Contact Centers: How Interactive Voice Response Can Increase Customer Satisfaction& Retention
As the cost of acquiring customers continues to rise, holding on to the customers who already are loyal has become paramount to multichannel marketing efforts. Keep the customer happy and she’ll be more likely to stick around. Derrell Knight, president of Message Technologies, an outsourced call center and interactive voice response (IVR) developer and host, explains how IVR allows you to optimize your customer service reps’ workloads and keep your customers satisfied.
Catalog Success Idea Factory: How can IVR contribute positively to customer retention?
Derrell Knight: Customers often call you because there’s a problem they’re trying to resolve. And most of those requests are repetitive, meaning there are 10,000 other people who have the same requests. There are a number of set parameters around questions like that. Automating the answers to those requests can provide a far more streamlined solution than providing a live agent for every request.
The primary reason for employing IVR automation is that you can respond more effectively, more quickly and correctly to a certain subset of questions. That doesn’t mean you’ll never need live agents to perform certain tasks. But it does mean that the live agents on your staff are being used to perform the tasks that are more complicated because they don’t have to deal with the requests that are more trivial. They are now free to answer more complicated questions more quickly, resulting in higher customer satisfaction for those people who have those complicated questions.
With speech applications, you also can create a branded persona to deal with these repetitive requests -- a voice that reflects the brand you’re trying serve to your customers. Whether that’s a Gen X personality or something a bit older, you can use speech IVR to reflect that, whereas your live agents may not always reflect that same feeling. We can create that persona and people you’re trying to talk to can feel like they identify with you.
Catalog Success: You’ll often hear about customer frustration with getting stuck in a maze of menus when they really just want to talk to a live person. How does IVR help alleviate that frustration?
Knight: With speech, there are ways to create a dialogue with the customer. You can ask the customer an open-ended question, such as “What would you like on your pizza?” You then have an idea of what the answers will be. We use those likely answers to build a grammar for our recognition engine. There could be 25 different answers, and we can recognize all of them. And you can create prompting in the middle of that if there are problems, which helps make it more conversational. It’s not completely human-like, and there will be situations that live agents will have to handle. But at least those agents are handling just those issues that automation can’t cover.
Catalog Success: How are merchants using IVR in their call centers?
Knight There are many applications. The most obvious one is the “where is my order?” query. Order status is very simple to automate. It’s just a query to a back-end database. Refunds queries are popular as well. Most catalogers aren’t going to argue the refund; they just want to provide the customer with a return number. In many ways, that’s easier for a consumer to deal with. They don’t want to apologize for sending back the merchandise or deal with anyone in that case. They just want to get the return number and send it back. That’s a popular one.
We can also automate some of the ordering process. That’s the obvious one, although there aren’t many people using that. Most merchants are using IVR for post-order customer service. It does depend on your merchandise though. Complex merchandise orders are hard to automate.
Catalog Success: How long typically does it take to set up an IVR system?
Knight Generally it can take 45 to 60 days or four to five months, depending on how complicated you want the solution to be. When you get into the natural language responses, you get into a great deal of design and testing. You have to do usability studies and testing. Very open-ended questions with highly variable responses have to be heavily tested before launch.
You also have to consider whether or not you want to have someone host it for you or bring all of it in house. As a host company, we can expedite the setup process and allow merchants to test it at a low level to see how their customers react. We can determine what works and what needs to be tweaked.
Catalog Success: How much does an IVR cost to implement?
Knight The cost is coming down all the time, and it very much depends on how deep and complex the IVR solution is. But in general it could cost about $25,000 to set up a straightfoward system that queries your database and answers basic questions. We then charge on a per-minute basis. The more the IVR system is in use, the more you pay. We’re also open to transaction pricing and success pricing. But for setup, I’d say $25,000 to $50,000 is a good ballpark figure. I’ve seen complicated systems upwards of $300,000, so you really have to know what you’re getting into before you do it. Natural language is where the price starts to rise, because of the increased amount of usability testing that’s necessary.
Derrell Knight can be reached at (770) 240-8035.