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

WFO Hears The Voice of the Customer

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Customers today are more demanding and knowledgeable about the companies with which they do business. With a few taps on their smartphones, they can search companies’ Web sites for product and pricing information, patrol product review sites, and read opinions from peers on social media. All that information is available in an instant and without much effort.

So when customers contact a company for any kind of support issue, they expect that same kind of instant gratification. Customer service reps should be able to provide accurate, detailed answers quickly to questions ranging from a simple billing discrepancy to a complicated technical support issue.

These customer dynamics are putting extra pressure on customer service reps to be as up-to-date as possible on every aspect of their companies: products, promotions, technical support issues, and more. Yet, contact center managers cannot draw a complete picture of all that goes on during a typical customer interaction because they lack the resources to know which agents are meeting or exceeding customer and company expectations and which ones might need extra help to fall in line.

As the contact center industry advances in this always-connected, I-want-it-now environment, a blending of workforce optimization (WFO) tools—which are largely focused on the agents, with voice-of-the-customer applications that are, by their nature, more customer-centric—is already starting to happen. 

Speech Analytics
Driving this effort further is the inclusion of speech applications, which can monitor agent performance and customer satisfaction levels, in WFO suites. Currently, only a handful of vendors—notably Verint Systems, Nexidia, and NICE Systems—can provide these speech analytics and WFO solutions entirely on their own. Many other contact center solutions providers, including Calabrio, TelStrat, CallCopy, KnoahSoft, OnviSource, and CSI, have introduced product suites that incorporate phonetics-based speech analytics technologies from Aurix.

“By bringing in speech analytics as an integral component of a much larger solution, you’re creating a single point of entry for users and a single interface,” says Paul Stockford, chief analyst at Saddletree Research. “You do not have to toggle between applications.”

Bundling applications also means that data from the applications flows into a single data warehouse, which users can customize for their own reports, spreadsheets, and scorecards. “You can build your own custom reports, and any reports can be brought into a common dashboard,” explains Diego Lomanto, principal marketing manager at Verint.

That’s probably where the most innovation in both speech analytics and WFO has already occurred and will likely remain. Vendors continue to enhance the flow of data between modules. One example might be tying quality assurance output to coaching so an automated workflow can schedule an agent for an appropriate coaching or e-learning course after speech analytics has caught a slipup.

“When you log on, it’s one database that covers every app,’’ Stockford says. “If you are in the quality-monitoring app and you want to schedule an e-learning [program], they are all running on your screen. It’s all right there.”

Stockford takes the relationship a step further. “In terms of packaging speech analytics as part of a WFO suite, it makes sense,” he says, “because workforce optimization depends on call recordings and analysis. They go hand in hand.”

Role Reversal
For many of the vendors competing in this area, though, expanding their offerings was more a matter of supply-and-demand, which has sometimes pushed vendors outside their comfort zones.

“We are responding to market demands” for such solution suites, says Jeff Schlueter, vice president of marketing and business development at Nexidia, provider of the Enterprise Speech Intelligence (ESI) suite. “Our core capability is in speech analytics. These are bundles we’ve built that leverage our core speech analytics processes.”

The move toward more complete suites benefits Nexidia by making it “a full-service provider to its clients,” he continues. “It’s about showing better value and giving [customers] more and more solutions for greater loyalty.”

Others see speech analytics as a natural extension of WFO tools, and vice versa. “Analytics enables us to make [quality assurance] stronger,” says Kristen Jacobsen, marketing director at Calabrio, provider of the Calabrio One WFO suite. “It’s a way to provide additional business insight. It gives insight into what the agent is doing to drive coaching, training, and staffing. It’s really automating what people have been doing manually.”

When KnoahSoft said in January it was adding speech analytics to its Harmony WFO suite, CEO Sri Myneni noted, “With Harmony’s Speech Analyzer, KnoahSoft enables call center management to tackle one of its most important challenges—increasing agent performance—by understanding what is happening across thousands of calls in a way that traditional [quality assurance] can’t.”

For Donna Fluss, founder and president of DMG Consulting, a provider of contact center and analytics market research and consulting, expanding these WFO suites to include speech analytics comes down to simple mathematics. “It’s useful to have [speech analytics] as a stand-alone application. But if you can combine it with other applications that are synergistic, there’s even more of a benefit,” she says. “By combining apps, you can get the whole story rather than just one chapter at a time. You get a holistic view all at once.”

Plainly put, “you’re getting solutions that provide a benefit, and if you bundle them together, you get more of a benefit,” Schlueter says. To that end, speech analytics is only one of a variety of applications found in WFO suites.

The Suite Life
Though WFO suites can take many forms, they all have call recording and quality assurance at their core, and they incorporate some or all of the following components: coaching/e-learning, performance management, surveying, workforce management, desktop analytics, screen capture, text analytics, and compliance management.

“Very few vendors are [offering full suites] yet,” Fluss says. “A lot of the vendors are still trying to build out the modules and establish the synergies between them.”

But, while the current pool of vendors offering integrated suites is small, more are moving in that direction, according to Fluss and others. Research from DMG Consulting confirms that 2010 was a strong year for the WFO market, and 2011 is shaping up to be even better. DMG predicts that the WFO suite market, valued at $522.1 million in mid-2010, will grow 7 percent this year, 6 percent next year, and 5.5 percent in 2013. Product innovation, largely tied to the flow of information between individual components within the suite, and flexible pricing will fuel that growth, the DMG report says. “WFO suite providers will introduce more of these application bundles,” Fluss concludes.

Stockford explains the trend by noting that many workforce and quality management solutions have been out in the field for a long time and are old and outdated. As a result, “there’s definitely some shopping going on,” and many organizations have placed WFO suites with speech analytics and other applications on their lists of things to explore, he says.

Among customers and potential customers of these solution suites, having all the applications in one bundle is a powerful selling point. When companies buy separate applications and try to integrate them, “there tends to be heroics involved in getting everything to work together,” Calabrio’s Jacobsen says. “We’re finding more and more of our customers are interested in working with one vendor [for all their analytics and workforce management needs],” she continues. “They find it’s an easier way to buy this type of software.”

Lomanto agrees: “Customers have been trying for years to link products from different vendors, and when they have, it’s been very hard to merge them into one view.” He adds, “From Verint’s standpoint, it provides a better experience when you use multiple products together. There’s definitely a value seen by customers in bundling speech with workforce optimization and voice-of-the-customer applications.”

With a bundled application suite, “it’s one interface, one platform, one view,” he continues. “These applications can live on their own, but the customer gets a better experience when they’re together.”

Cost Considerations
As with any other buying decision within contact centers, cost is a big factor. Application suites come with lower costs for software licensing, hardware, support, and implementation. “You’re saving on implementation costs and hardware requirements because you don’t need separate servers for speech analytics and workforce optimization applications,” Stockford says. “It used to be that every time you brought on a new solution, you needed to bring in additional hardware and integration, and then there were separate interfaces, user portfolios, etc. This is a much more cost-effective way to use these solutions.”

Verint’s Impact 360 WFO suite, for example, can run on one server for 250 users. The full Impact 360 suite carries a list price of $525 per seat. But within that offering, companies can choose from several packages with the right set of features to meet their unique needs.

“If you just want analytics, you do not have to buy the full suite,” Lomanto explains. “You can buy packages with the different pieces. We then offer add-ons for the things that may not be available in one package or another.”

Schlueter says that Nexidia looks at each customer and includes only those components most critical to his needs.

Vendors also offer discounts to companies that buy applications in bundles. “It’s much cheaper than buying them individually,” Lomanto says.

For Calabrio customers, buying the applications in bulk can save at least 20 percent on initial licensing fees, which can lead to huge cost savings on integration and deployment. And, because the Calabrio One suite is available on a Web 2.0 framework, deployments can be completed in half the time it would take to install each application separately, according to Jacobsen. “There are definitely price advantages,” she says. “For Calabrio, it lets us drive value to our customers.”

That’s important, since most of the organizations that have deployed the Calabrio One suite fall within the small to midsized range, with between 100 and 300 seats.

Banking on It
For organizations that already have adopted these suites, the notion that more is better—and cheaper—definitely applies. One such company is Scotiabank, a Canadian financial services firm that offers a range of products and services to 18.6 million personal and corporate customers in more than 50 countries. In late May, Scotiabank selected Nexidia’s ESI suite to help analyze thousands of hours of audio daily, with the ultimate goal of improving business processes and agent efficiency.

Scotiabank’s on-premises deployment of ESI includes Nexidia Discover (providing automated intelligence from contact center calls, chat sessions, texts, blogs, email, and social forums), Nexidia Search (which performs ad hoc searches across large volumes of audio), Nexidia Analyze (which mines caller intent, provides advanced reporting, and delivers root cause analysis), and Nexidia Evaluate (which manages agent performance against strategic corporate objectives). Scotiabank also is retaining Nexidia Managed Analytic Services, a professional services program designed to help customers derive the maximum benefit from their speech analytics implementations.

“Harnessing the voice of the customer through speech analytics brings us invaluable business intelligence,” Jason Charlebois, vice president of customer contact centers at Scotiabank, said in a statement. “This information will drive improvements in our delivery of excellent customer experiences through both operational and management efficiencies.”

Vonage, the largest provider of Internet phone service, has seen similar results from its Nexidia ESI deployment. Made up of multiple sites on several continents, Vonage’s contact centers record more than 8,000 hours of transactions daily from more than 1,500 agents. The challenge was to aggregate and use this information efficiently to help drive quality, improve contact center operations, and better understand what customers and prospects were saying.

According to published reports, Vonage improved in several areas: agent training, quality monitoring, sales effectiveness, and new product promotions. Better agent training and coaching contributed to a reduction in average handle time. Other improvements lowered costs by as much as 20 percent, and generating real marketing intelligence led to better management of campaigns in real time as well as training adjustments to ensure success.

Scotiabank and Vonage are just two of the dozens of companies that have taken the early lead in adopting solution bundles. Most such deployments have taken place in the financial services, healthcare, and retail vertical markets, where large volumes of transactions, a greater need to protect against fraud and theft, global regulations, and tight budgets have made cost-effective solutions a priority. Those pressures underscore the need for both operational efficiency and service excellence that these multipurpose product suites can provide.

What’s Next?
As for the future of such application suites, the growth of multichannel contact centers and rising demand for blended inbound/outbound environments are spurring advanced and flexible solutions, Fluss notes. “The vendors are responding with improved capabilities.”

Among those capabilities, many vendors have expressed an interest in expanding text and data analytics into their product suites to give them access to more multichannel interactions.

Look for Nexidia to expand into multichannel analytics and systems that can provide more immediate real-time data, according to Schlueter.

That also will be a focus at NICE. “Through our broad customer base, we see the market need for multichannel contact centers and effective management of multiple agent skills, in complex, multisite, multichannel environments,” says Debbie May, president of the NICE IEX Workforce Management Group.

“Everyone wants text analytics because of social media,” Lomanto explains. “They want to use these systems to find problems before things go out over social media, and they can see if something is driving one channel or another.”

Changes like these are altering the software profile of the typical contact center, as evidenced by Verint’s mid-July deal to acquire Vovici, a provider of enterprise feedback management (EFM) solutions, for about $76 million. Vovici, which was founded in 2006, offers surveying and feedback management tools that connect to customers via the Internet, chat, and social media platforms.

Verint will roll these enterprise feedback solutions into its VoC Analytics platform. Together, Verint and Vovici’s customers can drive loyalty through actionable insights by standardizing on a single-vendor VoC solution set across  customer communications channels—voice, email, chat, Web and IVR surveys, online communities, and social media.

One day, Verint also might integrate Vovici’s products into its Impact 360 WFO suite. “This business combination will change the playing field in the market, advancing our customers around the globe through a solution designed to help them achieve their voice-of-the-customer goals at all levels, from the contact center through the entire enterprise,” Dan Bodner, CEO of Verint, said in a statement.

Bodner called the combination “a strategic move that will fill a void in the market by enabling customers to extract tremendous value from this emerging toolset for the chief customer officer. It will offer our combined customers another means to extract critical information through sophisticated enterprise feedback and robust analytics to better anticipate, understand, and act on the VoC—helping foster more loyal customers and drive more profitable business outcomes.”

Calling the acquisition “a brilliant strategic move,” Stockford agrees.   “Verint has moved with precision from the contact center to the back office and now, via this acquisition, into the rest of the enterprise,” he says.

That’s because Vovici’s solutions have largely been used outside the contact center in such areas as sales and marketing. Verint, on the other hand, has been more focused on the contact center. Blending the two signals a much larger industry trend that brings marketing, contact center, sales, and back-office systems and personnel closer together, Stockford says.

“As organizations continue to focus on better managing the overall customer experience, the line dividing the marketing and customer service organizations is blurring,” he says. “As a result, the need to monitor and manage customer information across any and all enterprise touch points has intensified.”

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

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