Category: Interactive Services


Category: Interactive Services
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 November 12, 2013 by West Corporation 


The Overlooked Costs of Insufficient Software Design and Testing

Everywhere one goes in the computer world, there are hallway conversations about how testing software is a necessary evil. And still others think that software can be made perfect through careful design and careful coding, thus eliminating all but a customer’s acceptance testing or the readiness of a production system.

Despite that, many articles are routinely published about how testing software to find and fix problems in the lab is cheaper than fixing a problem after the software has released. For example, IBM quoted research by the National Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST) showing that, based on the time and money involved for a person to work on the issue, the cost of fixing a problem grows as the software moves forward in the lifecycle:

Some articles go so far as to mention the harm that problems cause reputations and business relationships.

However, rarely do these articles and the numbers quoted in them show the danger posed by improper or insufficient test design or lack of testing. Here are some real-world examples to keep in mind when designing, coding and testing software, or when having someone do that work for you.

The $44,500 Parking Ticket
Here is a humorous example: A driver in Italy received a parking fine for US$44,500 due to late fees and interests for his parking infraction from the year 208 C.E. When this was challenged, the city corrected the mistake and reentered the ticket into the computer for the actual year of 2008. Seriously? No one from design through coding and testing of the software thought that the software needed a check to verify that the parking ticket was written after the invention of the automobile, or at least as far back as 1900?

Hacking by DTMF
By now, almost everyone has heard stories of websites having their security broken and customer or patient data being stolen with tricks like cross-site scripting and SQL injection. Other types of attacks mentioned in the press are designed to block access to websites so no one else can access them, such as Denial-of-service (DoS) attacks.

Few people realize that the same thing can happen with phone systems, regardless of whether they are DTMF- or speech-driven.

At one of the many now-common security conferences held around the world, a security researcher demonstrated that a certain bank’s automated phone system could be hacked with just a touch-tone phone. Once broken, the phone system provided account information for the bank’s other customers. In this demonstration, the bank’s system did not have enough safeguards in place to deal with error conditions, so instead of responding with, “That is an invalid entry,” or, “The system has encountered an exception,” the IVR used text-to-speech to recite the entire error message returned from the back-end system, which contained the information for some other client.

What surprised the audience at the conference is that the researcher’s “attacks” were effectively the phone versions of the same attacks used to break websites or to break operating systems and install malware or turn personal computers into zombies to do the bidding of some unseen puppet master. In the simplest case, all he did was enter more digits than required when prompted for an account number.

In other cases, the researcher created the equivalent of a DoS attack on the IVR system, locking out everyone from their accounts without needing hundreds of phones making simultaneous calls into the IVR.

$440 Million Lost in 45 Minutes
Not every fault with software is due to a bug in the code. In August 2012, a Wall Street trading firm lost approximately $440 million in roughly 45 minutes through a misstep when releasing its computer-based trading software.

A new version of the software, which automates some trades on the New York Stock Exchange, was close to being released. As the company’s staff bundled the software to move it from the lab to the production systems, the component that drives the automated testing of the software was accidentally included as well. When the bundle was connected to the NYSE, the testing component launched and started making trades (complete purchase and sale of the same stock) at a rate of 40 trades per second. Since the testing component wasn’t programmed to care about the purchase or sell prices, it was typically selling at a loss for each purchase. Those losses added up to around $440 million. Because the company was financially responsible, bankruptcy was certain.

There was no published follow-up to know how the test component was included in the production bundle of the software; however, general consensus is that there was no fault in any of the software but instead the problem was with the process not validating the contents of the bundled software or testing the software on the NYSE system before the start of the trading session.

Great U.S. Northeast Blackout of 2003
While this is a textbook example of the domino effect because many separate problems lead to this disaster, ultimately, a bug in the power plant’s software prevented the electric grid operators from responding in a timely manner. A more detailed look showed the bug to be what is known as a “race condition” where two or more things attempt to happen at the same time. There were so many alarms coming into the central computer from all the other problems at the same time that the software did not have a way to deal with them, thus the race condition.

To be fair, race conditions are one of the most difficult things to design, code and test against to prevent them from happening, and sudden “high-impact” conditions like those leading up to the 2003 Blackout are hard to imagine during meetings when hardware and software systems are being designed.

Where Does This Leave Us?
The reality about computer hardware and software is that there are many, many more things that can go wrong than can go right, and it is everyone’s job — from design through coding and testing — to make sure the right thing happens most often. The same is true for human processes where a typo, a forgotten step, or “the person who usually does this is on vacation” leads to mistakes. So, no matter how many times people say testing is a “necessary evil,” these and other stories clearly show that testing is necessary, and it is certainly not evil when it prevents disasters.

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 23, 2013 by West Corporation 


Striking Oil (or Water) With Client Referrals

The goal of any good client services organization is to have 100 percent reference-able clients. Sounds simple enough, doesn’t it? You offer a sound product, qualified and dedicated agents, years of industry knowledge, a quick turnaround to market, and you’re bound to get a reference, right? But should that be your only goal?

Not every client (no matter how satisfied they are) can or will give a reference. Perhaps they rely on government contracts, and policy demands them to remain neutral. Perhaps they just don’t want their name published by others. You’ve worked hard to become their partner and helped them grow their business. What’s in it for you? OK, I know they’ve signed a multiyear contract and made your president happy. But what about next year’s sales projections? How do you grow the business year over year?

A good reference can be worth its weight in oil. We like oil. We need oil. In most of the world, oil is a symbol of wealth and power. But not every oil well can be a gusher. Some never discover anything but air or water. What do you do when the black gold you’ve been searching for turns out to be plain old H2O? Maybe you’re not as bad off as you think. After all, spring or mineral water can be bottled and sold for quite a profit.

Case in point, an established client and trusted business partner (who cannot officially be named as a reference) found a way to demonstrate how their “water” was just as valuable to us as “oil.” Our organizations partnered on many levels; therefore, it was natural that the relationship grew over time. Since the beginning, we expanded from basic agent services with DTMF IVR call delivery, to a natural language solution, to Web services and more. Recent enhancements to some of our Web solutions impressed the right person at the right time, which turned into a new piece of business. The new opportunity had the potential to reach across many divisions of the company, which up to then had been out of our reach. It wasn’t technically are “referral” but it was just as important. Mmmm … that water sure is clean, cold and tasty to drink!

So, keep an open mind when it comes to referrals. Striking oil is preferred. But, if you have the right attitude, water could turn out to be just as satisfying.

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 October 21, 2013 by West Corporation 


Yes, Please Use Your Smartphone During Training

“Welcome to training, please use your mobile device during this session.”

Is this sarcasm? With the introduction of mobile electronic devices, such as the laptop, cellphone and tablet, learning distractions have gone digital and are not afraid to invade your next learning session. You probably have no trouble identifying “that person” or worse yet those “persons” in your organization who seem to spend more time texting or checking emails than participating in the meeting or training. Ask any corporate facilitator to list common classroom distractions and you will usually hear at least one reference to the use of smartphones during a training session. The mobile demographic demands our attention. Typically, smartphones and other mobile devices are considered a hindrance in learning environments, but does it have to be this way? When I think of mobile devices in the classroom, one saying always comes to mind: If you can’t beat‘em, join’em.

When I first considered integrating the mobile revolution into my training sessions, I have to admit I ran into some resistance from my peers. My spouse is a part-time facilitator for his organization, and we often share ideas and experiences in the classroom. I casually shared this idea with him while at dinner one night, and as you can expect, I received eye rolling accompanied with a long exasperated exhale and a drawn out, “oh boy.” Luckily, I decided to expand my research beyond the dinner table and found other facilitators who applied many techniques with success.

Deciding to start slow, I focused first on the most common mobile device in my classroom, the smartphone. Here are two techniques I was able to easily integrate.

Texting — Text messages are a great way for learners to submit questions to the facilitator. Every learning environment has a shy learner who hesitates to ask questions in front of the class. Texting is a great alternative. Asking participants to text questions during training is also a great way to create a virtual “parking lot” for questions

Smartphone Apps — There are many apps available for both Android and iOS devices that enhance the learning experience. One app worth checking into is from Socrative. Free for teachers and learners, this app provides teachers a method of engaging learners with exercises and games through most mobile devices and provides exportable reports on these exercises through an email Excel spreadsheet. I have used this app in both meetings and training sessions and in a variety of different ways such as quizzes, surveys and collaboration. Once an activity is complete, the app offers me the opportunity to download the report or send it to my email.

I am always interested in what other facilitators are using in the classroom. If you have a solution that works for you, please comment and share. Let’s face it, mobile devices are here to stay. If learners rely on mobile devices for other day-to-day operations, then facilitators should consider how to incorporate them into the learning strategy.

West Corporation

Posted on October 16, 2013 by West Corporation 


Empowering Your Agents

As organizations continue to find new and innovative ways to use technology in their contact centers to reduce costs, oftentimes we are too reliant on what consultants and the outside world is saying.

This technology can do this, that technology can do that. While this might help your company keep up on current trends, is it really solving the problem? More importantly, is it helping identify and solve a problem you don’t even know about?

From our own experience of both running our own contact centers and the technology within them, we know that agents have been a great resource for new ideas. From an operations perspective, they are the front door to your customers. They know what calls are coming in, the types, and what the end results typically are. Any call center supervisor can hypothesize what their most frequent calls might be based on the time of year or specific product being advertised; however, supervisors aren’t on the phones and might not be exposed to conversations that might cause agents to pull their hair out because it is not a good use of their time.

Asking your own agents (or advocates, team members, etc.) for their input can be a crucial tool that can be used to identify call types that may be frequent enough where additional automation can be leveraged. Agents need to feel empowered by the business lines they support. The sense of contribution and accomplishment is often the best motivator for any employee — agent to corporate executive. By putting together focus groups, companies can assess their centers with agent roundtables that can help produce qualitative evidence based on agent feedback (what types of calls are they taking and what are the reasons for these calls). Management can then better act on this firsthand evidence and will not only realize additional savings, but also will improve the customer’s experience at the same time.

Even though business may be in the same industry, the needs of their customers are unique. Best practices can dictate when a call can be self-served and when the call needs to be handled directly by an agent. However, your own agents can become the best resource, providing the necessary insight needed to help serve customers more efficiently and effectively.

West Corporation

Posted on October 9, 2013 by West Corporation 


Behind Every Good Company Are Other Good Companies

They say you can’t do it alone, and this is so true in business. Partners who share a mutual interest drive productivity, innovation and a spirit of growth. Critical to West Interactive’s success over our 20-plus years have been such partnerships. We at West Interactive are thrilled to have joined the Sonus Partner Assure Program.

Not only have we transformed our business using Sonus Network Technology, but we also have been using it to help our clients transform their businesses as well. At West Interactive, we bring a unique perspective to customers — as a user and reseller of Sonus solutions. As one of the largest Sonus enterprise session border controller (SBC) networks in North America, West Interactive has experience navigating SBC deployments and a deep understanding of the critical role SBCs serve in protecting and securing today’s networks.

West Interactive specializes in providing industry-leading multichannel customer contact solutions that are uniquely applied to each industry, each market and each customer. With increased adoption of Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) trunking and unified communications (UC), West Interactive can now provide its customers with a highly scalable and reliable SBC from Sonus to ensure network security and resiliency. Sonus SBCs are purpose-built for the demands of SIP-based communications and feature-rich applications like UC and video across enterprise networks.

Sonus Partner Assure provides enterprise communications resellers, distributors and solution providers with a comprehensive, turnkey program to enable SIP transformations for enterprise customers. Enterprises working with a certified Sonus Select Partner can be confident that their needs will be addressed in a capable, professional manner to help enterprises achieve business and communications objectives.

The past year has been quite a success for the West Interactive and Sonus partnership, with significant Sonus projects helping six of our newest customers. Not to mention the continued investment that West Interactive makes in our own Sonus environment. We value this great partnership and look forward to continued success as part of the Sonus Partner Assure Program.

West Corporation

Posted on October 7, 2013 by West Corporation 


Got APIs?

An application programming interface (API) can be defined as a set of protocols, routines, and tools for building software applications. An API enforces structure on both sides of a request, and a good API makes it easier for developers to build apps. Over the past few years, there has been a sharp increase in the use of Web-accessible APIs. Twitter, Google and Facebook handle billions of API requests every day. Others are steadily joining the API movement: ProgrammableWeb.com provides a directory listing nearly 10,000 different APIs, and even provides an “API for APIs.”

Why the astounding growth? Mobile applications are driving much of the increase, but the bottom line is that APIs are unleashing an incredible amount of creativity by enabling software developers to build amazingly powerful applications — while letting others manage the underlying IT infrastructure. Additionally, the developer is shielded from the complexities of the service implemented behind the APIs, while a pay-as-you-go pricing model further reduces barriers to entry.

Enterprises are moving toward Web-accessible APIs, albeit at a slower pace. Data security is a key concern, as is the risk of adding external dependencies. As a result, there are many companies offering API management services now. These services are offered in on-premise, cloud and hybrid flavors — and are helping to speed the adoption rate of APIs by enterprises. Common features include access portals, development tools, security, analytics and more. Additionally, there are several open-source solutions available. Ultimately, enterprises will embrace APIs from proven, trusted, providers of enterprise-grade solutions and services.

Is your enterprise leveraging the power of Web-accessible APIs yet? If not, it’s time to start thinking about it. Do your business partners offer secure, reliable, managed APIs? If not, make sure it’s on their roadmap. By all accounts, the Age of the API is upon us.


Intrado

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