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.