• November 2, 2011
  • By Leonard Klie, Editor, CRM magazine and SmartCustomerService.com

IVR Investment Pays Off at Australian Bank

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Established in 1817 as the Bank of New South Wales, the Westpac Group has a portfolio of financial services, brands, and businesses throughout Australia, New Zealand, and the Pacific region. The numbers are staggering: 39,000 employees staff more than 850 branch offices with nearly 1,900 ATMs that serve 11.8 million customers.

With global assets of $618 billion, Australia's oldest bank has six call centers staffed by about 500 agents, who handle 120,000 calls daily while providing email and Internet support.

Roughly two years ago, the bank committed to "doing things differently," and that meant playing a more active role in local communities and organizing business around customers, rather than the corporate office. Called Westpac Local, the initiative was designed to change the face of banking in Australia.

When Westpac began to see a dramatic increase in customer complaints a few years ago, the bank created the Zero Tolerance for Customer Failure program to address systemic issues. Part of the effort centered on listening and responding to a widespread customer concern: exception fees. Westpac reduced those fees across the board on credit card, savings, and transaction accounts. Just 12 months after the program began, the bank reduced the average monthly complaints by more than 50 percent.

However, while Westpac has strived to keep its business fresh and vibrant, the customer service systems in the company's contact centers were not keeping pace. They were showing their age, according to Sam Jackel, project director for contact center transformation at Westpac. Callers used to take 90 seconds, on average, to navigate the touchtone system and another four to five minutes to reach someone for help. Nearly 30 percent of the calls were misdirected.

Prompted by customer service issues like those, Westpac made wholesale changes, with an eye toward automation.

In February 2010, the company began a full systems upgrade. It took about nine months to build and deploy an IVR system based on the Holly Connects platform from West Interactive and voice recognition technologies from Nuance Communications. The system, which took its first call in November 2010, incorporates call routing; voice biometrics; at-home agents; an integrated desktop program; and call quality monitoring, scoring, and reporting tools.

Before going live, however, Westpac turned to Cyara Solutions to put the system through its paces. The Australia-based provider of automated technologies for the simulation, testing, and monitoring of IVR, voice biometrics, outbound dialer, and voice-callback systems performed three types of testing:

  • • regression, in which every call pathway and menu is checked;
  • • load, which involves stretching the speech system to its limit to see whether it can handle call spikes; and
  • • functional, which determines how well the system does what it’s supposed to do.

"We threw utterances into the Cyara system to see if they got routed properly," Jackel says. "And they did."

After testing was completed, Westpac piloted the solution for a few months in a few smaller sites in the Queensland area prior to a full rollout.

Testing, while thorough, was not the hardest part. "Our biggest challenge was with our stakeholders," Jackel recalls. "We reconfigured the way speech systems are built in Australia."

The project involved moving parts: reengineering more than 200 business processes at contact centers, redesigning the screens, supporting front- and back-office processes for the call center desktop applications, restructuring the Westpac IVR menu structure and prompt wording, and expanding the services available.

Jackel says, "The things we are doing are having a positive impact on customer satisfaction and advocacy."

Among the most impressive results, Westpac reduced the rate of misdirected calls to 4 percent from 30 percent. Callers are transferred within 13.5 seconds to the department best suited to answer their questions. Eighty percent of calls are handled exclusively by the automated system.

In addition, 79 percent of callers successfully exit the system after their first request, and in 97 percent of the cases, the information previously given to the speech system flows correctly to the agent prior to her picking up the phone.

From a customer perspective, operational response times and service have improved markedly. About 96 percent of customer inquiries to call centers are resolved on the first attempt.

"Customer satisfaction is extremely strong, return on investment and documented business benefits are ahead of target, and I think the results being delivered here are at the forefront of performance globally," Jackel says. 

The current IVR supports fund transfers, bill payments, and balance inquiries, but Jackel is confident that it also can handle more complex transactions. Westpac plans to automate other customer activities, starting with a branch and ATM locator, credit card activation, and address change. "These are the types of transactions that you can do online or with an agent, but we think there's a stronger payback with automation," Jackel says. 

The Results

Since installing the Holly Connects IVR system, Westpac has seen:

  • misdirected calls reduced to a 4 percent rate from 30 percent; 
  • call transfer times shrink to 13.5 seconds from four to five minutes;
  • the automated system exclusively handle 80 percent of calls;
  • callers successfully exit the system 79 percent of the time after their first request; 
  • information previously given to the speech system flow correctly to the agent prior to her picking up the phone 97 percent of the time; and
  • customer inquiries resolved on the first attempt 96 percent of the time.

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