• January 1, 2015
  • By Leonard Klie, Editor, CRM magazine and SmartCustomerService.com

In Customer Service, It's More Efficient to Be Effective

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retell the agent that same number again?

"I'd also suggest reducing the number of transfers through better data capture at the front end of a call," Dawson says.

A company can also give callers a reverse option, which enables callers to retrace their steps if they enter the wrong menu path. No one who has gotten five layers deep into an IVR wants to hang up and start all over again.

Jamison also recommends a natural language speech interface to quicken the pace of interactions with company IVRs. "You can flatten menus and speed callers to the right destination within the company," she says.

Natural language processing is a rapidly growing business, expected to climb from its current value of $3.79 billion to $9.86 billion by 2018, a growth rate of 21 percent, according to ReportsnReports.

The analyst firm concluded that the heightened interest in natural language processing is being driven largely by industry demands to improve customer experiences and the continued popularity of smartphones, which come bundled with speech recognition software.

Natural language, West Interactive's Pollock adds, "is particularly beneficial for callers who know what they want to do."

At TalkTalk, another U.K. provider of phone and Internet services, the introduction of Nuance Communications' Natural Language Call Steering solution to its IVR resulted in an average reduction in call time of 26 seconds, with some customer calls reduced by more than two minutes; a 16 percent reduction in misrouted calls; and a 28 percent increase in customer self-service. That led to savings of more than $4.8 million in just three months.

Previously, TalkTalk customers were required to listen and respond to a series of phone menus with lengthy prompts that unnecessarily extended the calls. With Call Steering, callers are presented with a "What can we help you with today?" prompt, to which they can respond naturally using their own words. The system recognizes caller intent and quickly routes each call to the appropriate agent or self-service asset based on hundreds of unique call paths, something that would be impossible to do quickly or accurately with menu trees.

Eoin Power, head of contact strategy and planning at TalkTalk, said in a statement that the solution enables his company "to handle incoming calls in the most efficient manner, to make the experience as fast and convenient as possible for customers."

Grueling and time-consuming steps in the IVR can be further reduced with visual IVR technology that maps out the steps of the customer service interaction in a graphical interface and lets customers simply tap their way through the interaction, rather than waiting to hear all of the options in lengthy recorded menus.

Visual IVR technology can have other uses as well. "The most interesting developments [involve] making smartphone apps capable of carrying out more tasks on their owners' behalf, including a visual presentation of options that are consistent with information and capabilities provided through the IVR, Web chat, or by talking with an agent," Miller says. "The idea is to provide customers with visibility into the length of the queue, should they want to talk to an agent, but also showing all the things they can carry out through the Web app or e-commerce site."

Companies can also turn to predictive "menuing" to cut the amount of time that customers spend on the line prior to reaching an agent, according to Pollock. This involves integrating inbound and outbound communications, "so that you're not serving up the full normal menu if 

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