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IVR Software

IVR systems interactive voice response

IVR Solutions

This section of our technical library presents information and documentation relating to IVR Development and custom IVR software and products. Business phone systems and toll free answering systems (generally 800 numbers and their equivalent) are very popular for service and sales organizations, allowing customers and prospects to call your organization anywhere in the country. The PACER and WIZARD IVR System is just one of many DSC call center phone system features..

What is IVR Software?. An Interactive Voice Response (Interactive Voice Response (IVR)IVR) processes inbound phone calls, plays recorded messages including information extracted from databases and the internet, and potentially routes calls to either inhouse service agents or transfers the caller to an outside extension.

Contact DSC today. to learn more about our IVR services and IVR application development software.

Behind the Scenes at the Contact Center: Providers Seek to Understand Customer Behavior in a Self-Help World

By Michelle L. Hankins

The contact center is measured minute by minute, second, by second. It is a race against the clock for contact center managers and the customer service representatives they oversee. Because the contact center is such a huge cost for service providers, many are trying to trim those costs and streamline their operations.

"Every quarter they [call center managers] get hammered for their costs," says Siebel System's Cory Wiegert, director of product management.

Customer satisfaction is the single greatest priority on the minds of call center mangers and c-level executives at every provider. In an industry that has been faced with more and more competition, providers have quickly realized that their only saving grace may be keeping the customers they have and keeping them happy.

While call length has always been a focus in call centers of the past, today's contact center managers are placing more of an emphasis on more effective communications with the customer, measured in metrics such as first call resolution. For customers, time to resolve is key.

More With Less

It is no secret that the agent is the most expensive resource in the call center. Laura Disciullo, director of Avaya's contact center product, says the goal of most providers is "getting the most out of the fewest number of agents."

Siebel's Wiegert says there is an average of 25 to 40 percent annual agent churn across all industries. He asserts that churn is higher in the telecom industry. The average time to efficacy for agents ranges from 40 to 80 days, often including 3 to 4 weeks of training as well as shadowing other agents and doing easy calls for 3 to 4 weeks before the agents finally take calls on their own. This amounts to a lengthy and costly process to turn a new agent up.

For Sprint, the largest percentage of CSR churn occurs in the first six months. Considering Sprint CSRs receive five weeks of training, this is a significant investment for the high probability of such a short period of employment.

For many providers, managing the growth expectations of the subscriber base without having to increase contact center capacity is a high priority. One of Siebel's wireless customers has between 11,000 and 13,000 agents depending on the season, with 8,000 agents on at any given time. The company has faced between 8 and 9 percent subscriber growth rate each year and receives an average of 6 calls per year per subscriber. Multiply that by the company's 12 to 14 million subscribers compounded by the company's growth rate and the need for providers to handle more with less is easily identifiable.

W. Guy Hilbert, vice president of industry at Kana Software, says that, according to the Service and Support Professionals Association, call routing makes up 5 percent of the cost of the contact center. Case management or tracking makes up 15 percent, leaving the majority of the cost-80 percent-for service resolution. He believes that because many tools, such as large CRM systems, focus on case management (which only comprises 15 percent) this is why providers are often not able to accomplish the ROI they hope for in these large projects.

The Human Touch

As far as customers are concerned, CSRs are the face of the company, so instilling pride in those CSRs can be an extremely effective tool.

According to DiSciullo, today's call center is looking more at its agents and trying to have a better human approach to how agents are managed. Some companies are actually starting to model career planning and advancement for their CSRs. Many of these career paths involve giving CSRs variety in their jobs or shifting people to different areas in the organization as they excel. Companies taking this approach are seeing a 15 to 20 percent decrease in churn among their agents, according to Wiegert.

"It's treating these CSRs like people with careers instead of robots answering phones," Wiegert says. "The hiring and maintenance cost is way too high to continue to incur these high turnover rates."

As part of this strategy, call center managers are looking at how they can distribute calls more fairly amongst agents. This might include measuring which agents have been the least occupied or balancing short calls with long calls.

This fair routing technology tracks the skills of the agent, and the call information is understood by the system in real time, so that the next incoming call goes to the most appropriate agent versus the first available agent.

Moving to Self-Service

Because traditional call centers are so expensive, providers continue to invest in self-service options for their customers.

Tim McCormick, vice president of marketing at ClickFox, a company that specializes in customer behavior intelligence for self-care systems, says that while the industry standard cost for a live agent call may range from $5 to $15, self-help transactions cost much less. An interactive voice response (IVR) channel costs between $1 and $2.50, while Web transactions often come in at less than $1.

In general, 90 percent of all customer transactions begin over the phone, says McCormick. Companies are particularly relying on IVR systems to answer simple customer queries.

One driver for customers to use self-care technologies is that they save time. IVRs also generate uniform answers, whereas a customer could receive a different response each time he or she calls depending on which agent receives the call, says Shlomi Waizel, CRM and call center solutions director at Formula Telecom.

Generally, Wiegert believes there is an increase in subscriber bases, but many companies are not seeing a proportional increase in call volumes; thus implying more self-care usage.

One Formula Telecom customer started with 5,000 calls into its IVR. Now, the company receives more than 7 million calls via the IVR. The company soon hopes to add IVR bill payment options through the IVR.

Self-Care Insight

According to McCormick, customer care executives at Nextel appealed to ClickFox because, while Nextel knows how many calls the customer service center was receiving as well as how many hang ups were occurring, there was little visibility into where customers were succeeding or failing in the IVR or where they were pressing 0 to talk to a live agent.

The technology transcends a single channel-Web, phone, e-mail-to provide information about the various transaction types that can occur. If a customer gets frustrated during a Web transaction, so long as the provider has a common identifier for the person amongst the channels, the technology can provide insight about when and where that customer entered the IVR system to then try to get help.

Currently, the challenge for telcos lies in how they will push this information out to the CSR's desktop.

McCormick likens the current view into customer transaction behavior to the retail industry. Often, a store will know exactly how many products a customer bought, but the store has no idea how the customer shopped.

By analyzing customer transaction patterns, a provider can gain a deeper understanding as to where or when it is failing and causing customer dissatisfaction. This insight can keep customers from using live agents, help providers improve its automated channels and improve the success rate of first call resolution.

Bulgaria's MobilTel uses Formula Telecom technology to identify what self-care transactions customers have initiated in the IVR, and documents each step the customer makes in the process. The company can see how many calls ended with a hang up, how many callers asked for live agents or at which point they abandoned the IVR for live assistance.

ClickFox gives a graphical view of the hierarchy of a system-be it Web or IVR or e-commerce. The customer transactions are then mapped on top of the hierarchical view of the decision tree for that system. From this, a provider can glean, for example, the top 25 or 30 paths that customers took through a particular system or isolate problems. The provider can identify who took steps A, C and D by highlighting that path and dragging it into a task. The provider may choose to look specifically at its high-value customers to determine the success rate of these customers in an IVR. It may seek to understand what group of customers, if any, are causing the highest number of live agent calls.

When ClickFox customer BellSouth realized it could save $1.27 for each customer who paid his or her bill online, the provider made self-care a priority.

BellSouth was tracking how many customers paid their bill online, but the business team wanted to know what percentage of online bill payers actually succeeded in paying their bill via the Web. The company mapped the customer interactions and by doing so realized that 75 percent of the people that reached the screen that said "Click here to pay your bill" did not actually click to pay their bill.

After further analysis, BellSouth realized this was because the online bill pay process required a customer to type in the personal identification number listed on the bill. Most customers paying online didn't have their paper bill present; thus abandoning the transaction. BellSouth then rearchitected this process and had much higher success rates, yielding a $4 million ROI for this project alone.

Other trends to deflect calls from the contact center include allowing customers to order their services online. Yet, Kana Software's Hilbert says "provisioning is an error-prone opportunity in telcos. It's a complex problem…it's cross-functional and it crosses systems." Allowing customers to order online is nice, but the time-to-provision needs to meet customer expectations.

The Blended Agent

The blended agent-or one that handles all channels-was touted to be the next trend in contact centers. But largely, this concept has yet to pan out.

In one telecom provider's case, it has a time-to-proficiency of 11 months for an agent, but the provider had a 9-month churn rate. If that same provider then increased its training to become proficient across all the various channels, the economics would sink the contact center budget. Kana's Hilbert believes the only way a blended agent concept would work is if providers could significantly decrease both training time and churn.

At Sprint, CSRs who are trained on voice handle voice calls. Those trained on e-care, do e-care calls. Having CSRs handle all types of calls is too much for the agent to understand, says Jeff Balagna, vice president of partner management, at Sprint.

Most companies still segment agents and may ask CSRs to handle calls in 3-hour shifts or more and in several different technology or channel areas, moving them around as volume in one service or technology area creates a higher need for more agents.

Sprint is working with IBM to deploy skill-based routing and expects to roll out the functionality by the end of 2004 or early 2005. "We want the most trained agent that has the highest probability to answer that question on that call," Balagna says.

Sprint hopes this routing will increase agent retention because if CSRs field calls with which they know how to deal, they are more likely to feel like they are doing their job well; hence, they will be more likely to stay.

Self-care Assistance

In addition, providers are employing technology that monitors Web transactions. If a customer sits on a Web page for too long, for example, the provider may receive an alarm that tells an agent to push out a pop-up box to that customer asking whether the customer has a question with the site. This is done by knowing the customer based on a log-in or phone number entered. Then, the provider just sets timers for the screen, interacting with the cookies that identify the user.

This is something that technology has allowed for about 4 to 5 years, but it is just now being accepted, according to DiSciullo, who notes that in the past, this was seen as intrusive. She believes that in the future, people will start to expect this kind of service.

As for Web chat or Internet calls with agents, DiSciullo says this can be hampered by the dynamics of the technology itself. A customer may not have the necessary technology to complete a VoIP call, for example. And, agents with the necessary skills to interact via the Web may not be plentiful. "Calling from the Internet is still relatively nascent," she says, predicting that fewer than 10 percent actually use it. Despite this, DiSciullo says, "They [providers] are all looking at IP telephony because they realize that's the next generation."

IP telephony is one of the fastest growing areas in the call center, either for transport between call center sites or to support contact with outside customers, DiSciullo says. This uptake rivals the acquisition of PCs, she adds, "because they [providers] understand the efficiencies that can be leveraged with IP telephony." Companies will be able to leverage a lot more information through the merging of voice and data, says DiSciullo.

According to Kana Software's Hilbert, the industry will see more VoIP technology in the contact center soon. "Everywhere I've gone, it's been on the list," he says. "It's an issue of when does the ROI overcome the pain of changing out to VoIP."

Sprint does not deploy VoIP technology today and has not made any decision on the use of the technology going forward. However, many providers will likely be investing in VoIP for transport between centers or to external customers to cut their contact center costs.

Self-Assisted Technology

UCN is a carrier that provides intelligent network products and services to customers and contact centers, and the company is getting more proactive to service its customers. In times of call spikes, UCN can employ call back technology it pioneered with a partner. If there are high call volumes, the system asks if the customer would like to hang up yet remain in queue to have his or her call returned in the order in which it was received.

In one particularly trying call spike, UCN had 30,000 calls on a Monday with only 70 agents to handle those calls. Because of this spike, there were about 1,004 calls in the call-back system at one time. Customers' calls are returned without having to wait on the phone. Some may be skeptical that their call will be returned at first, but when it is, satisfaction increases because of this, reports UCN.

Call Center Technology of Tomorrow

Two common emotions in the call center are anger and frustration. The customer is often angry when calling in because there is a problem, or the CSR can become frustrated, either in response to the customer, or perhaps because desktop tools are slow or antiquated.

Avaya's Laura DiSciullo says one technology that is on the horizon is emotion detection software that allows a provider to detect either the caller's or CSR's emotion on a call and analyze that emotion to respond appropriately.

For example, the call center manager may use this type of software to analyze how many callers are irate or how many CSRs get frustrated and for both. The technology can send alarms to supervisors, for example, if agents are acting in a "clipped tone."

But DiSciullo points out that this is still first-generation technology and will likely have a strong growth and improvement curve in the next few years.

For all the systems being used in today's call center, Formula Telecom's Waizel says, "It's not all about the technology." He points to CRM 15 years ago. The personal attention, he says, is what customer service is all about. Good customer service is the way to drive customer satisfaction.

Contact DSC today. to learn more about our IVR services and IVR application development software.