Artificial Intelligence, Interactive Voice Response, and Seeking Zero

By Curt Gooden

Managers of modern customer contact centers and the callers they service can have conflicting agendas. In pursuit of lower costs, managers want to deflect calls from a live agent to an automated solution as much as they can. Currently that means using interactive voice response (IVR) self-service solutions robust enough to serve many, if not all, possible situations customers could be calling about, without the customer pressing zero to speak with a live agent.

For their part, customers, or those needing information only a live agent seem able to provide, have their fingers hovering over and ready to press zero to reach a representative. How can managers approach their own goal of “zero” – whether it’s zero CSR interaction or zero cost overhead – while keeping customers satisfied and informed?

For a growing number of organizations, the answer is next-generation artificial intelligence. Artificial intelligence (AI) is an automated solution gaining traction in the customer contact industry and is the culmination of several technologies that have been steadily improving IVR performance over the years. It entails utilizing natural speech recognition throughout the call and an “intelligent” brain on the back end to interpret (and in some cases, predict) the user’s responses to drive call flow and processing accordingly.

High cost of entry has slowed adoption of AI within IVRs. But as with any new technology, costs have been falling as technology becomes more pervasive and user-friendly. In turn analysts expect call center adoption, more prevalent use, and an improved, even seamless, customer experience to help spur customer approval.

The Differences Between AI and IVR: The differences between traditional IVR and AI are stark. The logic of traditional IVR technology seeks to create call paths or a map of all possible user options. Press a sequence of numbers along the decision tree, and the caller should end up with the solution, as mapped in advance.

Therein is the challenge. The IVR map is static. While complex IVR can have hundreds of pages of detailed directions and anticipated interactions, trying to account for every possible customer scenario can be challenging – hence the reason so many customers press zero to speak to a live agent.

An AI solution can help reduce or eliminate the zero option. Some basic AI solutions are layered atop existing IVR applications in an effort to expand on the logic, call mapping, and speech recognition of IVR, yet with a level of sophistication found only with higher-level intelligence. In most current and future instances, though, AI will be a stand-alone solution that will replace the traditional IVR.

Here’s how it might work in an airline reservation application. The customer is instructed to speak his or her request or issue to the automated solution. For example, “Please tell us in a few words why you’re calling today. You can say, new reservations, existing reservations, change reservations, or something else.” The AI application will turn the speech into text, analyze the request, and employ algorithms to start the caller on the call map.

Intelligent mapping anticipates customers’ requests and can more proactively guide them toward the expected path. The more intelligent the solution, the more it has been programmed with variables it can anticipate, and the higher the likelihood the caller won’t press zero.

Is AI Ready for Prime Time? Some makers have reported up to 70 percent deflection rate; whether that’s a sales promise is questionable. A more realistic expectation in highly complex environments, such as a customer seeking to change an airline reservation, could be closer to 10 percent. In the healthcare industry, for example, where customers might need to select from a variety of solutions – and the customers themselves might be older, speak a different native language, or are otherwise hindered from using the system – AI as an option is likely is further out.

As such AI is not quite ready for wide-scale implementation for a variety of other reasons. The cost of AI will keep it viable only for those larger organizations that either can afford the application or will realize benefits by slicing a few minutes off each call or a few calls from each live agent.

It also will find acceptance in certain industries before others; some may never embrace AI, at least in the near term. Those who most successfully adopt AI will be travel and hospitality. As noted, thinning margins will require the constant pursuit of solutions that shave minutes or manpower from each customer interaction. Moreover, some engagements are not extremely complex, like booking one hotel room for a weekend.

Customers in the travel and hospitality segment typically are more technologically savvy and quick to adopt new solutions. Once AI matures, the healthcare industry might realize some of the greatest benefits from AI.

Along those lines, the cost/benefit analysis of AI is a simple calculation, notwithstanding higher initial costs. If a provider is charging by the minute or call, every minute saved or call deflected translates to savings. In fact, a simple revamping of traditional IVR or an improving of the call tree can yield cost savings. With AI the chance to increase deflection can be exponential.

As technology advances, artificial intelligence will find its way into interactive voice response. Though comparatively costly now, AI can be a justifiable expense for the right organizations. In time it will become the industry standard – especially for those organizations hoping to reduce the time agents spend on calls and serving those customers who hopefully prefer to not chat with an agent at all.

Curt Gooden is the senior vice president and chief information officer at C3/CustomerContactChannels (www.c3connect.com) with nearly two decades of experience leading IT departments for global companies. He has successfully managed all aspects of information technology across international boundaries while lowering costs, implementing controls, mitigating risks, and adding tangible value to clients. Contact Curt at curt.gooden@c3connect.com.

[From Connection Magazine – November/December 2015]

Call Recording: What You Need to Know to Meet Regulatory Compliance

By Bill Johnson

It’s a fact of business life: Every company and organization must meet regulatory compliance with governmental and other trade organizations. And they better do it right. After all, regulatory agencies aren’t sitting around waiting for offenders to fall in their laps. They are aggressively looking for companies that do not comply and slapping them with hefty fines.

Capital One was hit with a $210 million fine in July 2012 by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to settle charges of deceptive marketing of credit card “add-on” products such as payment processing and credit monitoring, reported Bloomberg. Of the fine, $140 million was returned to Capital One customers who were pressured or misled into buying credit card products they did not understand or couldn’t even use. Founded in July 2011 to increase oversight of consumer financial products as a result of the Dodd-Frank Act, this was the bureau’s first case.

Beyond the Dodd-Frank Act, financial organizations must also comply with a variety of other regulations, including the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI-DSS), Sarbanes Oxley Act, Financial Services Authority regulations, Gramm-Leach-Bliley Financial Services Modernization Act, Fair Debt Collection Practices, and the Social Security Act.

Healthcare is likewise challenged with complying with a variety of regulations, and it’s not always easy. For example, SC Magazine noted that Blue Cross was fined $1.5 million by the US Department of Health and Human Service’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) for a 2009 security breach that affected more than a million members. In the fall of 2009, 576 unencrypted computer hard drives were stolen from a data storage closet in Chattanooga, Tennessee, during a move to a new facility. The data included audio recordings of customer support calls and screenshots of what the call center staff saw when handling the calls.

Healthcare’s Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), enacted in 2003, tightened regulations on healthcare organizations, and those that do not comply pay big time. For example, Cignet Health was fined $4.3 million in February 2011 for not complying with HIPAA’s privacy regulations. Even though fewer than sixty records were breached, the fact that it did not cooperate with the Office for Civil Rights resulted in this hefty fine, according to Health Data Management.

Financial and healthcare organizations are not the only ones challenged with meeting regulatory guidelines. In fact, regardless of industry, regulations affect every organization with a contact center. For example, the Do-Not-Call Implementation Act and the Telemarketing Sales Rule affect every contact center, whether inbound or outbound. Violators pay fines up to $16,000 per incident.

Contact centers that accept payment cards must comply with regulations set forth by the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI-DSS), which was developed and is regulated by American Express, Visa, MasterCard, Discover, and JCB International. These financial institutions have enacted their own fines for violators. For example, PCI Security Standards Council and PCI Standard note that MasterCard and Visa fine merchants as much as $25,000 for the first violation.

Because most contact centers record their calls and screenshots associated with the calls, they are also required to adhere to the various regulations. And if they are accepting payment cards, there’s even more compliance. Simply put, to comply, contact centers must ensure that all their data is securely stored, and they must strictly control usage of the recorded conversations and interactions. With PCI-DSS, they must also adhere to regulations regarding the storage of payment card data so that it is not easily accessible to agents or others.

For compliance of both written and recorded data, there are five key areas to consider:

1) Storage security: How secure is your data storage? Is your security up to date?

2) Access: Who has access to the information? How is access controlled?

3) Type of data: What type of data will be stored? Is it only call recordings or also screenshots associated with the calls? Are written documents or other documentation stored?

4) Length of data storage: How long will the data need to be stored? What is required to meet compliance? What is needed for the health of the organization?

5) Compliance in an investigation: What is the procedure to quickly and accurately access and produce data in the case of an investigation?

For call recordings, there are ten key ways to help ensure regulatory compliance.

1) Have call recordings stored, organized, and preserved in a secure central repository, whether it is on-site, remote, in the cloud, or a hybrid of these.

2) Provide the ability for authorized users to easily access, search, and save call recordings using a familiar file management system, similar to email organization in Microsoft Outlook.

3) Provide access via encrypted streaming for the highest level of security.

4) Share only through link distribution, which is more secure than file sharing.

5) Restrict information access by using a combination of call data, account code, and other criteria.

6) Utilize digital watermarking, which provides the ability to verify and prove that files have not been altered. This is essential in legal situations.

7) Take advantage of variable data lifecycle management, which allows the user to tailor how call recordings are stored, staged, and purged based on a variety of criteria, such as account code, extension, and caller ID.

8) Implement automatic storage and purging based on unique individual criteria to ensure uniform practices, rather than requiring tedious and inefficient manual review.

9) Utilize an archival database to enable authorized users to instantly search and access recordings.

10) Create custom archiving rules based on call data and implement a media management functionality that allows users to further restrict and control information in individual call recordings on an as-needed basis to ensure instance-by-instance regulatory compliance, such as call slicing, merging and redacting, and call-segment exporting.

Although not required by regulations, additional search and mobility features can help support compliance and improve the ease of proving compliance in the case of an investigation. For example, speech search provides the ability to quickly search for specified key words and phrases within call recordings. Additionally, mobile access via a secure Web-based application makes it fast, easy, and secure for authorized users to access documents when they are away from their desks.

In addition to meeting important regulatory compliance requirements, call recordings can help organizations monitor the quality of agent calls, provide agent training and agent self-evaluations, and help resolve disputes by providing part or all of a call recording to the other party.

While stiff fines and bad publicity are strong motivators to stay compliant, the best motivation for regulatory compliance is the peace of mind knowing that you are protecting your organization, customers, partners, and vendors.

Bill Johnson is the director of client services and channel programs at Oaisys Inc.

[From Connection Magazine Jul/Aug 2013]

Speech Analytics: Offering Value Across the Enterprise

By Siobhan Miller

Those in charge of contact centers understand the value of the information captured in call recordings. But the sheer volume of calls and manual processes required to extract information reduce the Voice of the Customer (VoC) to a whisper. The advent of speech analytics technologies has recently directed attention to the customer voice, increasing the accessibility of this information for uses beyond quality monitoring. Many contact centers are now using speech analytics to help them identify drivers of long average handle times (AHT), repeat calls, customer satisfaction, and call volume.

To this end, organizations purchase the product with specific goals in mind: reduce costs in the contact center, create back-office efficiencies, and/or understand the customer experience. As speech technology continues to evolve, organizations are expanding their speech analytics initiatives to create value across various departments.

Early “directed” technologies restricted organizations to getting answers only to the questions asked – focusing on the “categories” of issues they already knew about. Today, speech analytics not only provides “categorical” insights but also capitalizes on the repository of unfiltered customer feedback in recorded calls. This provides a window into what customers are talking about, without predisposition towards an assumed outcome – effectively letting organizations know what they don’t already know.

Speech analytics can uncover issues that affect sales, marketing, operations, compliance, and support as well as customers, partners, and employees. Additionally, the migration of this tool from the contact center throughout the enterprise is reflected in the growing speech technology market: DMG Consulting predicts speech analytics growth rates of 25 percent in 2013 and 20 percent in 2014, according to the “2011-2012 Speech Analytics Product and Market Report,” released in August 2012.

Let’s look at the areas within an organization that can benefit from speech analytics.

Account Management: Forward-thinking enterprises use the voice of their customers not only to create process efficiencies that reduce costs but also drive revenues. For example, a national payment processing company used speech analytics to tap into calls from customers who had closed their accounts as a way to build a profile of a customer likely to defect. The analytics team then used the tool to search through incoming calls to flag existing customers who fit that profile. After cross-correlating the list of retention risks with CRM data, the team established a process to proactively contact the most high-value and “at risk” customers, saving more than 600 accounts worth $1.7 million. In the first seven weeks of launching the solution, the company had already achieved a return on its speech analytics technology investment.

Sales: For many enterprises, cross- or up-selling customers is as important as retaining them. One leading financial institution analyzed the conversations taking place in its contact center to understand why a “service-to-sales” initiative wasn’t meeting targets. By using speech analytics to help mine and analyze trends across the customer interactions, it quickly identified certain terms and phrases in a script (provided by the marketing team) that correlated with much lower conversion rates. When using the phrase “May we have another moment of your time” to transition from the service segment of the call to the sales pitch, conversion rates dropped from an average of 15.1 to 6.3 percent. Simply by using a different transitional phrase, some agents managed to more than double the average conversion rate. Speech analytics helped uncover which components in the sales initiative weren’t working in time to benefit from fine-tuning the program.

Partner Management: Many calls to the contact center are driven by processes or issues over which it has no control: billing issues, missing orders, and broken products. These issues can even be more difficult to resolve when the source is external to the enterprise. One travel company discovered that a third party’s billing department was the driving force for many of the calls it received in the contact center. This discovery led the company to work with the third party to improve its billing practices and reduce call volume.

Marketing and Advertising: Another area that can benefit from the customer recordings within the contact center is the marketing department. Buried within customer calls is information on brand perception, messages that work, issues that can blow up into social-media nightmares, and insight that marketing can use in future campaigns – essentially an on-demand focus group. In addition to these proactive uses for speech analytics, the marketing department can also access it for times when messaging needs re-tuning.

One organization was able to fix an issue in an advertising campaign based upon information gathered in the contact center. The contact center had been receiving calls from customers that were frustrated and confused by a particular television campaign. By analyzing the calls, the company determined that the voice-over describing the offer said it had no restrictions, while the graphics showed that the offer was limited to certain types of customers. Once the issue was addressed, conversion rates increased and customer frustration was alleviated.

Today, speech analytics technology has made it easier than ever to surface issues that can drive change – not only in the contact center but also across the business. Enterprises that have found ways to turn up the volume on their VoC initiatives have been able to balance the need to optimize the business as they improve customer experience.

Siobhan Miller, director of solutions marketing for Verint, has experience incorporating customer feedback into products that drive customers’ critical business decisions. Siobhan has worked on VoC programs with some of the world’s most recognizable brands. She is a graduate of Fordham University, has an MA from Hofstra, and is Pragmatic Marketing and Customer Experience Management (CEM) certified.

[From Connection Magazine April 2013]

Ask Kathy: Leaving a Great Voicemail Message

By Kathy Sisk

Dear Kathy, when calling business-to-business prospects, can you suggest a great voicemail message designed to achieve a higher rate of returned calls when the prospect does not know you?

First, make sure you’ve mastered the secretary screening process; often that is where the call fails. I have developed a secretary screen script that allows you to be in control and get through most of the time.

Generally, I do not leave a message on a cold call, since most decision-makers never respond. Let’s face it, no one is excited to talk to a salesperson, nor do they want anyone to sell them, unless they are in the market. Leaving messages on a cold call brings little results from that time and effort. However, if you insist on leaving a message, you must leave some sort of an approach-and-hook statement to arouse curiosity in order to get your prospect to respond. This kind of statement greatly depends on what you are offering. For example, my company would say the following:

“Hello, this is Sean Phillip with Kathy Sisk Enterprises, and I have been trying to reach you for a couple of weeks now. We specialize in project managing our client’s outsourcing projects, and we do not charge any fees for this added-value service. We can save you the headache of setting up and managing your outsourcing projects and ensure a greater return on your investment, and we have over thirty-five years of experience. If this is something you would like more details about, please contact me at ____. Thank you, and I look forward to discussing your outsourcing needs.”

The italicized phrases above are the approach-and-hook statements. If the prospect has an interest, he or she will call you back or speak to you the next time you call. Keep in mind that with this approach you will only connect with those who already have a need.

Email your questions to ksisk@kathysiskenterprises.com.

Kathy Sisk is founder and president of Kathy Sisk Enterprises Inc., located in California. Kathy is a trainer and consultant, contributing thirty-five years of expertise to the telemarketing, sales, and customer service industries. She is a published author with many manuals and books, including Overcoming Objections and Successful Telemarketing.

[From Connection Magazine Jan/Feb 2013]

Automation’s Role in Contact Center Interactions

By Kathleen Fortsch

Providing high-quality services in a cost-effective manner is no easy task, but businesses of all shapes and sizes are expected to do it regularly. The result is a demand for tools that accomplish this. There is a need for easy, automated ways for customers to self-manage their own accounts in order to reduce some of the heavy cost burdens associated with 24/7 support expectations.

Self-service and automation is a reliable way to reduce agent call volume, reduce costs, and actually increase customer satisfaction. In fact, customers are using automation in increasingly large numbers as a preferred method to access information due to speed, efficiency, and convenience.

Applications that power these systems, such as Interactive Voice Response (IVR) and Automated Call Distribution (ACD), give businesses the flexibility to mix and match features to optimize call handling, manage the support staff, and improve customers’ experience. If calling applications are optimized, callers may actually prefer using them to get the information they desire quickly instead of dealing with live customer service. Not only is the customer happy, this reduces the costs of an agent’s time on the phone. Furthermore, these automated solutions are usually scalable, so as the business grows and customers’ needs change, these engagement tools adapt with them.

Understand Your Customer: Understanding your customer base is critical in determining how automation can play a role in the telephony interactions that occur. In most instances, callers today are pressed for time, conducting business on the run, between meetings, or even while cooking dinner at night. Callers are also more comfortable with automation and the speed, convenience, and control that self-service applications provide.

According to “A Benchmark Study of 2010 Enterprise, Contact Center IT Priorities and the Critical Role of IVRs in Achieving those Goals” conducted by DMG Consulting, the top five inbound IVR transactions can be solved with a system that utilizes self-service functionality. Customers are aware of the benefits these systems provide and often want to handle requests on their own rather than get an agent involved. Even from a business perspective, there is no need for agent interaction for routine transactions like providing account balances, order status, and payments. In the instances where it makes sense to introduce automated functionalities, there is a benefit seen by both the business and the customer.

Use Customer Feedback: Businesses can use feedback received in their customer service centers to make changes to better facilitate self-service. Even though some of these functionalities may have been automated, companies need to continually monitor caller experiences to ensure that they are not driving customers away but are providing them with the best mix of self-service and agent interactions.

One of the ways that a business can ensure a better customer experience once the caller has begun the self-service process is to make sure that CTI data moves with the customer. This prevents customers from having to reenter data or repeat information, even if the call is later transferred to a live agent. This helps to alleviate customer frustration, speed up call time, and prevent bottlenecks.

Having access to data-driven knowledge allows organizations to optimize the performance of an IVR application and improve customers’ experience. Reporting and analytics provide insight into what is taking place to better understand the impact that every transaction can have on costs, retention, profitability, customer satisfaction, and brand loyalty. In addition, increased reporting intelligence can help identify within the call flow where to provide up-sell and cross-sell offers.

Tap Consolidated Solutions: A consolidated reporting package provides insight into how, when, and why customers are calling, helping to drive the review process. These reports provide better information to evaluate the traffic occurring between callers and agents, allowing changes to be made accordingly.

Consolidating voice communications can help organizations by eliminating the need to conduct business with multiple vendors. When issues occur, such as dropped calls or an inability to get accurate reporting, the result is often vendors pointing fingers at each other. A consolidated offering eliminates this confusion and helps to streamline the accounts payable process.

A consolidated offering begins with an IVR menu offering self-service options to the caller. When a live representative is needed, the call is sent to the ACD service and transferred over to the call center’s telephony solution, which utilizes VoIP technology. Not only does this pairing reduce confusion and streamline billing, it actually helps to reduce costs as well. Using IP telephony to transfer the calls to live support agents is more affordable than using traditional PSTN lines.

Conclusion: With automation, customers’ real-time interactions with organizations can keep the customer experience new, relevant, and enhanced by keeping the ways we engage our customers and the ways they interact with us fresh. While you want consistency, you want it to feel fresh, real-time, and engaging.

Kathleen Fortsch is director of product management at Intelliverse.

[From Connection Magazine June 2012]

Speech Analytics Gets Down to Business

By Donna Fluss

The speech analytics market hit its stride in 2010 and is going to continue to come on strong for the foreseeable future. Despite a weak economy, this technology sector has continued to pick up momentum and grow. The number of speech analytics implementations increased by 22 percent between 2009 and 2010, on top of growth rates in the prior three years of 39 percent, 50 percent, and 106 percent respectively. New vendors continue to enter the market, and others have been bought by larger competitors to fill a void in their portfolios – all of which is typical of a vibrant technology segment. Speech analytics continues to be compelling because:

  • It addresses a real and measurable need.
  • It delivers quantifiable benefits.
  • It is not a replacement for something that came before it.
  • There is nothing else like it available in the market.
  • It can and is being used in conjunction with other solutions.
  • It improves the performance and benefits of other applications.

In addition, speech analytics is highly compelling conceptually and engages the imagination of managers. Initially, speech analytics was sold primarily to contact centers because they “own” the company’s call recordings, but it is actually an enterprise application that can deliver benefits to all customer-focused departments. Speech analytics is expected to see growth outside of the contact center in the coming years, as executives become more familiar with the capabilities of these applications.

Speech Analytics in the Voice-of-the-Customer Era: Timing is playing an important role in the adoption of speech analytics. After years of paying “lip service” to the importance of listening to their customers, executives finally seem to be coming around. Enterprises are becoming more interested in truly hearing what customers have to say. It would be nice if this were happening because senior executives realized the importance of their customers’ opinions, but this does not appear to be the case. Instead, it is happening because of the power of social media.

Customers – and any other interested party, for that matter – are no longer powerless. Any individual who has access to the Internet can be heard. Enterprises can no longer afford to ignore customers’ issues as they did in the past and are now trying to figure out the best way to get on top of the public conversation in order to avoid embarrassing situations. Speech analytics provides insights into customer needs and wants, positioning enterprises to use this information to identify and resolve complaints on a timely basis so that they are not blindsided by unexpected issues. Speech analytics truly gives enterprises access to the voice of the customer in a well-organized and systematic manner.

Historical Versus Real-Time Speech Analytics: Today, speech analytics is predominantly used on a reactive basis. The current best practice is to analyze recordings overnight to identify trends. Once issues are surfaced, they are shared via dashboards and heat maps and passed on to the appropriate people or departments. In leading organizations, speech analytics is owned by an analytics team that works independently but cooperatively with all of the customer-facing and back-office departments that can be assessed using speech analytics.

Companies that have a need to identify issues on an intra-day basis generally use a phonetic speech analytics solution to analyze their calls a couple of times per day. This is rare, because it is difficult for organizations to respond quickly to identified issues, as the required actions are predominantly manual and take time to implement.

In the future, speech analytics will be conducted on a real-time basis and will provide feeds into other applications that automate the outcomes. For example, speech analytics will be used in real time to identify and communicate a caller’s emotional state to the agent or customer advocate in order to determine the most effective way of interacting with every caller. Speech analytics will also be used to rapidly identify whether a caller is open to hearing an up-sell opportunity, or to suggest the best approach to collecting outstanding payments from a caller. The challenge is that speech analytics will need to feed into a predictive analytics solution that can directly initiate the recommended action. This closed-loop process will ensure that speech analytics findings are used on a real-time basis. Even when speech analytics evolves into a real-time application, there will still be value in identifying trends and regularly conducting “post-mortem” analyses.

Making Speech Analytics Actionable: The big issue in the market today is making the insights from speech analytics actionable – that is, making sure to take action once an insight or issue is discovered. While some organizations have a process in place for responding to speech analytics findings, too many are still concentrating on what they can find rather than what they need to do to fix the surfaced issues. Change management remains the key to a successful speech analytics implementation.

During 2010, the market saw a breakthrough in this area. A growing number of companies realized the importance of acting on their findings and made organizational changes to position themselves to rapidly identify and address issues. This has had a positive impact on the perception of speech analytics, as more implementations are generating quantifiable benefits. However, for every successful speech analytics initiative, there are likely at least twice as many where companies are using speech analytics primarily for reporting and are not realizing the expected return on investment.

The Outlook for Speech Analytics: Speech analytics is a very exciting solution that has great potential for its users. While it is maturing, and some of the applications have evolved enough to be considered second generation, speech analytics is still relatively new. Companies are just beginning to figure out how to use speech analytics findings to enhance their performance by utilizing identified customer insights and feedback to improve the customer experience, uncover new product ideas, identify operational, system, product, or procedural issues, reduce operating costs, improve first contact resolution rates, and increase staff satisfaction – just to mention a few of the current applications.

The penetration rate for speech analytics in contact centers as of July 2011 is 11.6 percent, which means that most companies are still not using this valuable solution. Enterprises that are willing to make the necessary investments to change how they do business can realize significant benefits from speech analytics. Even companies that want to use this tool just to identify customer trends are finding it very helpful.

DMG expects adoption of speech analytics to continue to pick up momentum, particularly as best practices emerge to help companies succeed with their implementations. More vendors are incorporating speech analytics into their solutions, and the speech analytics vendors are expected to continue to build out their solutions to enable their findings to be actionable without having to be fed into other applications. Quality assurance is also expected to continue to evolve and improve over the next few years, as speech analytics becomes a standard component of this essential business function. The technology is ready to go. The question is: When are you going to adopt it?

Donna Fluss is the founder and president of DMG Consulting LLC, a provider of contact center and analytics research, market analysis, and consulting. She is the author of industry reports on contact center hosting, IVR, speech analytics, performance management, workforce management, surveying and analytics, and quality management/liability recording. Contact Donna at donna.fluss@dmgconsult.com.

[From Connection Magazine May 2012]

Using Automated Surveys to Gauge Customer Satisfaction

By Rick Danos

In today’s challenging business environment, measuring and monitoring customer satisfaction and loyalty is one of the most discussed topics – from the boardroom to the call center. Businesses want to know whether their customers are happy with their products and services and if they will purchase again. If they have had a negative experience, a company wants to know the reasons. With today’s emerging technologies, enterprises might overlook one of the most effective, customer-friendly, and cost-conscious forms of gauging customer satisfaction: just ask them.

With a few simple questions within a strategic window of time, automated surveys (any survey delivered in an automated fashion via voice, SMS/text messaging, or email) empower businesses to quickly understand what their customers think of them and the quality of their customer service. And, if necessary, it allows them to take immediate action based on the feedback.

Industry experts believe that investing in technology to gather feedback and improve service before customers broadcast their frustrations to the world is vital, especially in the era of social networking. Now more than ever, customers are able to quickly voice opinions about their experiences with virtually any entity or business in an instant.

Research suggests that consumers put great trust in their social networks. A 2010 survey by eConsultancy showed that products that were highly rated by purchasers increase the likelihood of others purchasing the product by 55 percent. A similar eMarketer survey revealed that half of the respondents said they considered information shared on their social networks when making a decision; the percentage is even higher among users ages eighteen to twenty-four, at 65 percent.

By proactively seeking feedback from their customers, businesses are attempting to put themselves in the best possible position to gain insight into any customer service shortcomings before they are made aware of them publically for all to see. Because surveys are a clear part of any business’ customer service strategy, DMG Consulting predicts that automated survey and feedback technologies will represent the largest area of contact center-related investments for enterprises over the next three years.

With little investment, enterprises can leverage automated surveys to determine everything from how well a service was performed to whether or not a customer was happy with the level of interaction with a call center agent, retail store, website, or even a visit to their doctor’s office. Regardless of the industry, enterprises can realize five key business benefits to automated survey technologies:

Key Benefit #1: Automated Surveys Are Proactive: Waiting to react to customer feedback until it is communicated via public channels can cost a business time and money, not to mention possibly skewing its public reputation. By using automated surveys to ask for customer feedback, a business can proactively identify how they will address issues ahead of time and assist in turning possible customer experience or customer service weak points into positive competitive differentiators.

By knowing that a customer is dissatisfied within close proximity of a negative interaction, businesses also have much more of an opportunity to retain that customer. If a customer provides a “poor rating” to specific questions in an automated survey, for example, a business may choose to automatically connect that person with a call center agent to immediately address their concerns. By quickly knowing how the customer feels, decision makers have an opportunity to minimize a poor customer experience – possibly even turning it into an overall positive customer experience that will be shared with other current or prospective customers.

Key Benefit #2: Automated Surveys Are Immediate: From an inbound perspective, leading survey technologies can help companies take it one step further by immediately asking a customer after their call if their issue was resolved, if their call center representative was courteous and helpful, and whether they would call again.

If a customer is not happy with the level of service they have received, the company instantly knows it and can take action to improve that customers’ satisfaction. This can be accomplished in a number of ways, from offering discounts or promotions to retain a customer after a poor interaction to helping individual CSRs and their managers better address and analyze call center interactions in order to implement appropriate measures to guarantee continuous improvement. Similarly, a company may use outbound automated surveys to better understand an interaction soon after it has occurred.

Consider a cable provider with thousands of installations and visits to customers’ homes. When a technician has successfully installed a new service, it is important to know that the customer is happy. After a technician has completed the service call, the cable provider can automatically initiate an outbound survey to that customer. The provider can find out immediately if the customer has had a pleasant experience and is satisfied with the services that were performed before that customer alerts their social network.

Key Benefit #3: Automated Surveys Are Consistent, Nimble, and Scalable: Consistency and neutrality are the cornerstones of collecting good data. Automated survey technologies preserve consistency and neutrality for every customer interaction. They ensure that the customer feedback is unbiased, impartial, and error-free, which leads to smarter and more informed decision-making.

In some cases, customers would prefer to answer automated survey questions over those from a live call center agent, particularly when giving negative feedback. Automated surveys provide a risk-free way for customers to give open and honest yet confidential feedback. In addition, automated surveys can scale rapidly to meet the needs of a particular promotion or business goal without engaging the call center staff.

Businesses can rely on automated survey technologies to perform multiple functions within an organization at any time. This frees up call center agents and other staff to address mission-critical customer needs, while preserving the ability to rapidly address changing business goals.

Key Benefit #4: Automated Surveys Are Cost-Effective: Businesses can extract further value from a survey solution by using a hosted provider. With hosted solutions, businesses pay based on how much they use the survey technologies at any given time versus incurring the costs of buying and maintaining in-house equipment or having live agents handle this critical part of your business.

In addition to lowering costs and increasing agent productivity, businesses that use automated surveys can adjust questions on the fly based on earlier customer responses. This goes beyond discovering what happened to finding out why it happened. Live agents can do this as well, but only after training and with practice.

Key Benefit #5: Automated Surveys Are Actionable: Automated survey solutions can graphically illustrate customer survey feedback so that decision makers can identify and address issues quickly. This enables an understanding of what type of feedback is being generated from a particular survey at any time and what action is appropriate.

In addition, many companies use negative feedback from automated surveys to immediately reach out to a customer. For some businesses, that means calling the customer directly for more feedback and offering an apology, possibly with discounts or complimentary products or services, which will hopefully restore loyalty and foster a long-term, profitable relationship. For others, it might mean immediately rescheduling another technician to address an unsuccessful installation or technical problems. Some service providers use call center feedback to help CSRs and technicians more effectively hone their skills in order to prevent future negative customer feedback.

What’s Next for Automated Surveys? Automated survey technologies are evolving at a rapid pace to help businesses address emerging needs. For example, survey solution providers are incorporating analytics capabilities into the automated survey technologies to better help enterprises predict which customers are more or less likely to be satisfied and which retention strategies might be most effective.

In addition, industry observers predict that automated survey technologies will become more common for all business segments, not just those with customer-facing roles. In a recent survey of its client base, DMG Consulting found that 75 percent of businesses surveyed reported sharing customer feedback with other areas of their organization with the goal of delivering an enhanced customer experience.

Forrester Research’s annual surveys on the customer experience echo this trend. In its recent survey of 141 executives across many industries, 90 percent of businesses think customer experience is very important to their companies, and 80 percent are trying to use it as an area of differentiation.

It is imperative for businesses to quickly understand what may have gone wrong with a particular customer’s experience and to know when it went right – and why. Using automated surveys is the key.

Rick Danos is the director of product management for CSG International’s interactive messaging group, which specializes in delivering automated and interactive customer communication solutions via Interactive Voice Response (IVR), SMS, email, and Web services. Danos has over fifteen years of experience working with large-scale telecommunications providers and dot-com companies.

[From Connection Magazine April 2012]

The Benefits of a Hosted IVR

By Rick Danos

DMG Consulting estimates that IVR (interactive voice response) systems can automate between 20 to 90 percent of a company’s incoming calls while actually preserving its ability to increase service quality and customer satisfaction. Although some companies have opted to purchase in-house IVR systems to address these challenges, many are outdated, requiring costly hardware and software upgrades and requiring personnel to handle the next generation of customer service. Unfortunately, dedicating the resources to optimize these in-house IVR systems is a challenge for many organizations.

As a result, companies are considering investing in IVR systems delivered through a hosted environment that can help them address current business challenges and meet their future business needs. DMG Consulting estimates that hosted IVR solutions are outpacing in-house IVR technologies among companies across a wide array of vertical markets. There are three key drivers and business benefits for hosted IVR solutions.

Key Benefit #1: Lower Overall Costs: At a time when budgets are tight, businesses are looking to reduce capital expenditures. Hosted IVR systems reduce the traditional costs associated with in-house systems and move costs from a capital expense to an operating expense. Hosted solutions enable businesses to deploy a “pay-as-you-go” cost structure that provides a great degree of budget flexibility and expense control over in-house software solutions.

In a three-year total cost of ownership (TCO) study, the Yankee Group compared an in-house contact center solution with the costs of a hosted offering and found that:

  • The TCO advantage is most substantial in enterprises with over 200 call center agents, but small and medium-sized enterprises can also realize significant cost savings.
  • A fifty-agent call center can realize a savings of 25 percent by deploying a hosted IVR solution over an in-house solution, with savings in hardware and software investments, implementation and maintenance costs, technology upgrades, and IT and telecom staffing. The savings are more significant for larger call centers.
  • Businesses can eliminate capital expenditures and reduce or reassign headcount associated with managing and maintaining in-house software systems.
  • Businesses can more easily use “at home” or remote call center agent models. YankeeGroup points out that this flexibility enables companies to hire the “best and brightest” call center staff and results in higher retention rates among call center agents.

Key Benefit #2: Faster Deployment, Scalability, and Upgrades: In-house solution deployments have become notorious among business decision makers as costly and lengthy ordeals. Delays in implementation – particularly those around mission-critical solutions such as IVR – can cause frustration and result in opportunity costs that sacrifice revenue and customer satisfaction rates.

Scalability is another challenge that organizations utilizing in-house IVR solutions face. Lead times due to telecom network requirements and IT resource allocation needed to add extra voice ports make it difficult to compete with the scalability of hosted IVR solutions. Due to excess capacity being a common platform feature, hosted IVR solution providers are positioned to provide on-demand capacity to meet clients’ unforeseen business requirements and keep business moving forward.

In many cases, businesses using an in-house IVR solution lack expertise in voice user interface design, industry best practices, and other areas of expertise traditionally provided by hosted IVR solution providers. These internal deficiencies often result in additional costs associated by tapping third-party consultants.

Hosted IVR solutions eliminate these headaches. Companies offering hosted solutions have extensive, proven methodologies to optimize the deployment of IVR applications. Other business benefits include:

  • Hosted IVR solutions have no upgrade costs. Companies that offer hosted IVR solutions incorporate upgrades into the solution as a natural evolution of their applications.
  • Hosted IVR services enable businesses to nimbly and rapidly address changes in the marketplace resulting from regulatory or technology shifts.
  • Clients using hosted IVR platforms do not need to dedicate staff for implementation or training, enabling them to focus on core competencies.

Key Benefit #3: Advanced Functionality: Hosted IVR providers can more readily extend a company’s IVR platform by adding complementary, value-added functionality that provides insights into every customer interaction. This knowledge can then be used to predict future customer behavior in order to improve overall results. Two key areas of complementary functionality – advanced speech recognition and customer analytics – require knowledge in specialized areas that does not typically reside within IT departments that support in-house IVR solutions. As a result, businesses seeking to augment in-house IVR systems with speech recognition or analytics tools must invest in additional implementation, integration, and training. Additionally, upgrades to the core IVR platform also require integrations with the other software platforms that touch it.

Hosted IVR providers are positioned to deliver this value-added functionality at a fraction of the cost and with significantly fewer resources than in-house solutions providers for these reasons:

  • By pre-integrating other mission-critical capabilities, hosted IVR providers can deliver faster deployments with much lower up-front costs.
  • As hosted IVR providers upgrade their existing platforms with new functionality, they also ensure that advanced speech and analytics systems are integrated.
  • Because advanced functionality is part of the platform, hosted IVR providers have knowledgeable staff to help clients. These resources give clients the benefit of expertise through a single source.

A Hosted IVR Strategy Is Not a One-Size-Fits-All Approach: The key to developing and deploying IVR can begin with a hosted solution. From there, companies can tailor their strategy to address individual and industry needs. For example:

  • Does the company wish to deploy advanced speech recognition to achieve higher automation rates?
  • What other touch points are critical for customer service satisfaction?
  • Should call center and agent performance be optimized with customized automated customer interaction solutions?
  • How can analytics be used to better understand if retention strategies are effective?

Hosted IVR solutions can help businesses identify and resolve these key customer service challenges, both today and in the future.

Rick Danos is the director of product management for CSG International’s Interactive Messaging Group, which specializes in delivering automated and interactive customer communication solutions via Interactive Voice Response (IVR), SMS, email, and Web services. Danos has over fifteen years of experience working with large-scale telecommunications providers and dot-com companies.

[From Connection Magazine March 2012]

Speech Analytics: Tips to Calculating ROI

By Steve Morrell

As part of the research for ContactBabel’s new report, “The Inner Circle Guide to Speech Analytics,” thousands of contact center professionals were asked for their views on speech analytics, particularly about what holds them back from implementing it. By far the most important issue raised was how to build a strong enough return-on-investment (ROI) case to get the required corporate buy-in.

Significant portions of an organization’s budget are now held within the marketing, website, or customer experience teams, rather than at the contact center level. However, these teams must be made to understand that the contact center is a big part of people’s experience when dealing with a company. To get the most from a speech analytics solution, especially the more complex systems, businesses need to identify and empower a senior project champion who can oversee a cross-functional team. This champion must have a strategic view of what speech analytics can provide, as well as the ability to understand the operational and technical requirements of the contact center and IT teams.

ROI for speech analytics can come from numerous sources, depending upon how the solution is used. Generally, it will come from the avoidance of a specific cost (including the reduction of risk in the case of compliance) or an increase in revenue, despite the fact that much of the benefit from speech analytics comes from actionable insight around why customers are calling.

Speech analytics is used extensively in North America for compliance, for which ROI can be proven through the avoidance or reduction in litigation and regulatory fines when placed against the cost of the solution. In Europe, large UK banks have allocated funds that run into the tens of millions of pounds each year against the possibility of paying out, and any significant reduction in fines would pay for a speech analytics solution very quickly. In fact, the UK banking industry has additionally set aside several billion pounds to pay compensation for the improper selling of PPI (payment protection insurance), and having the ability to prove that no regulations had been broken would be of great use.

Variables to be considered for ROI measurements include:

Cost Reduction

  • Reduction in head count from automation of call monitoring and compliance checking
  • Avoidance of fines and damages for noncompliance
  • Reduction in call volumes after understanding why customers are calling and acting to optimize any broken processes elsewhere in the organization (such as websites, marketing, distribution, etc.) that are causing these calls
  • Reduction in cost of unnecessary callbacks after improving first-call resolution rates
  • Avoidance of live calls that can be handled by better IVR or website self-service
  • Reduced cost of quality assurance and monitoring
  • Lower cost-per-call through shortened handling times and fewer transfers
  • Lower new staff attrition rates and recruitment costs through early identification of specific training requirements

Revenue Increase

  • Increase in sales conversion rates and values based on dissemination of best practice
  • Increase in promise-to-pay ratios (debt collection)
  • Optimized marketing messages through instant customer evaluation
  • Reduced customer churn through dynamic screen-pop and real-time analytics that tailor calls to the customer
  • Quicker response to new competitor and pricing information

Also, the improved quality of agents, better complaint-handling, and improved business processes outside the contact center should be considered.

Implementation Costs

Against these potential positives, costs to consider include:

  • License fees or cost-per-call analyzed
  • IT costs to implement (both internal and external)
  • A possible required upgrade to call recording environment
  • Bandwidth needs if hosted off-site (the recording of calls is usually done on a customer’s site, so if the speech analytics solution is to be hosted, it will involve of lot of bandwidth, which will be an additional cost, especially when considering any redundancy)
  • Maintenance and support agreements, which may be 15-20 percent annually of the original licensing cost
  • Additional users – head count cost (decisions about who will own and use it and whether a speech analyst is needed, etc.)
  • Extra hardware, such as servers required for audio processing and analysis, the number of which is dependent on call volumes and customers’ expectations
  • Ongoing and additional training costs, if not included
  • Extra work across the enterprise generated by the analytics findings
  • Additional software to extract data from the call recording production environment if using different vendors for recording and speech analytics

Vendors’ own estimates of the time taken for the solution to pay for itself vary between six and eighteen months, with most current implementations having been in contact centers with over 100 seats. Apart from calculating figures for ROI, perhaps the most difficult element of the business case is to ensure that executives beyond the contact center understand and support the contact center’s role in enterprise success. Finance, marketing, IT, and senior management all must be talked to in terms they understand – customer retention, product satisfaction, revenue, and competitive metrics – in order to show that speech analytics is an effective way to give a window into these trends.

Ask your vendor to help you create an ROI to justify the project to the corporation effectively. Most vendors have tools that can be used to estimate return on investment, often based on what they have seen in similar operations elsewhere, and they are eager to share them with potential customers. Start with a project that you are comfortable managing from a cost and resource perspective to ensure that you can track and present an ROI. Once you’ve achieved those results, it will be easier to justify expanding the project into other areas.

Steve Morrell established ContactBabel, a contact center analyst firm, in 2000. Steve, an expert on the global contact center industry, has written over 200 reports on the future of technology, people, and business processes surrounding the contact center industry. This article is taken from ContactBabel’s “The Inner Circle Guide to Speech Analytics,” the first in a series of analyst reports investigating key customer contact solutions. The free reports are available for download from www.contactbabel.com.

[From Connection Magazine November 2011]

Voice Quality Enhancement: Resolving VoIP Audio Quality for Contact Centers

By Ray Adensamer

Every day, contact centers connect with customers to deliver services across the globe. Advancements in telecommunication capabilities have allowed contact center operators to improve quality of service and expand their communication methods. Today, voice over internet protocol (VoIP) is fueling a new round of innovation in contact center features and capabilities.

VoIP offers a number of benefits for contact centers. As opposed to traditional circuit-switched communications, next-generation VoIP contact centers allow providers to deliver services across multiple modes of communication: voice, fax, email, instant messaging, Web, images, and video. Providers can take advantage of the open computing architecture to realize reduced costs and improved flexibility. VoIP long-distance backhauls are more cost-effective, making remote contact centers more financially viable. Finally, the standards-based interface delivers a robust ecosystem of best-in-class solutions.

However, there are common audio quality problems associated with VoIP telecommunication services in IP packet networks, including noise, packet loss, and echo. These problems pose significant challenges for adopters and diminish providers’ confidence in the conversion from circuit-switch to VoIP networks. To approach these service barriers, voice quality enhancement (VQE) software is required.

Tackling the Challenges of VoIP Voice Quality: Recent software advancements are allowing contact center providers to achieve the same audio quality on VoIP networks as on traditional circuit-switched networks. VQE software incorporates a variety of functions designed to tackle the audio challenges inherent in VoIP networks. One highly effective approach for addressing these challenges is to integrate VQE capabilities into an IP media server. An IP media server is a common, shared IP media processing resource used for a broad range of IP applications. Because an IP media server is a centrally deployed resource in the core of the network and is involved in real-time IP packet processing, it is the ideal technology and network location for addressing common sources of poor audio quality. Using this integrated approach creates a single network element that performs both IP-packet processing and voice quality enhancement. As a software solution, VQE does not require an additional network element; this reduces both capital and operational expenditures, providing benefits at one-fifth the cost of comparable hardware solutions.

Audio Noise: The freedom granted by mobile phones and the Internet means that people are now making calls from just about everywhere. Calls are no longer made from quiet offices, and background noise – from barking dogs to blaring traffic – drastically lessens call quality. Lower-quality devices such as cheap earpieces can further exacerbate the matter.

VQE software can address and solve the primary audio quality challenges facing today’s contact centers. For excessive noise, VQE offers three approaches:

  • Noise Gating: This is a simple yet effective mechanism that reduces background noise. When no speech is detected, the signal is attenuated to prevent any unnecessary noise from being inserted. Providers can configure how much they want to decrease amplification to avoid making the line unnaturally quiet.
  • Noisy Line Detection: Noisy line detection actively looks for and distinguishes four noise conditions: background noise, impulsive noise, continuous signal noise, and low signal-to-noise ratio. These conditions are reported to the application server, at which point the moderator can then choose to mute the noisy line or leave it unchanged.
  • Noise Reduction: This service goes a step beyond noise gating, using digital processing techniques to remove unwanted noise while leaving the important speech signal intact. Because this process requires a great deal of processing power, noisy lines are dynamically identified and ranked before noise reduction is selectively applied.

Packet Loss: While the Internet is incredible on many levels, it isn’t perfect. IP protocols do not guarantee packet delivery; they can get lost or delayed when the networks get busy or congested. To solve the problem of lost packets, VQE software includes packet loss concealment. When packets are lost or unacceptably delayed in the IP network, the software replaces them with predictions from previously received audio. Unlike voice repair technology, which would have difficulty recovering from extreme packet loss in abnormal conditions, this process is designed to perform intelligent restoration of lost or delayed packets for a majority of congested network scenarios. By inserting estimates based on previously received packets, the software creates a speech rendering that closely resembles the original and reduces the occurrences of choppy audio.

Acoustic Echo: Similar to yelling in a cave, improper echo isolation can result in a caller hearing a delayed echo of their own voice. This happens when a speaker’s voice is transmitted back by the receiver’s microphone. Because the echo is often heard by all but the guilty party, it can be difficult to pinpoint the cause.

Acoustic echo cancellation (AEC) is an integral function of VQE software. AEC detects and removes the sender’s transmission from the recipient’s path while addressing the inherent variable packet delay. AEC on a VoIP network is particularly challenging because of the variable packet delay. Because of this, VQE algorithms used to reduce the echo are more computer-intensive than equivalent echo cancellation solutions for circuit-switched networks. However, proper VQE software can detect and eliminate the echo without affecting call quality or drawing attention to the customer.

Voice Quality Metrics: Having the ability to remove audio quality impairments is one thing; having an objective way to measure quality and monitor performance is even better. Voice quality metrics give contact center providers a standard way to measure audio quality and uphold service level agreements (SLAs). Part of the VQE software, the metrics capture statistics for three categories: 1) packets, monitoring packet throughput, loss, and delay; 2) audio, measuring speech and noise power levels; and 3) AEC, measuring echo delay and cancellation performance. By having these statistics available, service providers can continuously monitor audio quality performance, verify performance expectations, and identify any potential issues in the network.

Summary: Advancements in VQE software are enabling contact center services to overcome the audio challenges of VoIP networks. Software that provides noise gating, packet loss concealment, and AEC capabilities is enabling providers to offer the same audio quality as traditional circuit-switch networks, while also offering metrics to uphold SLAs and continuously monitor performance. Integrating VQE capabilities in an IP media server delivers an innovative and cost-effective approach for addressing the audio quality challenges of VoIP. By incorporating these technologies into their contact center networks, providers are able to realize the economic and technical benefits of VoIP networks while delivering the highest quality service to their customers.

Ray Adensamer is with Radisys, a provider of hardware and software for IP-based networks.

[From Connection Magazine Jul/Aug 2011]