Has this ever happened to you? You call an airline or hotel, which has an interactive voice response (IVR) system that's so complicated you can't find your answer, including how to talk to a real person!!!!! (I admit to screaming uselessly into the phone in utter frustration myself.)
The result: many valued customers are becoming upset with this aggravating solution. Buyers are turning to their outsourcing suppliers to find a way to make their customers happy.
"Originally, buyers had a knee jerk reaction. They liked IVR systems because they could save money by getting rid of agents. But if they don't implement them well, they can build negative feelings," says Steve Chirokas, Senior Director, Products and Channels for the Speech Solutions Group at Convergys.
Here's the dilemma for customer relationship management (CRM) suppliers: the buyers still demand the cost savings produced by automated systems like IVR. But now they want their customers to be happy, too. "Our buyers want effectiveness and efficacy," Chirokas explains.
This is a particular challenge for the airline, travel, and hospitality industries which are big IVR users. For example, when there's bad weather in one area, Chirokas says a Convergys airline client generally experiences a huge spike in IVR usage as people try to figure out what to do. "Travelers are mobile and don't always have access to a PC, nor do they have time to wait for an agent. They need immediate access to a phone-based system 24/7," he says, even during usage spikes around holidays such as Thanksgiving and Christmas.
Using New Technology to Increase Customer Satisfaction
IVR technology does not require human interaction since the system is tuned to interact with a caller within a speech-enabled dialog. The travel and hospitality segments now especially place great emphasis on requiring voice user interfaces that are not only effective, but also carry the corporate brand. Speech systems now support larger grammars to understand more of what any caller is saying and more complex call flows. This means callers are able to converse with an IVR with natural phrasing.
More subtle improvements are actually having a huge impact on the caller's perception of newer IVR systems. For example, what caller is not familiar with confirmation prompts that sound like a robot? Technology and voice user interface design are joining forces to eliminate these jarring occurrences by implementing concatenated audio and text-to-speech that is able to play back dynamic data with exceptionally smooth transitions in the same voice that was used for pre-recorded audio.
Suppliers like Convergys are also looking at a new technology, called natural language understanding (NLU), to enable even more open-ended user interfaces. It's an evolution of speech technology that goes beyond answering questions with the press of a button or even prompting that directs callers what to say.
NLU allows the customer to carry on a conversation with the system, even saying things that might not be anticipated by a voice user interface designer. Chirokas says a customer can call up and say, "I'm in Dallas and I want to fly to Aruba because I'm sick of the weather here and I've got some miles to burn. What flights are available?"
A New Hybrid Solution
New technology is changing outsourcing relationships in another way. Chirokas says buyers want more control over their outsourced CRM solutions. Convergys, which offers a hosted solution, is now taking advantage of some key VoiceXML characteristics to distribute components of its system outside its data centers in Cincinnati, Ohio, and Jacksonville, Florida.
Chirokas says buyers can put their own servers at their office to host the application. They don't have to worry about security in a shared solution since the application resides at their shop. "The only thing the computer is transporting back and forth are the key components of the application," he explains. The Convergys executive says its buyers also like this hybrid solution because it allows them to manage their own databases. It also makes the outsourcing solution more portable if they decide to change suppliers.
Chirokas predicts hybrid outsourcing solutions will become more popular as CRM outsourcing matures. "Buyers can take advantage of the cost savings outsourcing provides without giving up total control," he explains.
The Increasing Emphasis on Data Security
Enhanced security is an important concern Chirokas sees in this industry. Airlines and hotels take credit cards over the phone along with other personal information. With identity theft a common problem, buyers are naturally concerned about supplier security.
Convergys has hired a security czar to handle its internal security and has implemented a defensive in-depth model to secure people, processes, and systems. All Convergys data center personnel are subject to a rigorous security clearance process with access limited to designated areas. The supplier has also gone beyond typical wide-area networking security to also focus on any communications within the data center.
Now the supplier encrypts all activities between servers within Convergys data centers. Convergys also suppresses both its audio and data activity logging for sensitive information. These efforts make it more difficult for identity thieves.
"Today everyone is asking about telephone security," reports Chirokas. "It's very difficult to do. We had to find a way to enhance our systems to support this stepped-up security without slowing performance to a level where callers might notice any delay.
IVR HAS Changed for the Travel Industry
Remarkable changes in how companies can deploy speech systems mean you don't have to sacrifice customer satisfaction or control over an application to save money. In fact, a speech investment today is probably one of the few that not only impacts each customer so personally, but also delivers bottom-line results.
A key issue to remember is that if you have not heard what can now be deployed in the last six months, then you are probably not aware of the possibilities for improving the caller experience within a secure and distributed speech-enabled environment. Competition within the travel industry means every customer interaction is precious. New speech solutions allow travel organizations to deliver convenience to every caller with confidence that security within an outsourced solution is ensured. These benefits enable creative customer support solutions that not only provide a competitive advantage, but also deliver cost savings.