Category: IVR & Self-Service
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.

West Corporation

Posted on October 22, 2013 by West Corporation 

Five Tips for Evaluating Your Customer Engagement Solutions

As customer engagement expectations continue to evolve, it is important to continuously analyze and improve the contact center solutions and technology you have deployed for your customers. Here are five questions to ask, with tips for evaluating your existing customer engagement solutions:

1.     Does it provide a best-in-class customer care experience that sets you apart?

  • Evaluate to make sure your self-service applications are designed with end-user focus to gain maximum customer adoption of self-service applications.
  • Increase customer service with fast, efficient messaging on the IVR.
  • Provide multichannel options to customers to self-serve based on preference. For example, a customer may prefer to send you a text message instead of calling you to get a payment balance.
  • Talk to your contact center agents. They interact with your customers day in and day out, and they have the best knowledge of what customers are requesting.

2.     Does it decrease the customer care cost associated with each customer, without sacrificing the customer experience?

  • Implement agent screen pops with data gathered in the IVR or through predicative analysis to improve agent handle time and lessen the burden on customers by eliminating the need to repeat information you already have obtained from them.
  • Reduce nonrevenue-generating contacts who reach call center agents, and improve existing IVR applications through speech performance tuning and streamlining of call flow.

3.     Do you have regular, collaborative sessions to gather strategic input by both business and technology partners to align objectives?

  • Establish governance between business and technology partners to make sure your guiding principles align and are fundamentally heading in the same direction. The technology is not effective without the right business strategy, and business objectives are challenging to meet if the technology cannot support the criteria.

4.     Does it drive revenue through proactive customer engagement?

  • Use customized messages with personalized information for up-sells and cross-sells. For example, personalized, proactive outbound contacts to remind customers of upcoming payments.

5.     Does it improve customer retention and satisfaction by initiatives formed with multichannel data?

  • Collect data through all call channels including IVR, Web, mobile and agent calls.
  • Implement call behavior analytics recognizing root cause analysis on caller patterns.
  • Survey analytics to extract voice-of-the-customer feedback and sentiment.
  • Obtain enterprise visibility and administration for improved agent efficiency.
  • Increase first-contact resolution with speech analytics identifying key call drivers and business processes.
  • Use predictive analytics to distinguish caller behavior usage and patterns, as well as the likelihood of responses.
West Corporation

Posted on September 25, 2013 by West Corporation 

Five Simple IVR Best Practices That Work

Providing good customer service these days is a challenging task, as we all know. And it’s getting tougher every day, with the proliferation of smartphones, tablets, social media and the like. While many companies now offer customer support options in social media, and via mobile applications, agent chat and email, the fact is that a large number of customer inquiries still come via IVR (touch-tone or speech). Certainly many mobile users call IVR systems. At West, we find that more than 50 percent of all of our clients’ IVR calls come from customers using their mobile phones.

There are some poor IVR systems out there, as you know. Yet there are many good ones, too; they just don’t get talked about that much. What makes a good IVR system? Of course, there’s a lot more to the answer than a few bullet points, yet I wanted to pass on to you some high-level thoughts on what makes (or can help to make) a good IVR.

1. Make your IVR system simple and easy to use. More than ever before, today’s customers are time-pressed and impatient. They don’t want complicated, confusing menus that waste their time. One timeless best practice for touch-tone IVR systems is to use short, clearly worded menus that have three or fewer options at each branch. Have you called your own IVR system lately to see how simple (or not) it is to use?

2. Don’t Set up your IVR and walk away from it. An IVR system (particularly speech-enabled IVR systems) is like an automobile: It needs care and attention, including a tune-up periodically, to continue running smoothly and be an effective and efficient tool for your customers to use. When was the last time you tuned your IVR system? Our experts recommend reviewing a mature IVR at least monthly and a new IVR daily or weekly, depending on call volumes.

3. If customers ask to speak with an agent, connect them. Many companies make the mistake of trying to make it overly difficult for customers to reach contact center agents. They assume (falsely) that if they put up enough roadblocks in the IVR menu that customers will ultimately either give up and stay in self-service or simply hang up and never call back. Our experience tells us that many callers are content to use IVR systems that work well; what they really dislike is being blocked from speaking with an agent. It insults their intelligence and wastes their time. How easy is it for your customers to get to an agent if they have to?

4. Avoid insulting the intelligence of your customers. For example, avoid telling callers the website address of your company in the IVR. Chances are, they are calling you because they have tried a transaction on your website or have checked for their answer in social media but haven’t succeeded. Additionally, when you ask for their phone number, don’t tell callers how to say (or input) their phone number to your system; our usability testing at West shows that callers are familiar with how to offer this information without excessive guidance.

5. Show your customers that you value their time. Avoid superfluous marketing messages in your IVR when customers are trying to get help. There is a time and place for marketing, but it’s not when your customer’s Internet is down or their package hasn’t arrived. Our experts find that out-of-place marketing messages are one of the top irritants of IVR users. Additionally, it’s always a good practice to let your customers “barge-in” in prompts, so they can pre-empt menu verbiage and get their business done quickly.

What do you, as readers, think about this topic? I’m interested in your thoughts on this handful of sample IVR best practices and in hearing your views on what makes a good IVR.

West Corporation

Posted on September 10, 2013 by West Corporation 

Tune Up Your IVR

Just like your car, your IVR solution needs a checkup to ensure that it is performing optimally. Here are some best practices to use to ensure your IVR is tuned up and providing your customers with the best automated experience possible.

  1.  Baseline your containment rate. What is the amount or percentage of your customers who are able to completely service their needs in the IVR system? This is an essential metric that you should be measuring.
  2. Track your transfers within the application. Is there an area that sees a higher amount of transfers?
  3. Conduct focus groups with your customer service representatives (CSRs). Key in on areas that have seen a high transfer rate in the application. Ask the CSRs to help you understand why callers are transferring at that point in the call. What do they need assistance with? Also, ask if there are any repetitive tasks that the CSRs are handling that might easily be automated in the IVR.
  4. Call and listen to your IVR as a customer. How does it sound? Do you like the voice talent? Does it sound smooth and not choppy? Ensure that you are using only one voice talent for the length of the call.
  5. Use business intelligence in your IVR design. If callers routinely call in once a month to make a payment, then build in intelligence that will enable the IVR to ask customers if they are calling to make their monthly payments.
  6. Consider using speech technology to make the call more natural. If the call flow is natural, then it will be easier for your customers to self-serve their needs.
  7. Build an ROI to justify the cost for the changes. If your changes increase automation, then your cost justification should be easy, as you are reducing calls and time handled by your CSRs.
  8. After your changes are installed, measure the results. Did you increase containment rate? Were you able to service more of the call in the IVR?
  9. Set a plan to tune up your IVR annually. Technology changes every day; by tuning up your IVR annually you will give your customers an efficient and effective customer experience.
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 17, 2013 by West Corporation 

Platform Vendor Selection 101

Recently, a customer asked me how they should go about choosing the best platform vendor. West builds and offers unparalleled support for platforms, so, of course, I wanted to say, “That’s easy, go with us.” But I knew I had to explain this in a way that was not only concise, but also unbiased. If my Dad was telling me about a product, he would say, “Well, Consumer Reports says .” Unfortunately, Consumer Reports has not listed the “10 recommended platforms for consumers to consider.” I needed to think outside the box. I decided to talk about the selection process in relation to a recent personal experience.

For five years I had been saying that I was going to rip out my old, antiquated deck in favor of a much larger, improved patio where I could seat more people in anticipation of my future needs. I wanted quality at a lower cost, coupled with a result that could grow with my family (customer base). This year, after about the 157th sliver in my daughter’s foot, I got serious. It was time to find someone whom I could trust, who would deliver quality at a good price, and who would also deliver on my vision with minimal disruption to my life.

I performed my baseline research, set a budget and sought to find a vendor who could deliver on my expectations. I quickly realized that cheaper is not always better. But going with an experienced industry leader can come at a premium price tag. The contractor explained to me that this is what he does for a living, not a fly-by-night operation to be rushed. Perfection takes time, a mantra he proved to me in the multistep process he took.

He spent time interviewing me to determine what my needs, wants and goals for the space were. He took that information and went back to his office to come up with his recommendations. He presented me with a drawing of what the landscaping could look like and he presented it in a way that I could understand. It was a comprehensive plan to which I could add or remove features in order to meet my budget and needs.

He then walked me through the process step-by-step, explaining that the foundation was the most critical element. He further explained that applying the stone was an art form much like the application layer on a platform. The result? Perfection. After seeing every important step, the layers to my patio, I truly know the infrastructure is strong: a formidable patio that will be there to accommodate any activity.

So, how should you go about choosing the right platform vendor for your business needs? These four easy steps will undoubtedly provide a sturdy foundation.

1. Engagement
Up-front discovery will ensure that the solution can meet your customer needs, short term and long term. Quality service, knowledge and accountability drive credibility, which in the end builds lasting relationships to stand the test of time.

2. Solutions
Show the art of the possible by setting the vision upfront in a way that is flexible for your customers to pick and choose based on specific business goals and objectives.

3. Applications
Ensure that every application built is ironclad and defect-free so that as the customer base grows and matures, you can layer in additional features and functionality with ease.

4. Infrastructure
Build a strong foundation that allows the solution to grow with your customer base for years to come.

West Corporation

Posted on July 16, 2013 by West Corporation 

Is a Customer Service Picture Worth a Thousand Words?

Have you ever had someone take your picture, and when you look at it you exclaim, “I don’t look like that! That’s a horrible picture!” Unfortunately, that recently did happen to me and it was not the first time. As much as I want to deny it, the fact is, it is ME, and I DO look like that. It is a hard pill to swallow that I really do look like that. In my mind, I am still 10 years younger and MANY pounds slimmer.

So, what is the moral of the story? When something is personal, we can lose perspective. In the world of automated care, it is important to have the diligence to conduct regular usability reviews of your IVR application. If you are part of the team that designs and reviews the application on a regular basis, then it is possible to lose your perspective. You may think the way you have your application designed makes perfect sense. However, you need to regularly engage the customer perspective to make sure you are maximizing the performance of your application.

At West Interactive, we regularly promote the use of speech science and human factors to ensure that our automated applications are continuing to meet the customer needs. In order to achieve this outside perspective, we use several options to provide an objective review of our applications:

Usability Review
Conduct a side-by-side comparison of our application with other similar applications in that industry.

Focus Groups
Bring in a group of real customers and ask for their feedback on the application.

Agent Round Table
Sit down and talk to the agents who handle customer calls. Find out what customers are saying about the IVR to the agents.

Traffic Light Analysis
This is a patented process that West uses to give us an objective perspective on what is working in the application and what is not working.

We want to make sure we are exposing our applications to objective reviews. When something is personal, it can cloud our perspective. And for me, well, let me just say that I’ll be avoiding cameras from now on.