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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.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Maximize your Call Center IVR Technology with Expanded IVR Scripts

I recently called a large financial organization and was surprised when their IVR system directed me to an agent. Their IVR technology could easily have resolved the call—but after being walked through multiple menus, I was sent through to the customer service department.

Call center IVR systems that are optimally designed should minimize the need for agent assistance. Thus, call center IVR technology can free agent time considerably. Much of the ROI on IVR systems comes from the benefit of self-service call center IVR. But what happens when callers zero out to an agent because they experience difficulty with the call center IVR? More often than not, these incidents of zeroing out are easily avoidable with an expanded IVR system script. An expanded IVR script serves to anticipate and address caller needs in any situation.

The more call center IVR technology can anticipate caller needs, the lower the need for agent involvement, and the greater the ROI on a call center IVR system.

That’s why it’s critical to understand why callers may choose to speak with a live agent rather than interact with an IVR system. When a caller encounters an issue that cannot be resolved by the call center IVR, he or she will zero out. The solution is to customize call center IVR technology to address the unforeseen scenarios which may arise in interactions with an IVR system.

A case in point—I recently met with a client who was looking to cut 35% of his call center costs by updating his call center IVR system. A quick analysis showed an expanded call center IVR script could easily accomplish this goal. Callers were frequently zeroing out to live agents for simple issues that the call center IVR could handle. For example, callers often phoned to verify the particulars of their insurance coverage and were sent through to agents for this simple task. Not only were agents overloaded with a high volume of calls, but callers were unsatisfied with lengthy hold time. This issue could easily be remedied with a change to self-service call center IVR.

You may have had to zero out to an agent when interacting with IVR technology. If so, you know how incredibly frustrating it can be. In fact, there are many challenges that can be resolved with expanded call center IVR scripts. Callers may forget their account password and zero out to an agent to recover it. They may have lost their account number. They may not be able to complete a self-service call center IVR payment because their billing address is not up-to-date. In many cases, an agent will just go through a predefined sequence of questions that call center IVR technology could handle independently.

All it takes is an expanded IVR system script and a high awareness of caller behaviour. By isolating moments when callers zero out, you can develop call center IVR technology which will never leave callers waiting for agent assistance, frustrated with the lengthy hold time.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Personalizing Your Call Center IVR System for Better Service

A recent TMC article, “Ten Tips for Improving IVR Functionality”, got me thinking about the elements of a caller-friendly IVR system. Two of the ten items touched on personalizing call center IVR for better service, and I think this is a very important and often underestimated part of quality IVR systems. As much as possible, call center IVR systems ought to be personalized to callers to be effective. This means not only customizing the functioning of the IVR system, but also giving the call center IVR system a human touch.

The fact is that every caller is unique, and an IVR system needs to be able to handle different callers with different needs. A good call center IVR system will be programmed to handle as many different situations as possible. A personalized IVR system will impress callers and make the call center IVR seem more like a person. After all, the more individualized an IVR call, the more it will simulate human interaction.

What are some ways to personalize your call center IVR system? As the TMC article points out, you can integrate the IVR system with your customer database (see my previous blog which touches on IVR customer profiling). An IVR system can also customize error messages, avoiding those generic errors which can be so frustrating.

Here are a few more ideas for personalizing your call center IVR system:

1) Have the IVR system address callers by name. Any salesperson knows that addressing a prospect by name creates instant rapport. Whenever possible, have your call center IVR system do the same.

2) Have the IVR system prompt sales based on past purchase history. I talked about this a little in a past IVR blog. Use the IVR system to analyze the caller’s buying habits from past call center IVR interactions. This kind of personalization can be a great way to boost sales.

3) Have the IVR system offer different satisfaction surveys based on the context of the call. Callers will only answer surveys if they are approached at the right time. A prospect calling just to inquire wouldn’t be able to rate company performance the way a loyal customer could. Read a past call center IVR blog on surveys for more tips on this subject.

4) Tailor the IVR hold music/narration according to each caller. Use the hold narration to promote different company offerings according to specific caller profiles and watch your sales rise.

5) Accommodate repeat callers by anticipating their needs. Have your IVR system predict the caller’s needs based on call history. For example, depending on who is calling, as well as recent transactions, the IVR system may ask “Would you like to check your balance, Mr. Jones?” or “Would you like to pay your credit card bill, Ms. Smith?”.

Personalizing your call center IVR means giving the IVR system a more human touch, as well as developing the apparent spontaneity and intelligence of the system to increase caller satisfaction. The more you succeed in making the caller feel important, the more effective your IVR system will be.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Call Center IVR Surveys: Develop an IVR Interface that Works

Call center IVR surveys are a great way of getting feedback and promoting your business. My previous IVR blog post handled some of the applications and benefits of voice recognition system surveys. Like any voice recognition system project, a call center IVR survey needs a good interface to be effective. Here are some tips for developing a great IVR system survey:

Call center IVR surveys should never be the focus of the call. Callers should have the option of responding to a survey at the end of the call, but ultimately the voice recognition system should focus on meeting caller needs. With good service, a caller will be more likely to respond to a call center IVR survey.

Keep your voice recognition system survey brief. If possible, avoid going over five questions. You want to keep the drop rate down—nobody wants to spend all day interacting with your voice recognition system.

Have a consistent response pattern for your call center IVR survey. It’s easy for callers get confused, so make things as straightforward as possible. Use yes/no questions, or implement a simple rating system, but don’t mix things up with your voice recognition survey. You don’t want to end up with inaccurate responses if your call center IVR survey is so complex that callers make a mistake.

Allow callers to make open comments at the end of your call center IVR survey. Some callers will have feedback that doesn’t fit in with your voice recognition system survey. Give them the opportunity to submit feedback at the end of the IVR call.

Don’t leave the same call center IVR survey up for months on end. Unless you’re rating agent performance, there’s rarely a case for leaving the same voice recognition system survey up. Repeat callers to your IVR system will quickly get irritated if they are constantly asked for feedback on the same issue.

Offer an incentive for completing the call center IVR survey. Not many callers want to give up their time answering questions for a voice recognition system. Make it worth their while—offer discounted shipping, or a chance to win a prize—any incentive will increase your IVR survey response rate.

Have a simple command for the call center IVR to repeat survey questions. Callers may not always understand and will need to hear the question again. Avoid mistaken responses by configuring your call center IVR survey to have an easy repetition command.

With a good IVR survey interface, you’ll have more responses to work with and you’ll cast your company in a much better light. Read my last IVR blog to learn about some common applications of call center IVR surveys.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Call Center IVR Surveys: What are the Benefits for your Business?

Voice recognition systems aren’t necessarily just used for customer service and sales. Call center IVR can also be used to implement surveys. There are many short and long-term benefits to implementing a voice recognition system survey. It’s just a matter of properly developing the interface and questions. So what are some of the uses and benefits of surveys for call center IVR systems?

Applications of Surveys for Voice Recognition Systems:

1) Business Intelligence: Voice recognition system surveys offer a great opportunity to find out how customers feel about your company. Call center IVR systems can get valuable feedback from callers to improve business processes. Not only will you give clients the chance to voice their opinion, but with a good call center IVR survey, you’ll know what changes to make to keep them coming back.

2) Rating Agent Performance: Consider using your voice recognition system to rate agent performance. The feedback is great for training and quality assurance, and callers can use the call center IVR system to express their frustration or satisfaction with an agent. The effect of implementing a performance survey often quickly improves agent sales performance and increases customer satisfaction.

3) IVR Customer Profiling: Voice recognition systems can boost sales results by creating pre-sale client profiles. Sales can then target potential clients according to particular caller characteristics. This can be very helpful in identifying both up-sell and cross-sell opportunities. For example, if a caller has recently purchased a flat-screen TV, the caller may also be interested in a promotion on DVDs. Use your voice recognition system survey to get a picture of different demographics and learn which callers prefer which products. Call center IVR surveys are a good way to create such profiles.

4) Rating Voice Recognition System Performance: A new call center IVR system can take some adjustment. Especially in the first phase of deployment, it is important to get feedback. Callers will appreciate the opportunity to weigh in on any usability issues with your new call center IVR system, and a voice recognition system survey gives them the chance to do so. While they’ll appreciate the chance to sound off, you’ll get immediate performance feedback from your call center IVR system.

Call center IVR systems, when done right, can increase your business ROI over both the short and long-term. Learn how to increase your business returns—develop custom surveys for your voice recognition system.

Watch for an upcoming post with tips on customizing your call center IVR survey.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Develop a Better Call Center IVR System with Multi-Channel Synchronization

Call center IVR systems are often treated as isolated customer service channels. But with good synchronization with other channels, IVR systems can be strengthened and offer even better call center IVR service. This is something I mentioned briefly in a recent blog about ITExpo, with the point that multi-channel communication is one of the leading trends in the industry. Nowadays, it’s important not just to have these various channels available, but also to make sure call center IVR systems are synchronized with other channels, consolidating the accumulated client experience. Multi-channel synchronization between call center IVR systems and other channels achieves better efficiency, better service, and increased trust.

What do I mean when I say multi-channel synchronization between call center IVR systems and other client channels? Implementation will depend on the call center, but there are many examples:
  • Make information from other channels available to the call center IVR system: Nothing is more irritating to a customer than having to repeat information. So, if they’ve just filled out a web-based order form and called your call center IVR to confirm the shipping date, all of the information they filled out should be available to the IVR system or agent. No need to ask for address or contact number again — the IVR system should already have this information stored.
  • Use other channels to confirm self-service IVR system orders: This is a simple way to build customer trust. When any kind of self-service order is placed with a call center IVR system or agent, send a confirmation email with all of the relevant information for easy reference.
  • Use SMS message confirmation for on-the-go IVR system callers: If your call center IVR system caters to mobile users, take advantage of it! A great opportunity to use targeted SMS messaging, for instance, is self-service directory assistance. After providing a business address and phone number, a text message is usually sent to recap the information for easy reference.
  • Promote different channels: Make sure customers are aware of the options above and beyond your call center IVR system. Encourage people to visit your live chat support or website while on hold; offer to subscribe them to SMS updates. The more tools at their disposal, the greater customer satisfaction—but first they need to know about them.
Multi-channel IVR system synchronization can impress your clients and offer better service. Update your call center IVR system with stronger synchronization between channels and you’ll soon see results.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Boost Sales with Customized IVR Voice Recognition Software

Customized voice recognition software and IVR systems in call centers are usually associated with improved customer service. It’s true that when properly implemented, IVR systems and customized voice recognition software can significantly increase caller satisfaction. That’s why in past blogs I’ve focused a lot on how important it is to update your IVR system for better customer service.

But the question is, can IVR and customized voice recognition software also boost sales? After all, it’s important to keep business goals in mind when implementing an IVR system. I recently read an article on TMCnet which brought up the common divide between sales and customer service. The article points out that “organizations may be more successful if they ha[ve] a more direct link between service and the sales process”.

And in fact, with proper tailoring, call centers can do a lot to boost sales with IVR and customized voice recognition software. Here are a few suggestions for customizing your IVR and call center system to increase sales:

  • When customers are on hold waiting for an agent, why not have the IVR system tell them about your latest product or promotion? Instead of listening to irrelevant hold music, callers will get valuable information that can lead to sales. Customized voice recognition software can even tailor the respective product according to the caller’s particular characteristics or history of calls. For example, if they’re calling from a particular location, why not have the IVR system tell them about a new branch opening nearby?
  • IVR systems can consolidate information much more quickly and efficiently than a live agent. Use customized voice recognition software to collect information to up-sell and cross-sell. Based on location, gender, and caller history, the IVR system can establish the best sales recommendations before passing callers on to agents. The result? More sales, and a greater return on investment.
  • While it’s inadvisable to bombard clients with unsolicited sales calls, clients will be much more receptive to automated IVR reminders, whether for shipping dates, appointments, or account renewals. Soft sales prompts can be added to the end of IVR calls to increase sales. For example: “This is an automated message for Mr. Joe from ____. Your couches will be shipped at ____. For further inquiries or to learn more about our matching product of the month, please stay on the line.”
Customized voice recognition software and IVR systems are a valuable and often overlooked avenue for boosting sales. As the TMC article points out, “By more closely aligning the sales process with customer service and support, [a] company is more likely to enjoy a growing revenue base while the customer receives a consistent and enjoyable experience.” Particularly in the face of the current economic situation, it is crucial to identify issues that can increase the level of client loyalty or opportunities to cross-/up-sell the existing client. This may definitely change the result of ROI analysis on your planned IVR system.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

My Experience at ITExpo East 2009: Improve IVR Software and Call Center Efficiency

I recently attended as a panellist at the ITExpo East 2009 Conference and participated in the call center track of the conference. The focus was predominantly on increasing call center productivity and enhancing the customer experience. There were many ideas in this direction, including the use of voice recognition and IVR software. It was both informative and valuable to learn the various methods that call center executives and vendors had developed to handle common call center challenges.

Here are a few trends impacting the call center arena that were discussed in the conference presentations:

  • Call center customer service is no longer a one-channel practice. Companies should provide as many communication channels as possible to appeal to different customer segments at different times. For instance, youth often prefer SMS or IM communication; however, older people may prefer IVR software service.
  • Collecting, analyzing, and mining call histories can improve call center efficiency by allowing agents to use that data when serving clients. With advanced data search and retrieval, a call center can provide more efficient customer service. Agents can easily use the past experience of other call center agents.
  • In the same vein, mining the call histories of a call center enables agents to provide excellent customer service. Agents can acknowledge prior client activity and act accordingly. For instance, “I see you’ve sent an inquiry email already... We’re working on that, and you can expect a response within 24 hours. What else I can help you with?” Taking this a step further, a call center agent could proactively call a client to update him on the progress of a recent inquiry.
  • One of the more intricate methods of improving customer service in a call center involves real-time use of analytics data. For example, advanced call center analytics can correlate between clients and agents to establish better service. By categorizing agents and clients and matching them accordingly in real-time based on past experience, call centers can ensure that a client is routed to the best agent according to their characteristics. Similarly, calls can be rated on importance and prioritized accordingly.

These points are just the tip of the iceberg. And of course, I was always thinking about how these ideas can be applied to voice recognition and IVR software for call centers. More than ever, IVR software needs to be more caller-friendly and fully integrated as a call center channel in order to be effective. It’s not just about cutting costs anymore, but also providing exceptional customer service.

So how might some of these ideas apply to call center IVR and voice recognition software?

  • IVR software should only be used when it is the best channel for a transaction or service. Some callers may prefer voice recognition when they are in the car, and touch-tone when at home or in public (assuming they both fit that transaction); some clients may prefer the web for certain transactions, and IVR for others. The point is that clients should not be forced to use IVR and voice recognition software, but be given variety of options.
  • Ideally an IVR software system should contribute data to the central historical data like the other channels.
  • IVR call flow should adapt according to the caller and historical data. For example, a caller who has demonstrated difficulties with an IVR transaction in past should be sent straight through to a call center agent. Or a caller may be greeted thus: “Hello, Mr. Smith; I see that you have had difficulties completing your bill payment on our website. Would you like to do it over the phone?”
  • Finally, for a given application, different IVR personas could be matched to different caller personalities to better connect with callers. Younger callers might have an upbeat, more quirky persona, while more mature callers might be greeted with a professional and matter-of-fact IVR software persona.

There are endless ideas for customizing IVR and voice recognition software according to call center and client needs. Implementing these kinds of measures can save on agent costs, at the same time enhancing customer service, and thus improving call center efficiency as an integral part of a more efficient contact center.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Why You Need Customized Speech Recognition Software in an Economic Downturn

Investing in speech recognition software consulting during an economic downturn isn’t always a call center’s first priority. But, as a recent article on TMCnet points out, contact centers can benefit from IVR investments all the more during tough times. Among other tips for navigating the current downturn, the article cites IVR and customized speech recognition software:
If you haven’t done any business process or continuous improvement studies to reduce costs and improve efficiency in a while, now is the time. You might look into tuning up the IVR to increase usage — for most call centers, even a 1% gain in use represents substantial dollar savings. Sometimes even partial automation applications can provide a cost savings.
In addition to the financial benefits of customized speech recognition software, there are other perks:
Speech is meeting the promise of increasing customer satisfaction, increasing IVR containment, and shortening calls.
In other words, the article shows that customized speech recognition software is one of the few ways a company can both improve caller satisfaction and cut costs. But companies may be understandably hesitant to take on risk during a period of economic uncertainty. In order to be truly secure, a big IVR project requires a serious ROI analysis. Experienced speech recognition software consultants are able to perform in-depth ROI analysis for IVR and speech recognition projects,identifying trends in your IVR system that may not be visible to the inexperienced eye. A comprehensive ROI analysis will surface the issues that need to be addressed before you embark on any IVR project.

But how does ROI analysis work for IVR and speech recognition software? ROI analysis is a complicated process requiring detailed knowledge of call center metrics and caller behavior. With multiple interacting variables, the matter of detangling the interaction between call volume, drop rate, and hold time is neither simple nor straightforward.

Interested in performing ROI analysis on your next speech recognition software project? To learn more about how ROI analysis for IVR and speech recognition can make all the difference in an economic downturn, read the new Crimsonet white paper.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Top 5 ways to Update your IVR System in 2009

It’s a new year, and the capabilities of voice recognition are advancing for a better caller experience. To improve the way you service your clients/prospects, it’s important to stay abreast of technological trends and keep up with IVR software development. So what can you do to make sure your IVR system is ready for 2009?
  1. If you haven’t already, get rid of your IVR’s tedious touchtone menus. Have a customized voice recognition system that anticipates caller needs and recognizes their spoken instructions without the need for dialing. For example, callers may verbally ask to be sent to a specific department, get operation hours, or verify an order or claim.

  2. Consider maintaining a customer database and using call history for the current interaction with the customer. Imagine how impressed callers will be if your voice recognition system remembers their call from last week and anticipates what they need (e.g. “Would you like to confirm the draft order you placed last week, Mr. Smith?”). This practice will increase IVR call efficiency as well as generate trust in the voice recognition system.

  3. Have your customized voice recognition software offer customer satisfaction surveys at the end of IVR calls. Not only will your voice recognition system get feedback to help improve your business, but you will show clients that you are listening to their needs. But beware lengthy IVR surveys as callers are not likely to complete them.

  4. Stay away from dead, robotic IVR personalities and create a customized voice recognition persona that reflects your business and feels more personal. Consider, for example, whether you want a customized voice recognition system with a male or female voice, or an upbeat or business-like tone.

  5. Customized voice recognition software will ideally do away with hold times altogether, but sometimes call volume is just too high. For customers waiting for an agent, get rid of the IVR’s irritating hold music. This is a valuable opportunity where you have a caller’s undivided attention. So have a relevant IVR script available while customers are waiting to speak to an agent. Anticipating their questions, the IVR system may provide instructions, or inform them of company news.
All of these customized voice recognition software elements can help you increase customer satisfaction while lowering contact center operation costs. The important thing is to realize that every business has different needs for their IVR system. It’s not a one-size-fits-all investment, and it takes a customized voice recognition software expert to know what can best benefit your company.