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Algorithms at work in the contact centre

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Interactive voice recognition (IVR) is a technology that was first used in the 1970s by bank tellers to verify customer balances. It followed other phone technologies such as touch-tone dialing, 1-800 numbers, private branch exchanges (PBX), and is a precursor to the short messages service (SMS) invented in 1992.
Yet, IVR is still a popular phone based customer support used extensively in contact centres around the world. “Unfortunately, many consumers have endured an annoying interaction with this technology,” says Ebrahim Dinat, COO of South African customer experience solutions provider, Ocular Technologies. “And, yes, it can be maddening, however, it can also be a most pleasant customer experience. The key lies in the design of an IVR. Get it wrong and you’ll drop a customer, get it right and he or she’ll hold on, hopefully for life.”
Navigating the menu to a value-adding IVR system need not be fraught with complexity – if the right steps are taken from the start, highlights Dinat.
“Now that IVR systems are becoming the new normal for customer support lines, and as they’re able to handle increasingly complex transactions, callers are expecting the same, if not better, service than they once received from human operators. But at the same time, customers still want the benefits of a live interaction – namely, personality. Even when we know there’s not a real person on the line, we want to feel ‘heard’ and trust that we’re getting the best results possible,” says Sonja Weiser in a Popular Science magazine’s article titled, ‘Audio engineering is making call centre robots more “human” and less annoying’.
“There’s that word again,” continues Dinat. “Annoying. It is something every contact centre should eliminate from a customer’s vocabulary. It should be a focus – as the all time favourite line goes: a call really should be important to us.”
Dinat highlights the “innovation wheel” to achieving a modern IVR system designed by Ocular Technologies software partner company, Aspect. “The wheel’s seven key capabilities, individually or collectively, create an IVR experience your consumers will love – not just tolerate. They can be catalogued around the two enabling concepts of personalisation and digital channels,” he says.
Aspect’s seven key capabilities – of which the first four concepts are classified as ‘personalisation’ and the last three as ‘digital channels’, are defined as:
* Provide context continuity – Preserve context across channels (such as after a dropped call, from website to IVR or from IVR to agent) so customers can pick up where they left off without having to repeat themselves.
* Predict caller intent – Enable the IVR to predict the caller’s intent based on recent transactions (for instance orders, tickets opened, reservations, outages in the caller’s area) and provide the answer right away before presenting the full menu options.
* Adapt to me – Make the IVR more human-like by adapting to the caller’s experience (novice versus frequent caller), speed/ pace of interaction, longevity or customer loyalty programme.
* Call them before they call you – Call customers proactively with prerecorded notifications and reminders (such as appointment confiĀ¬rmations, payment reminders, outage notifications), and allow them to interact and make changes without engaging an agent.
* Do digital: Visual IVR – Make the IVR easier to follow by presenting visual options on a smartphone screen as mobile webpages, allowing touch-navigation through the IVR, or providing the option to enter information or make selections. Visual IVRs are useful for long or deep IVR menus and when the consumer is in noisy environments or meetings.
* Go multi-modal: Text2IVR – Significantly reduce costs by allowing customers to provide information such as name and address or alphanumeric codes (such as order status tracking) to the IVR via text instead of speaking. No live agent is required to capture the information, and the caller can continue through the IVR flow based on the input received.
* No time wasted on hold: In-queue self-service – Provide callers with the option of receiving a callback at a later time, while offering mobile self-service during their wait for an available agent. Mobile self-service can often resolve the customer’s question and remove the callback from the call centre’s queue, further reducing costs while improving the customer experience.
Tobias Goebel, director of Emerging Technologies at Aspect, notes: “You can have the best IVR platform in the world – if you’re not designing the IVR experience around your customers, you’re not going to get much love for what really is still the front door to your customer’s experience. But fixing the design is possible and you don’t need expensive speech technology to dramatically improve your self-service customer experience.”
Concludes Dinat: “The buying power of the millennial population is set to surpass that of previous generations. Considering the fact that this generation was born after ‘modern’ contact centre phone technology and grew up as digital natives, it is wise to bear in mind when developing customer strategies that these tactics need to connect to the new customer service expectations, which Aspect lists as: know me, fit into my life, make it mobile, save me time, make me smarter, and let me do it.”