Category: IVR & Self-Service
West Corporation

Posted on June 4, 2013 by West Corporation 

When NOT Finishing What You Start Pays Off Big Time

We’ve all grown up with our parents, teachers and mentors telling us to, “Finish what you start.” It makes total sense because no one wants a job that’s partially completed. Conversely, have you ever been given the opposite advice where someone tells you not to finish what you start and you’ll be even more successful? Of course you haven’t.

Imagine going to a restaurant and ordering the brie-and-prosciutto-stuffed chicken breast and having the server bring it to your table half-cooked, a huge smile on his face, with all the raw juices running all over your plate, telling you to “enjoy!”

Or, how about the lawn company you pay a cagillion dollars to every week to mow your lawn showing up, mowing two-thirds of your lawn then knocking on your door looking for payment and telling you to marvel at how beautiful the lawn looks.

Better yet, what about the trusted car repair shop that changes your oil and puts new tires on your car, but purposely doesn’t put your oil filter back in (that has actually happened to me – NOT GOOD) or your lug nuts back on your wheels, then pridefully walks up to collect your payment saying, “It’s all done and ready to go. Have a great day!”

You get the point. In most instances, partially completing the job is not acceptable and sometimes can be downright dangerous.

In our industry, though, the advice of not finishing what you start and embracing partial completion can pay off — big time. As you work to maximize the value of your customer contact strategy, aiming not only to drive cost out of your business but also to increase customer satisfaction, you should strive to find that perfect balance between automation (self-service, regardless of channel) and live agent. This is where one of the least used key performance metric in our business pays off and should be at the forefront of any solid business case/ROI model.

By design, you want to focus on partially completed transactions to maximize your business value. Look at the transactions that are taking place in your contact centers and dissect those transactions to determine what specific tasks the agents are doing within that transaction. You then can determine which of those tasks can effectively be automated (regardless of channel – voice, mobile, Web, etc.). Once you’ve identified certain tasks to be automated, you have introduced the idea of partial automation into your business case, which is measured using the industry standard term — task completion — for obvious reasons.

When looking to justify the deployment of a self-service solution, many companies focus their business cases on the most common metric, call containment. This is because it’s easier to measure the value of a complete transaction (i.e., phone call) within the contact center and what that transaction is worth to the business based on the cost of that transaction if it is fully automated versus fully handled by a live agent. Where this approach falls short is when most transactions that your business handles are complex, or, for some other reason, cannot be fully automated — which is a large percentage of customer care out there.

Case in Point
Assume a typical agent transaction for a particular call type takes 20 steps For example:

  1. Identify caller
  2. Verify and authenticate caller
  3. Determine caller intent, etc.

With an agent, this might take an average handle time of four minutes. Then, let’s say you determine that 10 of those 20 steps could be automated leveraging a well-designed, intelligent and intuitive self-service solution (again, regardless of channel), effectively reducing your agent tasks down to 10, cutting your average handle time in half. If 75 percent of your transactions need to be worked by a customer service representative at some point, then you easily can see how the math works and how the value or dollars saved can exponentially increase.

So, when looking at the value of a well-thought-out, well-designed, implemented and managed automated self-service solution, just remember that I may be the first person to give you this crazy advice: Don’t finish what you start within the automated environment. Hand it off to the right agent at the right point in the interaction can and will pay off — BIG TIME!

West Corporation

Posted on May 15, 2013 by West Corporation 

My, How You’ve Grown!

I’ve been a parent now for nine years. My boys are both the joy and struggle of my life. The excitement that accompanies the birth of one’s children is comparable to nothing else. That life-changing experience fills a new parent with so many emotions: pride, self-doubt, hope, fear, joy, terror.

It’s funny how a new parent’s aspirations for their kids differ from their children’s aspirations as they get older. “My kids won’t eat sugar, watch too much TV or stay up late. They will like homework, become voracious readers and sleep when they’re supposed to. I’ll see to that!” Consider a family with three kids, 15, 10 and 5. The parents, obviously, have more life experience and do their best to impart that wisdom on their kids.

The 15-year-old has just enough life experience of his own to take what his parents teach him, question them, disregard them, and ultimately decide to come up with his own way. He is far from an expert but thinks he has a better solution and wants to prove he knows every bit as much as his parents, if not more.

The 10-year-old is beginning to think for himself, but still trusts his parents’ judgment. He will seek his parents’ advice to validate his own thoughts and ideas before moving forward.

To the 5-year-old, their parents can do no wrong and she tries her best to please. She knows Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy and the Easter Bunny are all watching, and she wants to receive her reward: presents, cash and chocolate.

A dialogue designer is often thrust into the role of a parent when developing a concept or detailed interactive voice response (IVR) design for a client. A newer client might feel giddy, knowing he’s going to have a real IVR for Christmas! A more seasoned client has learned some things, dealt with some hurdles but still relies on the dialogue designer because she’s seen how they can do amazing things to improve caller experience. And a savvier client may have his own ideas of how he wants a design to work, and he may push back on consultation because he’s sure he knows his business better than anyone else, and that will surely translate into a better IVR design.

A new dialogue designer may have the same thoughts of unrealistic success as a parent does when their child is first born. “I’ll just explain best practices, and right away they’ll understand and think my design is wonderful.” After some interaction with a few clients, the designer gains wisdom and communication experience with a more realistic grasp of the design process; however, the designer still has not seen the full scope of work possible for an IVR design. An experienced designer has seen multiple design scenarios by industry and IVR type, has seen differing client knowledge levels, and knows how important his or her interaction with the client is to the final outcome.

Some people have innate skills as parents, and those same types of skills can translate to an effective dialogue designer. Taking time to understand a client’s individual needs and then cater to those needs within the guidelines of experience is the best way to raise responsible, grown-up IVR designs.

West Corporation

Posted on April 18, 2013 by West Corporation 

Sometimes Humans Are Still Better Than Technology

Do you know what this popular game is and when it was invented?

The Speak & Spell was first introduced in 1978 at the summer Consumer Electronics Show. This early speech technology was only the tip of the iceberg to where we are now with advanced speech and voice recognition.

Fast-forward 35 years: Apple launched a new iPhone with Siri speech-recognition software making the decades-old technology good enough for the average consumer. Rather than recognizing a simple word, Siri can interpret a stream of words and provide intelligent feedback.

Even with all of the speech and voice recognition software in place today, can we really afford to do away with the traditional transcription services? Sure, recognition software costs less than transcription; however, what is truly the “cost” to consumers?

Technology is important, but not more important than the quality that affects organizations and their consumers. Transcribers can intuitively correct simple errors of confusion, whereas the most advanced speech technology cannot. Speaking clearly and distinctly is essential for voice recognition software to work effectively. If a caller is in a noisy place or has an accent, then it may throw off the accuracy of the software. Conference settings and free-form feedback are other sources of inaccurate recording for the software. Transcription agents can filter out extraneous speech like, “umm” and “aah.”

An undisputed advantage of voice recognition is its speed. However, transcription can also be done in real time and doesn’t need to sit on backup tapes or servers overnight causing the common delays.

Transcription has been seen by some as a “routine” task. With so many technological advances of voice automation, it was thought that transcription would become obsolete. However, there are many aspects of transcription jobs that are not always routine. These instances require human judgment, error correction, formatting and clarification of the unclear. The judgment, experience and plain common sense can be an invaluable and priceless contribution.

Just because a computer can do something doesn’t necessarily mean that it should.

West Corporation

Posted on April 12, 2013 by West Corporation 

But You Called Me: How Companies and Customers Can Win in the Customer Service Game

Have you ever received a voice message from a company you do business with requesting you call them in regard to your account or a purchase? This type of message likely piques your curiosity and ultimately entices you to give them a call.

Now, how many times have you called back and were barraged with a choice of options on the automated system? Even if you are the savviest of users of automated systems — who understands that if you take the time to choose the right option, then your call is delivered to a customer service representative who can actually help you — you would not be sure where to start.

After bouncing from representative to representative to finally reach one who can help you, you are asked for the third time, “How can I help you?”

You respond with, “Ugh! You guys called me!”

By keeping track and leveraging context of customer interactions through various engagement channels, companies can personalize these interactions and increase customer intimacy.

For the above scenario, the automated system could have acknowledged me upfront and intelligently sent me to a representative who could have greeted me with, “Thank you for calling us back, Mr. Robeson. We have a question for you about a recent purchase.” It would have been a much better experience.

Organizations can save themselves time and cost, as well as increase customer satisfaction, by making sure the right hand knows what the left hand is doing. It is a win-win situation.

Organizational Wins

  • Consistent brand experience across all customer engagement channels, including Web, mobile, automated system and representative
    • Because customer satisfaction equals customer loyalty
  • Reduce transaction times and cost by streamlining the automated system transaction and sending the customer to the correct representative the first time

Customer Wins

  • Reduce customer effort by tracking experiences and context of interactions or the idea that, “It is easy to do business with Company Y”
  • Increase the level of predictability or the idea that, “I don’t mind contacting Company Y because it is likely they already know what has happened and it won’t take long to get an answer”

Remember that the company called you first, so to acknowledge the fact they called you is the least they can do when you call them back.

West Corporation

Posted on April 11, 2013 by West Corporation 

Better Than Coffee: A Top 10 List of Automated Application Best Practices

I am not aware of any formal scientific evidence of this, but I believe most people have a morning routine they follow after getting out of bed in the morning. A routine allows us to get from one point to another point with ease (in this case, from bed to work). Some folks may have one routine for workdays and a different routine for non-work days.  My routine, regardless of the day of the week, is coffee first — and lots of it. Coffee is what kick-starts my brain and body. Until I’ve had that first cup, nothing interesting happens or gets accomplished in my world. I look forward to mornings because that is the only time of the day I allow myself the luxury of coffee.  I love my morning routine.

So, this leads to the question, what does having a morning routine have in common with an automated customer service application? The answer is that your automated application should have a routine your customers can count on to follow and accomplish a task or multiple tasks with ease. Or, said another way, use industry best practices to ensure ease of use for customers.

Here is a top 10 list of routines (or best practices) that automated customer service applications should follow:

  • Begin the call with a welcome message and a brief description of what to expect.
  • Offer a maximum of five options at each prompt — If more than five options are available, then offer additional options under a “more options” selection.
  • Offer the most popular menu selection first, the second most popular second, and so on.
  • Offer a “repeat menu” option at each module.
  • Do not confirm unnecessarily. Frequent confirmation makes the call inefficient and aggravates the caller.
  • Re-prompt when a customer does not make a selection or makes an invalid selection.
  • Allow an agent transfer option after two errors (caller makes invalid or no selection) to minimize caller frustration.
  • In scenarios of specialized agent line groups, use the practice of the determining what the customer needs prior to transferring to an agent, “To make sure I route your call to the agent best suited to handle your call, please tell me what topic your call is related to.” This will prevent double transfers.
  • Use a silent agent option as deemed appropriate throughout the application.
  • Less is more — use the minimum number of words in the prompts.

And, finally, consider a “coffee” element in your automated application — something that keeps the customer alert, awake and paying attention. This can be as simple as using good voice talent that uses voice inflections to keep the caller engaged.

West Corporation

Posted on March 19, 2013 by West Corporation 

Data Analysis: The Needle Has a Thread

In our world of big business intelligence, where the size and complexity of our data keeps multiplying before our eyes, it can become an overwhelming task to find the answers we’re looking for. But do we even know what questions to ask or what problems we are trying to solve?

As an example, I received a request for my analytics group a few weeks ago. The requester was in a panic. He asked for a full performance analysis of his IVR application, top to bottom, and needed it in a week. He was in a panic because his client was complaining that “something was wrong” and too many calls were getting transferred to the call center. A full behavioral analysis of the entire application with thousands of data points and millions of monthly calls, if done thoroughly could take several weeks. I grabbed him for a chat, had him take a deep breath and asked him the proverbial question, “What is your true objective, or what problem are you trying to solve?” He had to pause and think about that for a moment.

“Well,” he said, “I want the client to be pleased with our performance. If we are letting too many calls through to the contact center, then we need to fix that.” That’s a pretty broad objective, so I broke it down for him.

Question: Has anything changed recently that would cause more transfers?
Answer: No, there haven’t been any changes in the past quarter.

Question: Through your reports, have you seen or observed increased transfers?
Answer: Yes. Transfers have increased in the past week but for no apparent reason.

Question: So, if nothing has changed in the program, but something has changed in the transfers, did the client change something?

The account manager immediately went back to his desk and called his client and asked the ultimate question. Within an hour he called back with the answer. Unbeknownst to us, a new caller type had been added to the client-side database which feeds in real time to our application. Because our application was not programmed to recognize it, callers of this type were transferred to the contact center by default.

So, the moral of the story is that sometimes we feel as if we need to find the needle in the haystack by sifting through every straw when the solution to the problem may be as simple as tracking the thread back to the first stitch.

West Corporation

Posted on March 8, 2013 by West Corporation 

Customers Are Your Rock Stars; IVR Is the Green Room

Legend has it that the members of the band Van Halen were such spoiled rock stars that they included a clause in their contract that while M&M’s were to be provided, no brown M&M’s were allowed.

Brown M&M’s: Rock n Roll’s greatest foe.

You might think that this is just another example of greed gone haywire, but there was a real reason for the madness. The contractual clause condemning brown M&M’s was wedged in between two very technical requirements, which detailed electrical specifications to keep people from being electrocuted.

Except for Tesla. He was the Chuck Norris of science.

So, if there were no brown M&M’s, then Van Halen could be reasonably sure that all of the other requirements were also met. That is, the band could trust that all the more important details were followed, since everything — right down to the littlest thing — was covered.

And it’s the littlest things that are important, too, in an IVR. Callers need to trust an organization to provide good customer service, and in many cases, they need to trust a company with sensitive information, such as a credit card number on file.

 It’s all in the details.

Even a small mistake in the IVR gets noticed. A caller might notice that the way the numbers play back went up at the end, like a question, was wrong.” How can an IVR be trusted with big details, like the security of credit card information, if small mistakes are allowed to play to the public? Does it potentially predict other deficits in the system? In the whole company at large?

Resources may be stretched beyond capacity and deadlines shorter than ever, but customers have to believe that an organization can be trusted, right down to the smallest detail. And although a flawless IVR experience doesn’t get much conscious notice, the little things do.

West Corporation

Posted on February 15, 2013 by West Corporation 

Do Your Customers Trust Your IVR System?

Click the icon to listen to the audio blog.

West Interactive’s Jim Milroy offers tips for IVR personalization that will help your customers trust your IVR system.

West Corporation

Posted on February 14, 2013 by West Corporation 

Consider Automation When Regulations Require More Calls

Financial and insurance companies have a multitude of regulations to follow based on the legislative acts passed in recent years. Regulations now require companies to disclose account information that in the past has not been shared with consumers. Or, in some cases, companies are required to ensure that they have done due diligence to talk to a consumer or consumer’s relative regarding an account before they can take an action such as to closing the account, charging a fee, or taking the account to a collections agency. A lot of times these disclosures cause the consumer confusion and lead them to call the company. And, more calls equals more costs. Read More >