DSC Tech Library
Customer Relationship Management
This section of our technical library presents information and documentation relating to CRM Solutions and customer relationship management software and products.
Providing timely customer service information is vital to maintaining a successful business. Accurate information provided in an organized and thoughtful manner is key to business success.
TELEMATION, our CRM and contact center software, was originally built on this foundation. The ability to modify Customer Relationship Management software is important in this ever changing business environment.
Telemation Customer Relationship Management solution and contact center software is ideally suited for call centers throughout the world.
With voice accepted as the natural interaction medium, do voice-enabled systems represent the next generation of CRM self-service? Angela Eager investigates.
"The relevance of voice, and the telephone, as a self-service channel has never gone away, nor has the importance of the call centre. It is the natural front end." So says Andrew Shaw, director of the natural language groups at Edify, a customer service automation company that specialises in voice.
But voice, when it is delivered over the telephone by a live call centre agent, is expensive. Instead, many organisations are turning to speech-based, self-service applications, which make the most of the natural voice-based telephone customer interaction channel without the associated expenditure.
Organisations are constantly balancing the need to achieve more with less and as far as the customer service side of the business is concerned, this means increasing customer satisfaction through high-quality service, despite lower budgets. A natural response is to move customers into self-service channels, away from expensive agent-based call centres where payroll costs typically represent 70% to 80% of the budget. It is estimated to cost between $8 and $10 per interaction for a live agent in a call centre to service a call, versus $0.50 to $1 for self-service.
For all its attributes, the web is not always the most appropriate channel. While the web is a good channel for transactional functions such as bill payment, fund transfer, buying and downloading 'soft' services and products like software, it cannot cope well with complex interactions, multi-part problems or complex complaint resolution.
Neither are web-based self-service solutions always well designed, even if the issues they are set up to complete are suitable for the web channel. In one example of this, a 3,000-employee enterprise running an internal helpdesk, found that 30% of the calls concerned password problems, despite there being a web-based self-service solution geared towards this particular problem. As Alf Saggese, MD for EMEA at service-centric CRM vendor Kana, points out, "You can't force consumers." Users or customers will pick their channel of choice and that will be the service option that works best.
Over 90% of business-to-customer interactions are still carried out over the telephone, but that is not the whole story. Although the telephone may imply human-to-human interaction, call centres are routinely equipped with IVR (interactive voice response) and dual tone multi-frequency (DTMF) technology, which are typically employed to identify the caller and gather information about the call type so it can be routed to the most appropriate agent. Alternatively, they can be used to enable some interactions to be completed without recourse to a live agent, for example, accessing account balances and bill payment.
These technologies have been used in the mainstream for over 10 years, but now the trend is to take things a stage further, using speech-based applications to gain the cost advantages of automation without impairing the customer experience. However, the decision to move to speech is not clear-cut, so take up has been gradual to date. "Speech is taking a long time to take off. It is only in the past 12 months that really good systems have been available on the market," says Don Edwards, business solutions manager for self-service, at Edify reseller and service provider Fujitsu Consulting.
The market for IVR and DTMF is at saturation point according to Andy Clune, sales and marketing director at speech solutions company Syntellect. "Ten years ago there was not a dilemma, it was cost effective so organisations had to do it but there were some grim implementations. Speech has been around for 40 or 50 years, commercially viable since about 10 years ago, although in reality only really from four or five years ago."
At its most basic, speech enablement replaces telephone pad-based interactions whereby a recorded message provides callers with general guidance and presents them with a list of options that are selected via a touch tone pad. These activities can be just as easily replaced by voice. However, speech-enabled applications allow companies to maintain the telephone channel customers clearly prefer while changing the style of interaction.
"It is an enabling technology and does things that a touch tone solution can't do," says Edify's Shaw. "In the early days it was about capturing the low-hanging fruit. Self-service looked at large volume interactions where transactions such as account balances were carried out. That represents the ideal system but the real world is more complex than that. Organisations have moved onto self-service for other types of business transactions, where touch tone is not appropriate."
For instance, financial brokers Charles Schwab wanted to introduce more self-service, particularly for customers seeking company stock market quotes. Using touch tone the customers were required to enter IDs and the ticker symbol, but the combination of alphanumeric data that needed to be entered made for a horrific touch tone system. As a result, only 25% of these type of calls transferred to the self-service channel. When Charles Schwab decided to add a speech option, the take-up of the service exceeded 90%.
The goal with any self-service system is to improve customer satisfaction, and there is a risk that by messing with the popular telephone channel, customers may become dissatisfied.
A survey by Harris Interactive, which specifically looked at speech satisfaction, showed that speech has entered the mainstream and is widespread in a number of industries, used most often to enable callers to reach customer service or get information about their accounts. Telecom and financial services are the industries most associated with speech systems, with 35% and 28%, respectively, associated with speech applications.
Reaping the benefits
The survey found that the advantage speech systems have over non-voice alternatives is their ability to enable customers to interact in a more natural way than if they used a keypad to send information. Of the respondents, 61% were highly satisfied with their most recent speech encounter and would opt to use it again.
Speech was deemed to be easier to access and use, and faster and more efficient than keypad entry systems. It was also rated highly for functionality, with over 70% saying speech-based systems were easy to use and understand, and around two-thirds agreeing that they were efficient and provided what was required. Other benefits ranged from convenience and accessibility, accuracy, and eliminating time spent waiting for live agents. The survey also found that organisations using speech systems achieved increasing satisfaction levels, but also that a high percentage of repeat users were driving greater efficiencies.
There are plenty of challenges with speech systems, and for CIOs and CFOs the biggest issue has to be that the benefits tend to be more incremental when building speech into an existing automated system, and will not be as dramatic as those that companies gained when moving to DTMF. Companies upgrading to speech-enabled systems can expect something like a 25% incremental benefit.
However, according to Clune, adding speech typically doubles the capital expenditure cost of an implementation. This means that benefits have to be rapid, obvious and the advantages an order of magnitude greater than the existing implementation can offer.
For these reasons speech systems should not be seen as mere replacements for existing IVR and DTMF. Organisations need to view them from a strategic perspective rather than a tactical one, and look at what they can do differently, says Shaw. Instead of concentrating on traditional call centre metrics such as call volume, average handling time and agent productivity, problem resolution should become the priority.
"CRM systems did not deliver value because they delivered from the organisation's point of view not the customers' point of view," says Saggese, citing an SPSS survey said that 80% of interactions were related to the issue of problem resolution, not routing, tracking or case management. "It doesn't matter what delivery channel it is, the important thing companies are missing is the resolution of the issue."
It is easy to find examples of companies missing the point in this way. One company, who will remain anonymous, whose whole business is running and selling tickets for a specific entertainment ride, burdens customers with a nine-item menu system, of which the option to buy a ticket is the last.
Organisations need to be mindful of what and how they automate. "Just because you can integrate with databases, routers and application servers, doesn't mean you should," cautions Clune. One of the ways IVR went wrong in the past was because customers did not feel valued and were presented with irrelevant options. From a business point of view, deploying speech should be no different to any other type of interaction. It is not the channel, but the ability to resolve the customer's issue that matters, says Sagesse, so adding speech to poorly designed and supported service processes will not improve things.
Then there are organisational issues. "A lack of continuity [between self-service channels] is a common problem because the telephone system is under the telecomm manager and the web system is under the IT manager. There is often a mismatch over different channels, and they are not consistent," says Shaw.
"It is not a technology issue but a mindset. [Organisations need to] bring the design channel in one group or just ensure communications for consistency. This will become more significant when we see true multi-modal applications," he adds.
Multi-modal refers to the use of voice, keypad and speech communication in one interaction, using one channel, which technology like 3G has the potential to deliver. Although WAP delivery can achieve a degree of mixed communication, because either the keyboard or voice can be used to pose a query and text used to return the answer, the technology for full multi-modal capabilities is not there yet. "It needs 3G where voice and data are integrated into one digital channel," says Shaw.
The challenges do not stop at the mindset. According to Edwards at Fujitsu Consulting it takes time and skill to design and build a voice-based system in the use and recognition of speech attributes such as grammar, dialect and accent, as well as training it with regard to the actual business function it is required to address.
With a DTMF-based system, the process is comparatively simple and is based on comparing input with stored procedures. A speech-based system has to learn how to interpret incoming data, so designers need to think about how the customer will respond, the words and phrases that will be used and the grammar associated with it, making use of directed speech as much as possible.
Accents are presenting less of a problem and with dialects it is more a question of grammar because dialects relate to the way words are put together not the actual words themselves, explains Edwards. However, names and place names can still prove difficult to identify using speech. Letters such as F and S are easily confused so the system has to capture what it thinks is correct, what could possibly be correct and generate hundreds of combinations of possible postcodes, for example, to check against a postcode address file. Although the process is complex, this level of complexity is not possible with DTMF.
Flexible and intuitive
Despite the risks, speech can bring benefits. At Telewest, customer satisfaction went up after the introduction of a speech-enabled solution to support bill payment. After an initial period when satisfaction levels declined, customers admitted to preferring the speech-enabled solution because it was deemed quicker and they were not subjected to sales pitches during the transaction.
Speech is also deemed to be more flexible and intuitive. Customers can 'barge in' if they know the system, which speeds up the transaction, makes it more flexible and improves the customer experience. Best practice says that DTMF should be restricted to three or four choices and no more than three or four menu levels; speech can support flat menuing, thereby enabling customers to go straight to the heart of the matter.
Voice can also bring knock-on benefits in areas such as agent retention; an important consideration because high agent turnover rates within call centres is a major issue and one that directly impacts operational costs and customer satisfaction. Credit, debit and merchant card processing company Certegy found that by diverting mundane, easily resolvable issues to automated systems, agents were left to deal with the more interesting calls. Faced with more varied and interesting calls, agent motivation improved and the company halved its agent attrition rate.
No one would say that effectively voice enabling a telephony-based system is easy. Organisations cannot afford to do it blindly. In the retail sector, for example, live customer interaction is an important source for cross- and up-sell opportunities. Nor can every aspect of every call be assigned to an automated system because it is
important to be able to select the call types and even the parts of each call that need live interaction so agent break-in has to be factored in and managed. However, it makes basic business sense to bring cost saving technology to the most costly, most often-used customer interaction channel. Moreover, it can be achieved without damaging customer satisfaction, but the challenges should not be underestimated.