Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Call Center IVR Technology: The Benefits of Segmenting and Analyzing Caller Profiles

We’ve all screened our personal calls from time to time, but many companies overlook some of the benefits of using call center IVR to analyze a caller’s profile. Call center IVR technology can be applied in different ways to address different callers. How can identifying your incoming calls improve your call center IVR? The information you gather about callers based on their phone numbers can be applied in various ways to improve customer service with your IVR technology:

1) Caller location: Have to put a caller on hold as they wait for an agent? The hold function provided by the call center IVR can be different for a caller in Chicago than a caller in Richmond—you might tell the caller in Chicago about a new store opening nearby, for instance. Your call center IVR may also benefit from changing personas according to location. A call from New York might respond more positively to an IVR with a New York accent, for instance. A caller from Oregon might not relate to a persona with a Southern accent, and so on. Consider customizing personas and sales pitches based on different locations for maximum impact with your call center IVR.

2) Language: If you have an incoming call from Mexico, it’s to your advantage to have your call center IVR respond in Spanish. Even if your call center IVR does not need to address most international calls, language preference is worth addressing. Callers from Quebec City will be much more responsive to a French call center IVR, while many callers from Southern California will appreciate a Spanish option.

3) Caller profiling: Many callers to a call center IVR will be repeat callers, and tracing repeat callers can yield many advantages for a call center IVR. A database of caller profiles and history is a great source of information for IVR technology, from customizing sales pitches to personalizing greetings. A recent article on TMC Net segments callers into different types and suggests that it may even be appropriate to segment callers based on their loyalty to the company. Callers with a history of being demanding or difficult, for instance, could be sent through to senior agents who would be better equipped to serve them. By keeping a record of repeat callers, a database of caller profiles can be used to service them accordingly with the call center IVR technology.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

IVR System Development: Forecast for 2010

2009 is drawing to a close. What will 2010 bring for IVR application development? Certainly IVR applications will continue to grow and evolve with time. I believe that many of the trends I’ve discussed in my IVR system blog will continue to progress, enhancing IVR usability and improving call center processes.  

Here are some of my specific predictions for IVR system development in 2010:

1) Voice biometrics: In a recent blog I addressed the move towards voice biometric security. Companies that rely on passwords and security questions will begin to be seen as less credible than those implementing voice biometric security in their IVR application. Especially for financial and healthcare institutions, voice biometrics will become the norm for IVR application security. According to Opus Research, the voice biometric market for IVR applications is projected to reach $800 million in revenue by 2011. Read my recent blog on voice biometrics.

2) IVR hosting: 2010 will see the continued move towards hosted solutions. Hosted solutions are available from many vendors for the most advanced speech technologies. Companies will take advantage of low costs for fast-track enhancements of their IVR systems with the latest technologies. On-premise solutions will always be used in some call centers, but their market share is likely to decrease in coming years. Read my past IVR blog for more on hosted vs. on-premise IVR application development.

3) Multi-channel IVR integration: IVR used to be a silo contact channel, much like other channels. In 2010, the shift towards integrating support channels for more efficient interaction and enhanced customer experience will increasingly extend to IVR as well. IVR will become a part of the integration of support channels, benefiting from and contributing to a central data repository of all customer interactions. Read my past blog for more information on multi-channel synchronization.

4) Self-service IVR applications with voice recognition: Touchtone menu options are increasingly perceived as tedious, and yet in past companies have not always implemented speech recognition. As the technology behind voice recognition for IVR systems has matured, more and more companies will capitalize on it and move towards user-friendly self-service IVR applications with speech recognition.

5) Increased budget for IVR system development: The economic downturn made companies hesitant to invest in technology, even when updated IVR technology could reduce operational costs and enhance customer satisfaction. In 2009, budget constraints didn’t allow for the implementation of such new ideas. Now, as economic conditions are more conducive to long-term investments, companies across the board will be ready to invest more in their IVR application development.

Whatever the trends are, it’s important to always perform ROI analysis and ensure your IVR system will be efficient and enable you to reach your business goals. Contact Crimsonet if you have any questions regarding the efficiency of your IVR system.

And of course, wishing you a happy holiday season and a prosperous New Year!

Friday, November 27, 2009

A Hosted IVR System: For Low-Cost and Fast Implementation

Small and medium-size businesses may initially lack the resources to invest in an updated IVR system. The initial deployment and operational costs can be high, certainly, and that’s why I always emphasize the importance of ROI analysis—to ensure that the investment pays off. A good way to reduce costs and the headache of operational start-ups is to use hosted IVR applications. This practice of IVR hosting is increasingly growing in the IVR system industry.

What are the benefits of hosted IVR?

1) Reasonable Initial Investment - IVR hosting is a good option to minimize initial deployment costs for business.

2) Quicker Implementation - Hosted IVR has a quicker deployment time than traditional on-premise call center IVR.

3) Increased Scalability and Flexibility - With hosted IVR, a company can accommodate changing call volume, with the ability to easily accommodate peak call volume periods while paying for only as much as is being used.

4) No-Fuss Equipment – First-class equipment is available and maintained by the hosting provider, including: servers, software licenses, power, communication lines and bandwidth.

As a business grows, the cost of IVR hosting grows with it. While an on-premise IVR system will have a high initial deployment cost and a fixed billing rate that should accommodate the peak call volume to be supported, the charges on a hosted IVR system are directly proportional to the call volume. Should the call volume render the cost of IVR hosting more expensive than an on-premise IVR system, the solution can be repatriated, or moved from the on-demand costing model to dedicated managed servers.

A recent SpeechTech article on IVR hosting points to the surge in hosted call center IVR systems. Ultimately, whether a company invests in hosted IVR or an on-premise solution depends on their unique priorities and long-term goals. Before considering a hosted IVR system solution, companies must assess a multitude of factors, including:

Technology, platform, scalability, integration capability, contingency/backup capabilities, development environment and resources, reporting and analytics, functional capabilities, management tools, ongoing service and maintenance, optimization capabilities, customer references, vendor responsiveness, financial strength, and planned research and development investments by the vendors they are considering.

If flexibility and low deployment costs are important in developing your company’s IVR system, it may be worth checking into IVR hosting. There is no doubt that the trend in the call center IVR industry is increasingly moving towards IVR hosting. If you would like to know whether you should invest in hosted IVR system, contact Crimsonet

Monday, October 26, 2009

Getting The Highest Security for your Voice Recognition System

Many functions on a call center system will require some form of caller authentication, whether through the call center IVR system or through an agent. The form this caller verification process takes says a lot about a company. It’s not enough for an agent or voice recognition system to pose a sequence of security questions anymore. Callers may feel uncomfortable if all it takes is their mother’s maiden name to access their accounts. In fact, the call center of my own cellular services provider asks two simple security questions to establish my identity, and they are quite easy for a potential fraudster to seek out—my birthday and mother’s maiden name! Each time I call this company’s call center IVR system, I must go through the same rigmarole answering these questions.

Aside from security questions, even a lengthy numeric password is not always secure. Passwords can be stolen, or callers may simply forget. Highly sensitive transactions—banking transfers, for instance—need to be executed in a way which makes the caller feel their personal information and accounts are safe, and which protects against fraudulent access.

The importance of call center security must not be under-estimated. Fraud is a prevalent concern. An August article on DigitalTransactions News reports on the trend towards call center fraud. Through increasingly sophisticated means, such as online phishing, fraudsters are gaining access to personal information and using it to access highly confidential personal accounts via call center IVR systems and call center agents. The consequences can be devastating.

Of course, many call centers work very hard to gain customer trust and keep the incidence of fraud as low as possible, but it is clear that the problem is rarely resolved. So whatever your current authentication system for your call center, it is important to ask yourself how your company can take it to the next level.

So what might be the best route you can take? Voice biometric technology.

The benefits of voice biometric technology are clear. Rather than authenticating callers based on something they know or have (such as a password or security chip), voice biometric technology zeroes in on something they are—the sound of their voice being a uniquely individual characteristic which cannot be replicated. Having a dynamic clearance procedure, in which the caller must repeat a different phrase for each call to the voice recognition system, guards against the possibility of voice recording.

The process saves times and reduces errors, thus improving caller experience. Voice biometric technology dramatically reduces the false acceptance rate with an agent or voice recognition system, and similarly limits the false rejection rate. Quality voice biometrics will function regardless of the caller’s environment, mood, or intonation. Advanced speaker verification technology can even authenticate a caller as he or she is speaking freely with an agent. 

I have noticed the technology is growing more and more prevalent in the call center systems of both high-security institutions and other product/service providers. My advice? No matter whether you are a bank, a service provider, or an insurance company, if you have a call center IVR system in place, it pays to invest in the most up-to-date and secure authentication technology.

For more tips on your authentication process or call center IVR system, and to see what other measures you can implement to improve your call center IVR system, feel free to contact me and describe your specific situation.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Rate your Call Center IVR System: Take Crimsonet’s Self-Assessment Tool

I’m always blogging about different tips for an effective call center IVR system. Personalization, caller surveys, multi-channel synchronization—these are just some of the many characteristics of a winning call center IVR. A poor IVR system can frustrate callers to no end, but a well-designed IVR is a great boost for your company’s image and can decrease costs considerably.

But with so many factors to consider, it can be difficult to know if your IVR system is meeting its full potential. I’ve had a few people ask me how to assess their call center IVR system, and I invariably go through the same points. While I can’t give any solid assessment without more in-depth information, I have developed a list of measures covering modern effective IVR functions to quickly assess the effectiveness of a call center IVR system.

The result is Crimsonet’s Self-Assessment Tool for Call Center IVR Systems. Take this ten question assessment to determine the effectiveness of your IVR system and learn areas where you can potentially improve your call center IVR. Assess your IVR system on personalization, script adaptability, security, agent access and more. By implementing some of the listed suggestions, you can decrease hold times and drop rates, and increase caller satisfaction and profitability.

To learn how you can strengthen your call center IVR system, take the self-assessment now!

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Empathize with the User of Your Interactive Voice Response System

It can be maddening to interact with a poorly designed interactive voice response system. Even when the script is perfect, there are times when callers may feel stuck and alienated. The trick is to put yourself in the caller’s shoes. How often do you use your own interactive voice response solution, after all? Probably never—but if you can empathize with your callers, you’re on your way to developing a much more user-friendly interactive voice response system. 

A recent TMCnet article about interactive voice response for smartphones offers some interesting statistics about where and when users feel comfortable with voice response system solutions. Users felt comfortable using a voice response system:

…while shopping or running errands (88 percent), waiting at appointments (80 percent), walking between places (78 percent) or visiting friends (68 percent). Survey respondents also said they would feel comfortable using voice to perform tasks on their smartphones while walking (93 percent), exercising (92 percent), and shopping or running errands (87 percent), according to the study.

On the other hand, some users felt awkward using interactive voice technology with a smartphone when in a restaurant, with only 71 percent of respondents feeling comfortable. 

These statistics show how important it is to empathize with callers and their surroundings. Sometimes callers will prefer touchtone to using an interactive voice response solution. Users need to know they have the option of switching back and forth. So when the time comes to dictate personal information, like an account number or address, have your interactive voice response system remind callers that they can use touchtone OR speech to communicate with the system. 

A few other tips for empathizing with callers:

• For self-service interactive voice response transactions, make it clear that an agent is available at any time, and give clear instructions on how to reach one. I have seen many companies discourage callers from zeroing out to save on agent costs, but many callers end up feeling alienated and frustrated if they are refused agent service.

• If your interactive voice response solution plays music while callers are on hold, be very careful selecting what is played (I generally discourage the use of hold music, in part because it can be very difficult to select something which will appeal to everyone). Classic rock will not fit a life insurance company, and Beethoven may not work for a cellular services provider targeting a young demographic. Think about how irritating it would be to have to listen to a song you can’t stand!

• Avoid long-winded error messages. “I’m sorry, I’m having trouble understanding you, can you please repeat that?” may sound polite, and would be appropriate coming from an agent—but from an interactive voice response system repeating it over and over, it can be infuriating and time-consuming. The fact is, no matter how advanced the design and script of your interactive voice response system, sometimes it may not be able to understand callers—if they happen to walk by a deafening construction zone, for instance. So keep error messages short and forward callers to an agent if they fail to make themselves understood after multiple tries. 

There are many other ways to develop a user-friendly interactive voice response solution. Try out your own voice response system to see where callers may get frustrated. By putting yourself in the caller’s shoes, you’ll be in a great position to boost the effectiveness of your interactive voice response system solution. 

Monday, July 6, 2009

Marketing in a Down Economy: Your Call Center IVR System Can Help

I always advise companies to establish the ROI before starting call center IVR system development. Often the ROI on an IVR system goes beyond just the financial. One potential benefit of a call center IVR system is the opportunity to market your company’s image. Marketing can prove especially expensive during an economic slowdown, and considering your marketing plan while planning call center IVR system development is a great way to cement your company image.

So use your call center IVR system to greatest advantage—create a voice user interface which reflects your company. The IVR system persona, the hold function, the tone and the content of the call—all offer a great opportunity to project a specific impression of your company.

Take, for example, the call center IVR system of the company Apple. They target a hip, cutting-edge market. Waiting on hold with Apple, you are met with folk rock, the music of choice of much of the company’s demographic. Why is this valuable? It further contributes to the company’s image as creators of youthful, modern, and up-to-the-minute technology. (Of course, ideally you won’t have a hold time at all, and a well-developed IVR system will help minimize the time spent waiting)

Aside from targeting your hold music or narration, what else can you do to market your company with your call center IVR system? Consider:

1) Inserting your company slogan in the IVR system script. It should be innocuous, of course—you don’t want to be invasive or irritating—but simply dropping a slogan at the beginning and end of the call center IVR call can emphasize your company’s strengths and keep them in the caller’s awareness. One strategy is to integrate the slogan in the company name—for example: “Welcome to Bank of America, the Bank of Opportunity”, or “Thank you for calling Allstate Insurance, where you know You’re in Good Hands”.

2) Create a strong call center IVR persona. I touched on this briefly at the end of a previous IVR system blog on the ITExpo East 2009 conference. Ask yourself, who does your company serve? Is your persona relatable for that audience? An insurance company which emphasizes security, for example, should have a persona which exudes calmness and confidence. A financial services company targeting students and first-time homeowners might gear towards a more youthful voice and demeanour.

3) Use your call center IVR system to target sales. See my previous IVR development blog for more on this topic. If a caller is waiting on hold for a particular service or product, you can enhance your caller’s knowledge about relevant issues or just inform them about complementary products/services. You’ll see sales rise almost instantaneously.

4) Think outside the box with your call center IVR development. Sometimes just being different is enough to get your company noticed. A recent TMC article discusses the stigma that IVR systems are “boring”. Add a little zest to your IVR system script. When applicable, have your IVR system wish callers a happy birthday. Insert a holiday greeting. Or, if it fits with your company’s image, you can even consider injecting a little humour in your IVR script development.

The bottom line? Make sure your IVR system is consistent with your company’s marketing image. Keep your IVR system relevant, keep it useful, and make sure it is beneficial for callers. You’ll soon see the impact on sales and ROI.