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.