Tag Archives: Speech Technology Articles

Current Status of Speech (and Text) Analytics

By Donna Fluss

Interaction analytics (IA) removes the mystery from customer conversations. It gives companies access into what customers are “talking” (or writing) about and, specifically, insights into their needs and wants. These increasingly sophisticated analytics solutions have evolved from basic keyword search applications that helped companies understand call reasons to advanced business intelligence (BI) offerings that provide insights and an appreciation of customer sentiment. 

The more advanced IA offerings have expanded their capabilities and benefits far beyond their initial contact center audience but are struggling to demonstrate their value to customer experience (CX) executives who continue to concentrate on marketing and sales functions. 

Product Innovation

Breakthroughs in the underlying natural language processing technology, along with powerful cloud-based processing capabilities, have improved the transcription accuracy, conversational comprehension, and overall business value of IA solutions. Interaction analytics capabilities are now finding their way into many third-party systems, including cloud-based contact center infrastructure solutions, customer relationship management (CRM) solutions, voice-of-the-customer (VoC) offerings, and BI applications. 

And due to technical and operational innovations, many IA vendors are replacing their transcription engines with newer and more effective ones that improve the effectiveness of their own offerings. Improvements in processing speed and accuracy are also making it possible for real-time IA solutions in contact centers to deliver alerts and real-time guidance that empower agents to deliver a better and more personalized customer experience. 

Broader Use Cases for IA

The advancements in IA solutions are attracting new buyers and partners, driving a much-needed replacement cycle for these solutions. Helping this development is the increased adoption of digital channels, which is opening new opportunities by expanding the uses and contributions of IA. Then there are the broader enterprise applications of IA: to identify new product opportunities, at-risk customers, legal risks, and the potential for fraud, just to mention a few. 

IA solutions can provide executives with insights into the reasons customers reach out and ask for help. To date, most companies apply IA primarily in their contact centers, as this is the source of the recordings and digital transactions that these solutions analyze. However, as contact centers receive feedback about departments, policies, and systems from all over an enterprise, IA can provide useful insights about many aspects of a company.

DMG expects analytics-enabled quality management (AQM) to be one of the “next big things” in the IA market. Analytics-enabled QM has been talked about for at least twelve years and has been available to some degree for ten of them. But it’s only in the last eighteen months that AQM solutions are seeing significant adoption, due to innovations in artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning. 

The market is beginning to transition from traditional QM to AQM, and DMG expects this trend to pick up momentum in the next few years, as there are proven benefits and substantial cost savings from making the switch. 

Real-time guidance is another important and emerging use for IA solutions. A real-time speech analytics solution listens to (or reads) what customers are saying/writing in real time and uses this information to guide agents in how to best help customers. While real-time IA capabilities are just finding their way into the market, they have enormous potential and should be adopted as part of an enterprise digital transformation. 

Real-time guidance is clearly useful in enabling contact center agents to personalize a service experience, but it can be at least as helpful during sales, marketing, and collections interactions. 

Transformational Benefits of IA

The current generation of IA offerings are transformational tools that use AI to provide passive VoC findings and insights, minimizing the need to survey customers frequently. Note that there are still legitimate marketing reasons for companies to reach out to their customers to solicit their opinions in specific situations or about products and services.

The more advanced IA solutions come with customer journey analytics (CJA) capabilities that provide omnichannel insights into each customer’s experience as they traverse an organization and pivot between channels. While emerging CJA capabilities are still under development, IA solutions are the most effective tool available in most enterprises for identifying issues and bottlenecks that prevent companies from delivering the outstanding experience their customers expect and, in doing so, decreasing servicing costs. 

Calls remain the primary use for IA solutions, but more organizations are starting to apply IA to text-based interactions, which is a necessity now that digital customer service has grown in importance. As digital support is still in its early days in many organizations, gaining timely insights into how it’s used and its challenges is helpful for companies that want to deliver an outstanding customer experience, cost effectively. 

Final Thoughts

Interaction analytics has made substantial progress in the past eighteen months, but there is still a great deal of work needed before IA will be accepted and adopted as an enterprise BI solution. Until this happens, the sector’s total addressable market will be limited to the approximately 22 million contact center seats in organizations worldwide. 

Applying IA solutions to improve the performance of contact centers is valuable and will result in a payback within 2–3 years, when used properly. However, the contributions of IA will grow substantially and rapidly when these solutions are applied as customer experience BI tools and used to understand and improve the customer journey. 

To learn more about the interaction analytics market and for help in selecting the ideal IA solution for your company, see DMG’s newly released evaluation of this sector and vendors, the 2021–2022 Interaction Analytics Product and Market Report

Donna Fluss is president of DMG Consulting LLC. For more than two decades she has helped emerging and established companies develop and deliver outstanding customer experiences. A recognized visionary, author, and speaker, Donna drives strategic transformation and innovation throughout the services industry. She provides strategic and practical counsel for enterprises, solution providers, and the investment community. 

Transform Voice of Customer Insights with Artificial Intelligence Powered Speech Analytics

By Matt Rocco and Jim Iyoob

Customer experience is the latest challenge faced today; brands must consider far more than simply the point of sale. To be specific, you need to analyze and understand the entire life cycle of each customer interaction. If your business has a contact center service, your agents are on the frontline. Whenever your customers have a question or need resolutions to their problems, they will reach out to your customer service team. This makes the contact center and agents the most important touchpoints for memorable customer service.

According to Microsoft, 61 percent of customers will never go back to a business if they have a poor customer experience. This scenario can remarkably improve if companies leverage the power of artificial intelligence (AI)-driven speech analytics to improve the way of engaging and serving customers.

In the age of customer experience, businesses must understand the power of AI and speech analytics. When combined with human intelligence, AI and speech analytics can take the customer experience to the next level. By utilizing AI, you can tap into all customer interaction data, making your contact center more effective, transforming your agents to be more efficient, and producing positive customer interactions that could create better customer satisfaction.

What are the Challenges Today’s Contact Centers Face?

It is a frequent problem for contact centers to face different service delivery issues. It has always been a challenge to find a balance between the number of agents available and the call volume. Due to the lack of available agents, customers often experience long wait times, which is one of the main reasons behind customer frustration.

In addition to agent availability challenges, there are overwhelming problems that contact centers face with data management. Contact centers need to continually leverage data for improving their processes and agent performance so they can understand customers well and satisfy changing needs. Many contact centers struggle with the growing volume of data and various issues with data collection, duplication, complexity, and data silos. 

Data comes from many sources, often with different formatting. Additionally, the data that you get from the customer relationship management (CRM) system of your company can sometimes be flawed or incomplete. These challenges make it tough for modern contact centers to transform unstructured and structured data into meaningful insights that can help you understand what needs and expectations your customers have.

Why is Traditional Call Center Quality Monitoring Not the Solution?

Transcribing and analyzing every call or customer interaction is formidable. However, monitoring and understanding these interactions manually and resorting to a small sample of interactions is simply not enough. A few monitoring programs have a sound idea of what to look for but still tend to focus on specific metrics, such as abandonment, hold times, or interaction resolutions. While this information can be helpful, this type of monitoring tends to miss valuable information between agents and customers, leaving actionable insights buried in mounds of dark data.

Bridging the Gap with AI-Powered Speech Analytics

Gaps in quality monitoring for contact centers are nothing new. This leaves valuable insights left unobserved, meaning contact center agents are conducting business without the necessary information to provide the best support and services to their customers. This results in agents and customers feeling frustrated, with neither understanding how to find solutions to customer problems. 

Finding solutions for agents and customers while trying to fill the gaps of quality monitoring can seem overwhelming. Artificial intelligence integrated speech analytics technology, however, can provide contact centers with valuable insights and resources for their agents, while meeting customer expectations and providing an excellent customer experience.

How Can Speech Analytics Make a Difference?

Contact centers can access a vital source of data while using speech analytics technology. Companies use it to analyze recorded customer calls to discern valuable insights to improve the customer experience. These analytics provide a more detailed view by covering a variety of data points such as the topic of the call, relevant keywords and phrases, the emotional intent of the agent and customer, and the duration of talk in the calls. The next step is to convert this gathered data into text or transcripts so that further analysis can occur.

This data is very crucial for businesses to understand and analyze the pain points for why customers end up leaving a negative review about the company or altogether abandon their purchase. For instance, if speech analytics in an e-commerce store’s contact center reveals that many customers take twice as long to complete the checkout and payment, this could signal to the business that it needs to make changes to its website and payment gateway to improve the user experience.

Additionally, speech analytics derived data can gather insights on agent performance which helps companies understand where to concentrate training, how to empower team members, and ways to create a more effective work environment for agents. Undoubtedly, analytics is an invaluable tool that can help your company grow and build strong relationships with customers. 

What is the Power of AI-enhanced Speech Analytics?

Artificial intelligence is what brings the effectiveness of automation, speed, and predictive insights to speech analytics technology. There is an ever-increasing volume of data that modern contact centers must mine in today’s business environment. The standard contact center technologies like legacy call tracking software or CRMs are not able to help companies leverage this data in the best way possible.

AI is the differentiator. It provides businesses with the advanced capabilities to improve agent performance and service delivery. The real-time insights into each interaction from AI-powered speech analytics help them identify patterns and trends that cause customer churn. AI-enhanced analytics are also helpful for your business to reduce the number of calls in the contact center as it identifies patterns in repeat calls. 

This can lead to a better understanding of your customer problems, and your business can take the appropriate steps to solve them. It can be anything from improving your brick-and-mortar or online experiences to optimizing agent training for better customer service resolutions. In some cases, artificial intelligence can even provide insights in real-time that agents can instantaneously use to improve their customer interactions.

AI Solutions for Evolving Problems 

The contact center environment is constantly advancing. Each day brings different information, products, and ways of interacting with customers, as well as how agents are set up to provide those services.

Fortunately, the solution is here with the flexibility needed to solve these ever-changing concerns using AI-powered speech analytics. Brands have been mining for customer insights in small samples, but AI-speech analytics has the power to take vast amounts of data while sifting through every interaction.

By using AI, contact centers have an effective lens to dissect interactions, taking the guesswork out when the agent is interacting with customers. AI gives businesses insights into what their customers are experiencing and needing now. Today’s customers expect immediate results and with AI speech analytics, you can provide it. 

Transform Your Contact Center Experience 

Today’s business environment is that every customer interaction produces a data point that companies can leverage to understand their customers better. AI is the revolutionary tool that has the immense capability to help your business bridge the gap between the agents and your customer base. If you want to make the best use of AI-powered speech analytics in your contact center, the first step that your company needs to take is centralizing all the data across your organization into a unified platform that integrates and analyzes insights from multiple sources in a single place.

Along with these technological shifts, however, your business needs to leverage the power of human intelligence to deliver an effortless customer experience. Your team members are more data-aware than you know and can analyze this information to help your business accomplish both short and long-term objectives. Together with the efficacy of AI and speech analytics, along with your people’s valuable knowledge, experience, and unique skill set, your business will be able to make the most out of analytics to meet customers’ changing needs and deliver an experience that can transform your customers to brand advocates.

In Conclusion

With AI-powered speech analytics, organizations can drive efficiencies and performance as never before, allowing an overall view of end-to-end customer experience across every channel. It automatically mines crucial data from contact centers which in turn help drive value into the business and future customer interactions. As a result, businesses get a clear view of what customers want and need, how to train agents better, and how to provide an overall excellent customer experience, every time.

Are you ready to see what your customers say?

Make artificial intelligence and speech analytics, the two most revolutionizing technologies of this time, the integral parts of your contact center quality monitoring.

Matt Rocco is the president and CEO of Etech Global Services. He is a 37-year business executive veteran of the call center/BPO industry having spent time in every facet of call center operations and outsourcing processes.

Jim Iyoob is the chief customer officer at Etech Global Services. He handles strategy, marketing, business development, IT, program implementation, operational excellence, and product development across all Etech’s existing lines of business: Etech, Etech Insights, Etech Technology Solutions and Etech Social Media Solutions.

To learn more about how these intelligent innovations can help your business result in happy customers, dive into Etech’s white paper: “Improving CX and Contact Center Performance.”

Artificial Intelligence and the Call Center



Predict Who Is Calling and Why

By Nancy Lee

Artificial intelligence (AI) is intelligence demonstrated by machines, in contrast to the natural intelligence displayed by humans. In computer science, AI research is defined as the study of intelligent agents: any device that perceives its environment and takes actions that maximize its chance of successfully achieving goals. The term artificial intelligence is applied when a machine mimics cognitive functions generally associated with the human mind, such as learning and problem solving. Artificial intelligence algorithms improve their performance automatically through experience by finding patterns in a stream of input, such as telephone automatic number identification (ANI) information.

AI in the Call Center

Artificial intelligence is nothing new to Amtelco, which started developing a unique dataset for predictive call handling in 2005—the Intelligent Series (IS) Clairvoyant Agent feature. The latest iteration of this development is the innovative IS predictive intelligence feature. Predictive intelligence uses the ANI for a call to recognize the caller, eliminating the need for operators to reenter information. Predictive intelligence determines who is calling and the most likely reason why.

Predictive intelligence enables the call center system to learn with each call it receives and progressively improves the performance of subsequent tasks.

Time-Saving Features

Predictive intelligence saves a tremendous amount of time for both operators and callers. Operators simply select the reason for the call from the list, helping ensure error-free information.

For multiple callers from the same phone number, predictive intelligence sorts the list of callers by the number of times each person has called and displays the list in a pop-up box. The most frequent caller from a number appears at the top of the list. The operator can quickly choose the current caller from the list, and predictive intelligence retrieves that caller’s information from previous calls. For each caller, the list of reasons for previous calls displays with the most frequent reason for calling.

The textbook for teaching the call center system about predictive intelligence is comprised of a script template, an SQL server database separate from the IS system database, and an administration script for managing the database. The script template is the starting point for creating new predictive intelligence functions within existing scripts and using it to direct the disposition of the call. The separate database makes it possible to track callers and their reasons for calling and provides information about past calls to the script. The administration script is a user interface that enables supervisors to easily create a customized list of reasons for calling without having to access the database.

Looking to the Future

Although advanced AI could replace or reduce the need for human interaction, reducing the workload on call centers by answering simple or commonly asked questions, it could also enhance human interaction to improve and streamline the customer experience. This would retain the personalized aspect of calls that human interaction provides while augmenting it with AI technology to provide higher-quality service.

Voice recognition technology can be coupled with artificial intelligence capabilities to offer adaptive response suggestions to operators based on key words and phrases. This would reduce wait times and enable agents to instantly respond to a wide variety of caller needs with appropriate solutions.

Tone and voice analytics can gauge customer satisfaction and agent friendliness and enthusiasm to help provide individualized performance assessments. This form of AI also could monitor agent and customer call temperaments in real time, alerting managers when a situation escalates and allowing them to listen or step in if necessary.

Artificial intelligence gives the adage “live and learn” new meaning for call center systems and their human operators. And there seems to be no limit to what call center systems can learn to make life easier for call center agents.

Nancy Lee is in marketing and advertising at Amtelco, a developer and supplier of call center and communications solutions located in McFarland, Wisconsin. Contact her at nlee@amtelco.com

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 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.

[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]