There’s no doubt that speech analytics, outbound IVR messaging, and hosting continue to be fan favorites when it comes to speech technology. And, it’s no different for this year’s group of Implementation Award winners. Each of them—a university, a credit management company, an enterprise software developer, and a major U.S. airline—has leveraged at least one of these technologies to realize benefits that are as diverse as the group itself, such as cost savings, agent performance improvements, churn prevention, and revenue growth. Read on to learn how they did it.
customer: Avila University
product: Scaller interactive voice response system
On the typical college or university campus, as many as one in three first-year students will not stay through to their sophomore year due to family problems, loneliness, academic struggles, or financial hardship.
At Avila University, a small Catholic school in Kansas City, Mo., the student retention rate is about 75 percent—well above the national average. But administrators still wanted to help identify first-year students at risk of dropping out or transferring to other schools and address their concerns.
So this past fall, the university deployed Scaller, an interactive voice response (IVR) solution from Vocantas, to aid its student retention efforts. Avila provided Vocantas with contact information for each of the 138 first-year students and 15 students from other years who were on academic probation. To ensure adequate participation, Avila told the students at their new student orientation and during the first session of their freshman seminar (a class to teach them how to become more independent) that they would be getting the IVR phone calls. The school sent email messages to students who were not reached through the IVR, asking them to get in touch with someone at the school if they had problems or concerns.
Beginning September 26 (four weeks into the fall semester) and for six days afterward, the IVR made dozens of calls each day. The fully automated system polled the students about their needs in seven areas: time management, financial assistance, career counseling, academic advisement, note-taking, personal counseling, and tutorial help.
Calls were targeted toward freshmen because, “if students are going to leave, most do it then,” says Paige Illum, coordinator of retention and the first-year experience at Avila University.
The school, run by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet, has a student population of 1,800.
The IVR dialed one student after another until it had reached 10 students who identified an area of need from among the seven choices. At that point, the IVR discontinued calls for that day to give Avila University staff the chance to follow up with a personal phone call to each student who asked for help.
The IVR reached 53 percent of the students on the list. Of those, 38 percent identified an area in which they could use help. Several identified needs in more than one area. The system identified more than 30 students who could be considered at risk for dropping out or transferring to other schools and flagged those calls for follow-up.
Scaller relies on an automated system that asks the students a series of questions to identify challenges they are facing. Automation is the preferred method, because, as Vocantas has found, students are more likely to be honest and open with a machine than they are with a live person.
“The results provided us with early indicator intelligence as to which students [in the freshman class] were most at risk,” said Darby Gough, Avila’s dean of students, in a statement.
The results were not all that surprising. “Most of them were just good old-fashioned questions and concerns about the college experience,” Illum explains. “They were the typical first-year concerns about adjusting to college life.”
The follow-up call made a big difference. “What we found when we followed up with students after the IVR calls was that multiple issues identified in each survey call could often be resolved with just one personal phone call,” Illum says.
Gary Hannah, president and CEO of Vocantas, calls Avila’s results “in line with the successful results we have seen in other deployments of our IVR in higher education.
“When given the opportunity, typically students will self-identify that they need help; in fact, thirty-five percent to forty percent of students ask for help when given the chance,” he said in a statement. “The good news is we typically see retention rates improve after the students receive a single outreach call from the IVR. With the diligent follow-up that Avila has put in…we expect a significant improvement in Avila’s year-over-year retention results.”
The initiative provides an ancillary benefit as well: Avila can now confirm student contact information, helping to ensure that the university is able to effectively reach students in the event of an emergency.
- Reached 53 percent of the freshman class within a few days;
- Identified more than 30 students who could be considered at risk for dropping out or transferring to other schools; and
- Followed up with each of the at-risk students to address their concerns.
customer: Cabot Credit Management
vendor: Nexidia, Noble Systems
products: Noble Contact Center Suite, Nexidia ESI 9.1
Cabot Credit Management offers independent specialist services in debt purchase, contingency collections, and customer tracing. The group is divided into four businesses, Cabot Financial, Cabot Financial Ireland, Apex Credit Management, and Apex Discovery. (Cabot Credit Management is the parent company of Cabot Financial and Apex Credit Management.) The company employs more than 825 people at several offices in the United Kingdom.
The company handles more than 3 million customer accounts, has more than $10 billion face-value of owned debt and at any point in time manages over $1.54 billion in assets in its contingency business, in excess of $26.2 million cash collections per month.
In 2012, Noble Systems, in Atlanta and the U.K., partnered with Nexidia to expand the debt collections success of Apex Credit Management across the company to Cabot Financial.
Although Apex looked at several solution providers, it ultimately decided to work with Noble and Nexidia.
“We invested heavily in other analytical tools to segment and score our debt portfolios,” says Richard Furlong, contact strategy manager at Apex Credit Management “A lot of time and effort is spent ensuring we speak to the customer at the right time.”
Noble Systems is a global provider in unified contact center technology solutions. The scalable, integrated Noble solutions include advanced automatic call distributor and predictive dialing, unified contact processing and integrated IVR, recording, messaging, quality/monitoring systems, scripting, and real-time reporting and management tools.
Apex used Noble Contact Center Suite (CCS), a unified multichannel communication system that enables small to midsized contact organizations to manage contacts, information flow, and workforce in a single solution.
Additionally, Apex used Nexidia’s speech analytics solutions ESI 9.1, which enabled the company to analyze every call, providing more accurate insight for compliance, performance management, and overall call handling.
Apex says it has increased cash collected per agent hour by 30 percent and improved conversion rates by 15 percent. In addition, it has saved an average of 30 hours per month for each team leader within the first seven months of implementation.
The solutions allow the company to be proactive instead of reactive when dealing with customer dissatisfactions, and this supports a better customer experience all around, according to Apex.
“Speech analytics has such a proven success in Apex that it was just common sense to bring it into the Cabot Financial business,” Furlong says. “The lessons learned in Apex on how to maximize collections revenue through right party connections, targeted coaching, and increasing conversion rates will enable us to maximize the return on the substantial investment of our purchased debt.”
Apex said that the improved efficiency has allowed the company to halve the amount of time team leaders spend trawling for calls. This time has been reinvested into agent coaching, doubling the amount of time this is done.
Agent conversion rates shot up 15 percent, improving Apex’s first call resolution and reducing collections costs.
Additionally, improved quality (account resolution/call completion) conversion rates climbed 15 percent. Written complaint volumes were reduced as well.
“Our clients are forever moving the goalposts in terms of what is compliant and what is not. However, now that we can effectively monitor 100 percent of calls, we can give our clients peace of mind that we are protecting their brand and dealing with their customers fairly and appropriately,” Furlong says. “Plus, the ability to demonstrate compliance on 100 percent of our calls…will play a key part of every purchaser audit. Ultimately, we envision all 530 [members of our] collections staff using the system.”
The company’s return on investment was realized in just seven months, while its throughput quadrupled.
“Apex and Cabot both pride themselves on innovative ideas and use of technology, and we felt speech analytics was the final piece in the jigsaw for our business,” Furlong says. “We felt this would be the best way to ensure compliance, brand protection, and revenue generation.”
- Increased cash collected per agent hour by 30 percent;
- Improved agent conversion rates by 15 percent;
- Account resolution/call completion conversion rates grew 15 percent; and
- ROI achieved in seven months.
products: SpeechMiner, Intelligent Coaching
Ceridian is a global provider of payroll, tax filing, benefits, human resources, workforce management, and recruiting software and solutions. The Minneapolis company offers solutions to businesses in banking and insurance, law, government, and professional services.
Like most contact centers, Ceridian is constantly striving to improve its first call resolution (FCR) rate, as higher FCR rates mean lower call volumes and higher satisfaction. Ceridian measures FCR using its IVR system, which asks customers whether it is the first time they are calling about an issue. This method provided an accurate measurement of the FCR rate, but not the insight into what was driving it.
“Our contact center quality monitoring and analysis systems and processes were good at telling us when our FCR rate and other key performance indicators needed to get better, but they weren’t very helpful in discovering how we could improve our performance,” says Ceridian quality coach Pamela Cook. “Our existing analysis and processes and systems were simply unable to analyze enough of our calls in enough detail to discover macro-level issues in a reliable way.”
Early in 2011, Ceridian decided to implement the phrase-driven speech analytics provided by Utopy SpeechMiner. Data from Ceridian’s case tracking system was integrated into SpeechMiner’s unified Data Mart to determine which customers were calling repeatedly. SpeechMiner’s patented phrase-driven speech analytics engine identified repeat calls by recognizing when the customer or agent uttered any phrase that indicated it was not the first time the customer was calling about a particular issue.
SpeechMiner’s direct phrase-recognition engine, which recognizes entire phrases within calls without first converting the calls into text or phonemes, delivers a complete method of call classification and categorization. This method automatically categorizes all calls by type in addition to any subtopics discussed during the call, while also classifying customer service skills and processes used by agents.
SpeechMiner’s call categorization pinpointed which types of calls were generating the most callbacks for Ceridian.
By investigating those types of calls, SpeechMiner uncovered further commonalities within those specific types of calls, allowing Ceridian to discover the root cause of the repeat calls. In the same way, Ceridian was able to analyze which customers and agents have the lowest rates of FCR and discover the drivers of those rates for each customer and/or agent.
Ceridian learned it was lacking a standardized process for callbacks and follow-up, causing increased calls into Ceridian Customer Care and lowering FCR rates. Ceridian defined a new callback and follow-up process to ensure that agents all use the same method to recognize that a callback is necessary, gather the necessary information, set the proper customer expectations, and keep their commitments.
SpeechMiner automatically monitored each agent’s adherence to this process on every call. Supervisors leveraged Utopy Intelligent Coaching to reinforce the importance of this process during agent coaching and self-learning sessions. Intelligent Coaching was able to deliver best practice call libraries to the agents with example calls on which the process was followed particularly well by the agent, along with any examples where the process could have been followed better, accompanied by specific recommendations from the supervisor for coaching or self-learning purposes. Coaching maximized the efficiency of the coaching and self-learning process and drastically increased the speed of performance improvement.
The programs were implemented in June 2011. The results were measured using responses to post-call customer surveys. The post-call customer survey asks customers, “How likely are you to call back on this issue?”
Ceridian initially implemented the process in a pilot group of two teams. When it compared the responses to this survey question from July, August, and September 2011 to the results from March, April, and May 2011, the percentage of customers saying that they were unlikely to call back increased by 30 percent in the pilot group and by 18 percent throughout Ceridian’s entire customer care organization.
“Utopy SpeechMiner and Utopy Intelligent Coaching helped us significantly improve our (FCR) rate,” Cook says. “However, the reality is that we’ve just [reached] the tip of the iceberg in terms of the opportunities for improvement speech analytics can help us discover.”
- Significantly improved overall FCR rate;
- Customers unlikely to call back increased by30 percent in the pilot group; and
- Customers unlikely to call back climbed 18 percent throughout Ceridian’s entire customer care organization.
customer: US Airways
vendor: Nuance Communications
products: Nuance On Demand IVR platform and Nuance Vocalizer, a spoken output engine
US Airways, along with its US Airways Shuttle and US Airways Express, operates more than 3,200 flights per day to more than 200 cities in North, Central, and South America; Europe; and the Middle East. The fifth-largest U.S. airline, it serves approximately 80 million passengers each year.
As a result of various buyouts and mergers during the past few years, the 1,600 agents in its four contact centers in Reno, Nev., Phoenix, Winston-Salem, N.C., and Liverpool, England, were using multiple interactive voice response (IVR) systems. These systems had nine voices and a variety of cumbersome menus and offered almost no insight into the 18 million calls handled every year. Key performance indicators, like call containment, call deflection, and average hold time, were almost impossible to compile.
What’s more, an agreement with the Airline Customer Service Employee Association to onshore all of its reservation agents by November 2011 was going to require US Airways to rein in contact center costs.
So, in December 2009, the airline issued a request for proposal for a new IVR. It eventually selected Nuance Communications as the vendor, and in July 2011, launched an IVR based on Nuance’s On Demand hosted platform. The deployment was also part of a larger US Airways corporate rebranding effort aimed at improving market perception and strengthening customer loyalty.
One of the highlights of the IVR is natural language call steering, allowing callers to state what they’re calling about in their own words. Other innovations include personalized call handling with proactive information delivery, automated collection of trip information, and a new voice—named Wally—using the Nuance Vocalizer speech synthesis engine.
The system also distinguishes itself by identifying callers who are members of the US Airways frequent flyer program, Dividend Miles, based on their phone numbers, and tailoring the interaction based on that information. The system can greet callers by name, pull up information about their next flights, and anticipate the reasons for their calls.
“The more we know about our customers, the more efficiently we can provide the assistance they need,” says Kerry Hester, senior vice president of operations planning and support.
The switch took place over two days; the system was handling 100 percent of calls right away. A month later, when Hurricane Irene hit, the system saw a very dramatic spike in call volume in response to all of the flight delays and cancellations, but it performed flawlessly. In fact, an assessment of airline hold times by STELLAService found US Airways had the lowest times of the top 10 airlines.
Since then, more capabilities have been added, allowing customers to use the automated system to confirm itineraries and seat assignments.
US Airways has already noticed a 5 percent increase in call containment and a 2 percent to 3 percent decrease in call handling time, which, combined, have saved the airline about $3 million this year.
Prior to the deployment, US Airways turned to Cyara Solutions, a provider of solutions for simulating, testing, and monitoring IVR and contact center systems and applications, to ensure the successful upgrade of its systems. US Airways continues to use Cyara to test and simulate callers’ experiences as they make new reservations, confirm or change flights, and access preferred member mileage support in both self- and assisted-service scenarios.
“Our partnership with Nuance has allowed US Airways to offer our callers an industry-leading IVR and CTI platform designed to deliver cost savings for the airline while improving our customers’ experience,” says Tim Lindemann, vice president of reservations and customer service planning at US Airways.
The application also comes with reporting and analytics tools that now give US Airways visibility into many key call center metrics, such as containment, transfers, and task completion.
Another benefit has been improved agent effectiveness. The system has cut the amount of time that customers spend on the phone with agents when making or changing reservations by asking tailored questions about their trips and then transferring that information to the agent via screen pop. This allows the callers’ conversations with the agents to be significantly more effective and frees up the agents to handle more complex issues.
“By integrating [our understanding of our customers and their needs] with cutting-edge speech recognition technology, we are providing our customers with the convenient, quality care they have come to expect,” Hester concludes.
- A 5 percent increase in call containment;
- A 2 percent to 3 percent decrease in call handling time; and
- A savings of $3 million a year.