• October 1, 2011
  • By Leonard Klie, Editor, CRM magazine and SmartCustomerService.com

Redefining IVR’s Role Pays Off

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At American Express, the IVR helps customers quickly resolve basic inquiries, such as applying for a card, checking the status of an application, making a payment, checking balances and available credit lines, activating and replacing cards, changing PINs, verifying charges, receiving member rewards balances and information about promotions, and checking due dates of bills. According to Doria Camaraza, a corporate senior vice president and general manager of the American Express World Service Center in Plantation, Fla., the system performs well, achieving high satisfaction rates among users.

But that still puts the onus on agents to handle 5.5 million calls a year. To ease that load, Camaraza has upgraded the tools that customer service representatives use. Extensive call steering connects the customer with the right agent to ensure first-call resolution and minimize dial transfers. When an account number/ID is provided within the IVR, that number also is passed to the agent to help resolve the issue quickly.
"We're investing a lot in technology so the customer care professional spends less time navigating systems and more time with the customer," she says. "Now we have a whole contact management system so we can see all of your history with us. We've taken a much more holistic approach to customer service.”

Customer service at the facility wasn’t always like that. "We used to be very transaction-driven," Camaraza recalls. "We changed the way we train people. Before, it was about 80 percent technology and 20 percent human touch. We've reversed those numbers."

The shift has paid off. In August, American Express learned it had won the J.D. Power & Associates customer satisfaction award for the fifth consecutive year. The company ranked first among 10 of the largest card issuers in the United States in each of the six factors that J.D. Power & Associates evaluates: interaction, credit card terms, billing and payment processes, benefits and services, rewards, and problem resolution. According to J.D. Power, American Express was singled out for its rewards and benefits offerings, service experiences across phone and online channels, and a focus on reducing problems and resolving those that do occur with minimum time and effort for customers.

"There is no greater honor than being recognized by your own customers for providing outstanding value and service," says Jim Bush, executive vice president of world service at American Express. "Exceeding the needs of our customers is a top priority, and over the last year, we've worked hard to enhance our products and services to ensure they remain relevant and valuable to our tens of millions of U.S. customers."

Camaraza had little doubt that American Express would win the award again this year, largely because the company has made significant investments in recent years to broaden its customer service focus beyond effectively completing transactions to building and strengthening customer relationships. This approach, called "relationship care," reflects American Express' overall strategy to deepen customer relationships by providing tailored information and service that reinforce the value of the company’s products and services and to resolve inquiries on first contact. This ethos has helped American Express double its internal customer satisfaction scores, reduce customer attrition, and drive double-digit spending increases on American Express cards.

News Editor Leonard Klie can be reached at lklie@infotoday.com.

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