Category: Professional Services

Category: Professional Services
West Corporation

Posted on May 6, 2015 by West Corporation 

Customer Care: Walk the Talk

The customer experience professional’s to-do list continues to grow and evolve as the lines between “customer care” and “brand” blur. We’ve all seen it coming, but the question remains: What’s one to do about it? How do we address more self-service options, across more channels, more frequently; still find ways to make a customer’s experience more personalized; and ultimately make business more profitable?

We can’t just say that we emphasize customer care; we need to walk the customer journey and collaborate intra-organizationally to make users feel that we sincerely care about where they’ve been and where they need to go.

Applying what we learn about consumers through real-time, historical and demographic data points, we can not only describe their behavior, but predict it ­– and use it to inform a consistent, cohesive message across channels. Hence, we’ll deliver strategic proactivity, greater productivity, better personalization and enhanced profitability to our businesses.

This Thursday, May 7th, Vice President of Strategic Growth and Planning Bruce Pollock will present on a panel at Argyle’s 2015 Customer Care Leadership Forum in Chicago, IL, and help empower customer experience executives to walk the “customer care” talk all the way to true economic impact.

Moderated by Amas Tenumah, COX Communications Vice President of Customer Care, Bruce and fellow panelists will discuss “The Modern Day Customer Care and Customer Experience Executive,” including industry best practices in self-service and using customer insight to ever-improve the experience.

West Corporation

Posted on April 22, 2015 by West Corporation 

Urgent Communication? Utility Customers Tell All

Our customer service communication preferences often come down to a trade-off between urgency and complexity of what we, as users, are trying to accomplish.

  • Have a simple message that doesn’t really demand a prompt response? Facebook might do the trick.
  • Less urgent, but more complicated? Email should do.
  • Need something immediate? Call.

Utilities have a particularly urgent mission to keep the power on and, thus, unique imperatives for communication with their customers. Users don’t just want power; their lives actually depend upon it. Simplicity is the name of the game.

  • Power goes out? Call.
  • Want an update to know when it will be up and running? Proactively call.
  • Notified with a warning that it might be shut off? Call.

I’m looking forward to gathering with our nation’s utility leaders at the CS Week Conference in Charlotte, NC, April 28-May 1, to discuss the new frontier in technology, solutions and practices that improve utility customer service.

In this market, automated solutions like IVR aren’t just a “nice to have;” they are absolutely critical channels. When approached intelligently, inbound and proactive outbound solutions have the power to transform urgent utility conversations into straightforward, reassuring customer experiences.

West recently brought dynamic self-service to light for one of the top U.S. utilities. The company, serving well over a million customers, needed to upgrade its front end IVR applications to effectively handle time-sensitive customer communication around emergencies, outage updates and payments. By gathering requirements and conducting thorough assessments on the front end of the project, West significantly sped up the IVR development process. From customer journey mapping, human factors analysis and roundtables, to WOZ testing, the design was complete in a matter of weeks.

Layered with predictive intent modeling and strategic natural language, the conversational IVR offers a consistent, customized user experience, no matter the customer’s intent. The results have shown that average cost per call decreases, customer satisfaction rates increase, and context awareness improves containment rates – in this case, by 12 percent and counting.

This is just one case of smart, innovative, carefully executed solutions making a substantial difference in the utility customer experience. West has been supporting utility customers for 20+ years, and we always look forward to attending workshops and conversing with utility professionals at CS Week – the premier utility customer service conference for managers and executives at investor-owned utilities, cooperatives, municipalities and government entities.

If you’ll be in Charlotte next week, please come find me and my colleagues at Booth #236, and reach out if you’d like to arrange a meeting.

Whether you’ll be there in person or just in spirit, join our conversation on social media #PowerConnected.

West Corporation

Posted on April 14, 2015 by West Corporation 

Are you prepared for multi-channel mayhem?

Take it from ADT: There’s no place like your contact center. There’s no place like your contact center. There’s no place like your contact center.

Customer care used to be housed in a physical facility, but a relatively recent whirlwind of the latest-and-greatest modes of communication has made the bricks-and-mortar contact center far less commonplace. It’s the perfect storm for multi-channel mayhem…

Customers don’t just dial in for customer service; they use text messaging, mobile apps, voice and Web platforms at once. From their fitness trackers to Twitter to live chat, users expect the brands to know them, understand them, preempt their challenges and still protect their privacy. Thus, brands are challenged to not only manage communication across multiple platforms, but also create context among them.

Take air travel, for example: You get an SMS alert that your flight from Tucson back home to Topeka is delayed. You reply, “What can I do?” and get no response. As you wait in the long line for a rep, you ring up the toll-free customer service line. You spend two minutes navigating the IVR to change flights, and then another 10 minutes explaining the same mess to the agent. Two hours later, still waiting for your rebooking confirmation, you get an email asking you to fill out a post-flight survey. Each channel is clearly disparate and, needless to say, you’ll think twice about your choice of airline next time.

We’re definitely not in contact center Kansas anymore. According to Gartner, “customer experience innovation remains the secret to lasting brand loyalty.”

Consumers’ need for easy, fast and personal self-service is tough to satisfy without ongoing strategic consideration for and investment in the customer experience. Brands must get to know their users, and break down internal silos to narrow the gap between the experience they’re having and the one they expect.

Cloud-based solutions make remote agent environments feasible; channel integration easier; predictive intent possible; and continuous improvements more accessible and affordable. Predictive analytics, user-experience design and WOZ (fittingly, “Wizard of Oz”) testing can make all the difference.

Some brands are doing a great job streamlining data and interaction to enhance the customer experience – and realizing substantial ROI, as a result. One such company is ADT, a leader home security and automation products for 6.4 million U.S. households.

Join SVP Dan Gordon at a webcast with ADT’s Chris Toon on Tuesday, April 21st at 12pmCDT, presented by Execs in the Know. We’ll discuss what West’s communication solutions have done for ADT’s customer experience; and share tips to get you started.

If you only had the secret to the ultimate connected customer experience, right? Here’s one thing that’s even easier than clicking your heels together three times: Click here to register for next Tuesday’s webcast or have the recording sent straight to your inbox.

West Corporation

Posted on March 19, 2015 by West Corporation 

Xchanging Customer Journey Insights

Did you catch the CRMXchange Virtual Conference this week? Nine sessions were jam-packed with insightful ways to put your customers first (in the good times and the bad) and ultimately shape a better experience.

Even if you missed Dan Gordon’s presentation on Building the Customer Experience Blueprint or the rapid-fire panel discussion that concluded the conference, we won’t leave you hanging. You can check out the recording, and here are 5 quick takeaways for a better multi-channel customer experience:

  • Create connectivity and context: Cut down on the work (and rework) you make customers do. How? Limit transfers between channels and repetition of information. The resources it takes on the front-end are well worth it in customer loyalty.
  • Find balance in BI: Data is essential understanding what communication channels customers prefer and why. The more you know, the better you can anticipate needs and improve the customer journey. Look at the data that resides within your business already. You may not need more metrics, so much as alternative ways of using it. Determine correlations between data-points to make the most of what your customers are telling you.
  • Implement incrementally: A multi-channel customer experience is only successful if you tackle every channel well. Don’t try to take them all on at once, nor in the same ways. Map the ideal customer journey and identify priorities. Start small. Do things right the first time, and build upon them.
  • Turn tension into retention: It costs more to acquire a new customer than to keep the ones you have happy. By thinking from the outside-in, you can explore points of tension to fix them before they put a customer relationship at risk. Be proactive. Be consistent. Continuously improve. Exceed expectations. Focus on the business process.
  • Let the Web lead the way: People want to self-serve, but they are easily overwhelmed by too many options. Conveniently, most look online before taking action, so clear verbiage on your home page may be all it takes to guide users to the right place(s) for them. Make sure that your online experience is seamlessly integrated with your other channels.
West Corporation

Posted on March 10, 2015 by West Corporation 

Paving the Way for Your Connected Customer

You may want to sit down for this alert: You don’t own your brand.

It sounds dramatic, but in a world of immediate communication and constant social activity, it’s no wonder that customers have a lot more control over a company’s reputation than the brand itself. And much of the time, the things you do (or don’t do) speak louder than the messages you craft. In other words, most of a customer’s perception of your brand rests in the experience with it – from start to finish, day-to-day or one-and-done, across a multitude of channels.

That seat you grabbed earlier? Pretend it belongs to your quintessential customer. Take a look at communication with your brand from his/her chair…

Do you stop to consider a company’s customer service structure before calling about the shipping status of your order instead of checking online? Do you wonder how the pharmacy recognizes you when you reply to an SMS notification about a prescription refill? Do you think about all of an airline’s moving parts when you determine how long you’re willing to wait for a response about the gate-change of your connecting flight?

Your customers think about interaction with your brand as if it’s all about them – and in many respects, they’re right. At the end of the day, if they’re choosing to connect with your company (which is an amazing thing, by the way), why not make it easier, faster and more personal for them?

SVP Dan Gordon talks about how to tackle that in this brief video:

Taking time to thoughtfully map the customer journey ­­– from awareness to advocacy – is a worthwhile investment in your brand: Visualize the ideal experience. Take a good look at the current one. Identify the gaps. Prioritize them. Take it one day (or objective, channel, objective, etc.) at a time.

With decades of experience developing and managing communication solutions that add value to companies and their end-consumers, West Interactive Services can help. Reach out to West to learn more.

West Corporation

Posted on March 4, 2015 by West Corporation 

Get Over Common Hurdles to Create the Synergy Customers Expect

“The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” We have all harped on the power of synergy a million times before, but the questions remain: Are we maximizing the whole? Have we stopped compartmentalizing our workforces, our offerings and our communication? Are our organizations creating a synergistic experience across any and all devices our customers want to use?

The answers are likely “no.” So, what’s stopping each of us from achieving success in an omni-channel world?

Interestingly enough, the roadblocks are similar for many organizations. As I described in conversation with Execs in the Know President Chad McDaniel (in the video linked above), disparate departments think they own the customer relationship, customer care roles are evolving, and not all customer data is universally available. The desire for “personalized communication” means something different to everyone, and it’s no wonder that leaders encounter internal challenges even when we’re mindfully mapping the customer journey!

Knowing that many of us are on the same track, we can look critically at our roadmaps and tackle the obvious hurdles; grab our customers’ shoes and take a lap. 

CRMXchange Virtual Conference

Lace up for a hurdling lesson at the CRMXchange Virtual Conference: Shaping the Journey of the Connected Customer. I’ll be delivering a presentation from 11am-12pm CST on March 18th called “Building the Customer Experience Blueprint: Common Roadblocks to Overcome,” followed by a Q&A session in the “lounge.”

The conference begins on March 16th and lasts through the 19th. Hopefully I’ll virtually run in to you in there…


West Corporation

Posted on November 18, 2014 by West Corporation 

Drive Holiday Results With a Multi-channel Engagement Strategy

It’s that time of year again! Everyone is bustling trying to finish buying holiday gifts, preparing for visitors and the new year. Making your customer’s shopping experiences and lives easier during this time is more important than ever. Customers already want information immediately and conveniently but during the hectic holiday season – providing this information when they need it and how they want it, can be a differentiator and a business driver.

describe the imageWe’re all seeing the dozens of TV commercials for electronic holiday gifts, ranging from cell phones, laptops, tablets and more. Customers are always on the go and due to the increase of mobile usage; customers expect relevant content on their preferred channels.

Many companies are thinking about how to earn business during this high volume, high stakes season if they want to stay ahead of their competition. Three in five retailers dedicated over 20 percent of their online marketing budgets to holiday efforts.

Companies can ensure their holiday season will be a success by incorporating multiple channels into a customer communication strategy and by being proactive and engaging with customers. By sending notifications on a preferred channel, like email and SMS text, customers are more likely to read your messages and have a positive experience.

Eighty two percent of retailers are making investments in mobile this holiday season and you don’t want your business to be left in a snowdrift. By sending notifications to your customers on their preferred communication channels in a compliant manner, you are providing a convenient way for customers to engage with your company and making it easier for them to do business with you.

By proactively informing customers of holiday deals, special events, shipping updates or travel notifications on multiple communication channels, you are improving customer experience and providing the highest level of service consumers expect. You will not only stay ahead of your competition but you will improve the lives of your customers – and that’s the best gift of all!

West Corporation

Posted on August 26, 2014 by West Corporation 

How Your Devices Learn to Talk to You

We may still be a few dozen years away from everyone having their own personal robot, but in a lot of ways, the future has arrived – especially in the realms of automatic speech recognition (ASR) and interactive voice response (IVR). After all, where would we be today without having Siri tell us whether or not it’s raining outside? You were probably caught in the rain without an umbrella, at the very least.

Automatic Speech Recognition Is a Process

Automatic speech recognition is any sort of technology that allows a computer to convert spoken language into text in real time. While the technology has been in government and military research since the 1950s, it’s only been used by the general public since the 1980s, when it was introduced as a way to help people with musculoskeletal disabilities.

To use ASR technology, you start by speaking into your device’s microphone. Your device then creates a wave form from the sound and background noise is filtered out while volume is normalized to a constant level. Then, the filtered wave form is broken down into individual phonemes (the sounds used to build words that are the most basic units of language, like the hard “k” sound in the word “kit”). Based on the first phoneme of a word, the computer uses a combination of statistical probability (usually the hidden Markov model) and context to narrow down options and figure out which word was spoken.

Talk to Me

Some ASR systems are so advanced that they can engage in “conversations” with you, a technology called natural language programming (NLP). NLP works through the process of machine learning and statistical inference, in which software searches through a programmed body of real-world examples to recognize and respond to speech. And some other methods of speech recognition search a hard-coded vocabulary.

NLP works best in fairly simple “conversations” that rely mostly on yes or no answers, or have few major possible answers. Instead of searching its entire vocabulary for each word in a question and processing them separately, NLP systems react to certain “tagged” words and phrases to respond appropriately – things like “weather forecast” or “pay my bill.”

Improving the Conversations

Over time, voice recognition software gets better by “learning” from each experience. In fact, speech recognition has been the main focus of machine learning research over the last few decades. ASR systems can either be tuned by humans, or they can engage in a process called active learning.

In tuning, programmers can review logs to identify and fix common problems. With linguists’ help, programmers can add words, pronunciations and grammatical structures that the system is failing to understand. Software is hand-coded with a variety of real-world examples for the software to search and draw from.

Active learning, meanwhile, is still currently limited in its capabilities; think about how often your phone autocorrects “top” to “too,” and you’ll have an idea. Data is stored from past interactions as the program gets to know the words and combinations of words that you most often use. Another example of active learning in speech recognition software is in homes or medical transcription when the software calibrates itself to the voice of its user, taking in certain words and phrases and then reacting with programmed examples to allow the program to work more easily with accents, speech impediments, and more.

While ASR technology is fascinating and fun to experiment with, it currently faces a few limitations. While average accuracy is 96 percent, this is usually accompanied by the caveat “in ideal conditions,” meaning with little background noise, no one else speaking nearby, distinct speech and more. Too much background noise, loud ambient noise, and/or low-quality input hardware can muddle the wave forms and lead to inaccurate output.

Computers and software also have problems distinguishing overlapping speech (two voices speaking at the same time), and the extensive statistical and contextual analysis from these programs often requires a large amount of processing power, taxing a computer’s processors and batteries. Finally, the always-tricky homonyms (words that have the same spelling but different meanings) are difficult for computers to process correctly, even as the ability of ASR programs to distinguish between words based on context improves.

As technology continues to progress, the future of speech recognition software looks to focus on making translation services more accurate and further developing computers’ ability to understand the words they’re taking in.

From Luke Skywalker communicating with R2D2 and C3PO to today’s helpful yet sometimes snarky Siri, ASR has evolved to have more functionality than ever, and as the software is tuned and perfected, the scope of artificial intelligence will only continue to grow. And we will no longer have to worry about being caught in the rain.

Inforgraphic to Explain ASR

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 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.