something special, or it’s not going to get the business.”
This is a timeless quote from the Oracle of Omaha that is so relevant to CRM. It used to be that companies that provided adequate products and mediocre customer service could succeed in the market and maintain or grow their competitive position. This is how the U.S. auto manufacturers operated for many years, until the Japanese and Korean car companies (Honda, Lexus, Hyundai, etc.), landed in the U.S. market with superior products and great service/brand experience.

It’s also how some large PC manufacturers dominated their industry until Apple came along with better products, better service and a superior customer experience.

And there are lots of additional examples like this where industries and companies sat on their laurels while new competitors more focused on quality and customer experience sneaked in and took market share and customers.

The key point here is that today’s consumers are more demanding than ever before. Just because a consumer likes your product and service doesn’t mean they will buy it, buy it from you or remain loyal.

Consumers today expect top-notch products and personalized, superior service and experience, in order to do business with and stay loyal to a company.

Food for thought: What’s special about your company’s product or service, that will encourage consumers to buy from you and stay loyal in the future?

“There seems to be some perverse human characteristic that likes to make easy things difficult.”
We all can relate to this Buffet quote, because it reminds us of how some companies treat us every day. They make things harder and more cumbersome than they have to be, including difficult-to-navigate websites, confusing IVR applications when we call, and the like. Many times this isn’t intentional. Well-meaning product and customer service teams often have to accommodate new products, features and services with yet more Web pages and IVR options that nobody ever takes the time to review from a customer experience perspective.

There’s no perfect solution to this ongoing challenge, but one way to keep things simple for customers is to conduct regular usability audits of your website and IVR systems. Conduct focus groups and usability studies, and, perhaps most importantly, try using your own website or IVR system. Often, that’s the best way to edit out or clarify content, to make things simpler for customers who interact with you. As the old saying goes, sometimes less is more.

Resist the temptation to unwittingly make things more complicated and difficult for your customers. Instead, try making difficult things easy for your customers. They’ll be delighted you did so, and will be more likely to remain loyal to your company or product.

“I don’t look to jump over 7-foot bars; I look around for 1-foot bars that I can step over.”
This quote has a high degree of relevance in the customer service/CRM context.

Case in point: Sometimes, companies think the only way to improve customer service and loyalty, and differentiate themselves from competitors, is to leverage the latest, greatest hot technology (the 7-foot bar) that they hope is a panacea to all of their problems, as opposed to making incremental improvements (the 1-foot bars) in processes, products and customer service.

I’m sure every reader of this blog can think of a company or two that has rolled out new, allegedly revolutionary technologies or applications, hoping that they could rocket their customer service and Net Promoter Scores through the roof overnight — only to find that the technology or application has little, and even sometimes negative impact.

While it’s true that if researched and implemented well, these game-changing technologies and applications (7-foot bars) can improve customer service, it’s also true that that bringing continuous, incremental improvements to a company’s current systems (1-foot bars, e.g. IVR, website, outbound notifications, contact center workforce management/optimization) and other current systems that it knows and understands well, can likely bring the same or better results, often with less risk.

Food for thought: What are some 1-foot bars that you can step over today that will make it easier and more enjoyable for your customers to do business with you?

I am sure these aren’t the only Buffett quotes that apply to CRM. If you find more that you think might apply even better, I encourage you to reply to this blog post and share them with us.