Improving what your most outspoken worker says to your customers.
Posted Oct 18, 2004
A single employee--unbeknownst to you--is the central point of contact for your customers, prospects, and business allies. This worker puts in more hours than any other, and interacts with more clients every day, than all your salespeople and contact center reps combined. This worker's performance is consistent, reliable, and cost effective. Yet for all the trust you place in this key resource, this worker typically receives little attention and consideration. Who is this mystery employee? Your Interactive Voice Response (IVR) system.
Chances are you've never thought much about your company's IVR system, but you should. Touch-tone IVR ("Press one for billing") has long been acknowledged for its ability to reduce operating costs. However, there is a trade-off: The cost savings are great, but there will always be a percentage of customers frustrated with the process. There's a very good reason the phrase touch-tone hell entered consumers' vernacular.
With advances in voice-recognition technology, however, companies are now realizing how this technology can be leveraged not only to cut costs, but also to improve customer satisfaction. Furthermore, speech-enabled automation can support, enhance, or even lead a corporate brand strategy.
When Amtrak, the U.S. passenger rail system, wanted to improve its reservation process, the railway incorporated powerful speech-enabled technology into its IVR application. Amtrak deployed an automated system featuring "Julie"--a warm and efficient voice interface which allowed passengers to converse in a natural, conversational manner to make reservations, check arrival and departure times, and even purchase tickets. This automated voice solution has helped Amtrak boost customer satisfaction by 53 percent, while saving the rail company some $13 million. An internal survey indicated that 90 percent of callers who completed their reservation via this speech-enabled system planned to use the system again.
Another organization, Wells Fargo Bank, also recognized that voice can be a powerful brand builder. Wells Fargo credit-card users are guided through their transactions by a voice personality known as "Reed Johnston." In contrast to the familiar and always-perky Julie, Wells Fargo opted for a more conservative, formal tone with their voice persona. The differences may be subtle, but Reed Johnston's "personality" perfectly complements the brand of a financial institution.
So what does it take to create an IVR application that actually encourages customers to use this money-saving automation technology? The key is to test and retest every speech-enabled application with actual end users. Some IVR providers use predeveloped applications, but the best speech solutions are crafted and refined based on the real-life interactions.
If your company already has speech-enabled automation, go ahead and call the system right now. Can you skip through the initial instruction menu to get to the information you want? Are you led to your information logically, or must you back up? Can you get a live person at any time by saying operator aloud? Try responding No, thank you to one of the questions and see if the system rewards your politeness by recognizing your answer. Try ending your test drive by saying goodbye--a significant number of customers always do so out of a desire for a sense of closure to their transaction.
How did your system do? Did you have an efficient and pleasant experience? If the answer is no, or if your company has yet to implement speech-enabled automated customer service, you may be missing out on one of the most cost-effective means to improving customer satisfaction and building your corporate image.
About the Author
Jim Gardner has been involved in technology marketing for more than 15 years. As director of corporate marketing for Intervoice, he oversees all corporate marketing activities, including all marketing communications, public relations, channel marketing, events, Web-site management, lead generation, and branding initiatives. Previously, Gardner was director of account planning at a technology-oriented advertising agency. He regularly gives lectures on technology marketing at two local universities, and has published articles in professional journals. Gardner holds a BA from the University of Iowa and an MBA from Texas Christian University. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
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