Category: Interactive Services

Category: Interactive Services
West Corporation

Posted on July 22, 2014 by West Corporation 

Talk to Me Goose

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

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

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

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

We’ll be your wingman anytime.

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

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

West Corporation

Posted on July 18, 2014 by West Corporation 

Notifications Will Be a Differentiator in 2014 and Beyond

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

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

What We’re Seeing

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

Expectations Will Only Get Higher

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

Proactive Notifications

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

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

West Corporation

Posted on January 6, 2014 by West Corporation 

The Future Expectations of Customer Service

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

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

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

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

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 23, 2013 by West Corporation 

Congratulations! You’ve just hired a family

In the frenzy of hiring, onboarding and beginning the employment of a new hire, you rarely think about the impact of the hiring event on the new employee’s family or circle of close friends. Yet, a family’s influence on and impression of your company may play a role in your ability to retain each employee and affect their long-term job satisfaction. Often the most critical family impact during the hiring process is the health benefit package the new employee receives, but family consideration can and should extend beyond those core health benefits.

The hiring event is simply the starting point of contemplating the family influence dynamic. An employee’s daily experiences and how they share those happenings begins building the family’s perception of how family-friendly your company might be. In many families, the sharing of daily events often includes exchanges about what happened at work and school. What might those exchanges sound like as your employees give their families a download about their day at work.

Is your workplace family-friendly? Consider these factors in answering that question

Balanced Lifestyle
Do your employees have the opportunity to unplug when they are outside of work to fully engage with their family and friends during weekends, evenings and vacation?  It’s essential to create the right culture, processes and adequate after-hours backup support to allow employees to be free of their work duties and electronic devices so the time they spend with their family is uninterrupted quality time.

Family Engagement in the Workplace
Do you periodically organize events that allow employees to bring their family members to the workplace so they feel familiar with and a part of their loved one’s work environment? Holding work-sponsored events like Halloween trick-or-treating, pictures with Santa, community charity events or a work picnic can instill a great deal of family interaction and goodwill. Those family events may also benefit workplace relationships as employees get to know the families of their peers and have the opportunity to see them as a parent, grandparent or spouse.

Employee Recognition
Do you provide recognition events that allow your employees to share with their family how their work was received and acknowledged by their employer or co-workers? Issuing notes of achievement or peer recognition certificates along with nominal gift cards for family-oriented activities for dinner out or discounts to local recreational family events allows an employee to share their accomplishments with their families.

Family Perks
Does your company offer discount opportunities from local retailers that extend to family members or that benefit an employee’s family? Take every opportunity to generate those discount opportunities with retailers and communicate to employees those additional benefits and the value they may provide to their families.

So, the next time you consider actions to increase employee morale, retention and job satisfaction, remember the family factor in your equation.

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.