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If you have bookmarked this site, please go to our new blog and update your bookmark there. All of our archived articles can be accessed there as well.

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From Panic to Calm in 6 Hours With Outbound Campaign

It’s tax time. The time of the year when there are thousands upon thousands of people who are in a panic to get their tax returns filed with the IRS not only on time, but also correctly. That is the key – filing correctly. By doing so, we all know that we can avoid penalties and fees that can go with a mistake on your tax form.

If you did contract work for a corporation, an agency or a government entity, you rely on a 1099 to file your taxes. The 1099 form is used for a number of reasons, though, typically, they are issued to independent contractors–also known as “freelancers“–as a record of the income they received from a particular business.

What if the 1099 you received, however, was incorrect? That could create quite a problem as well as quite a bit of paperwork trying to fix it.

When that very thing happened recently, the state that issued approximately 270,000 incorrect 1099s went into “crisis” mode. The key to correcting the mistake was quick, efficient communication to let the recipients know that there was a mistake and that corrected 1099s would be issued immediately. It also was imperative that the matter be addressed quickly to avoid the chance that anyone would file an income tax return using the incorrect 1099.

To make it happen, they turned to their contact automation solution provider to develop an outbound calling campaign to reach the recipients of the incorrect 1099s. From start of the project – approximately noon – it took only six hours for an outbound campaign to be designed, built (including choosing voice talent), tested, approved by the state, and underway. It was an incredible feat in six hours, but one that was critical to saving taxpayers, the state and the IRS a lot of headaches down the road.

How has your company or agency utilized outbound calling campaigns?

Health Care Reform Could Cause Influx of Patients

With the new health care reform legislation, 32 million Americans become eligible for health insurance, and, in some rural areas, there aren’t enough primary care physicians to treat those potential patients. The legislation is designed to make it easier for students to become doctors, but there could be up to an eight-year gap between demand for physicians and doctors available to treat.

So, what should a small-town doctor consider when looking at the economics of running a business that may be inundated with queries?  A good contact automation solution could be the answer. With one, the doctor could free up a person to help with those people on-site and make it easier for patients to learn more about the practice. Many physicians’ offices take advantage of contact automation or IVR solutions, but it will be necessary to select a platform that can grow and improve with business.

A newer option for doctors looking to streamline appointments and office logistics is outbound calling to remind patients of upcoming appointments. Using outbound IVR solutions, they can, again, free up staff while they keep the office running smoothly.

Does your doctor utilize IVR for inbound or outbound calling?

Customer Service Should Be Your Focus in Contact Automation

By Justin Lemrow

The focus of the upcoming Customer Contact 2010, East: A Frost & Sullivan Executive MindXchange, April 18-21, is on customer excellence, which is ever important in today’s competitive economic environment. As we all know, customer retention and loyalty are critical factors for any company trying to survive and prosper, and most companies are trying to do that with less money and fewer resources.

If you aren’t finding ways to not only meet your customers’ expectations, but exceed them, then you are likely to lose them. At MindXchange, I will be focusing on “Customer Experience Excellence” and how it relates to contact automation during a session titled Proactive Customer Care: The New Competitive Advantage?  With my day-to-day focus on Continuous Improvement, I will share how a company needs to move the decision-making about its contact automation solution from the IT department to the C-level suite executive level.

Contact automation – from inbound and outbound calls to email and web notification solutions – isn’t about technology. It is about customer service and a continuous focus on improvement. When you put the customer before the technology and keep an eye on improving interactions with them, then you realize that there will always be something your contact automation center can do to make the customer interaction easier, faster, and more satisfying. You will win loyal customers and you eventually improve the bottom line by increasing and saving money. Everyone in your company should have their eye on that ball, from your agents to your IT department to your C-level executives.

I’ll keep you posted on what I learn at MindXchange in the coming weeks.

Lemrow is director of Continuous Improvement at Contact Solutions, Inc., where he leads a team of professionals who are experts in contact automation solutions and are incentivized to create partnerships with customers to find new ways to save them money while increasing automation rates.

New Navigation IVR Breaks Ground in the Industry

Some big names – AOL, iPhone, and MapQuest have created some buzz in the IVR world this week. Using IVR, AOL has created a free MapQuest mobile iPhone application that allows drivers to watch the road while getting directions from their phone.

For those without a dedicated GPS navigation system, this is great news and makes it even easier for them to use their iPhone for almost everything. It also puts MapQuest ahead of its competition and is a free app for the 40 million people who own iPhones.

As an IVR provider, it’s nice to see newer and better applications enter the market.

What do you wish your iPhone could talk to you about?

Healthcare Solution Saves Money, Increases Services

Whether you are for or against it, health care reform is the topic of the year. Boosted by our ailing economy, the bottom line for many is the need to find ways to cut costs in every aspect of a business, whether it is in the health care industry or not.

One example of a best practice in health care savings is how MAXIMUS, a leading provider of government services devoted to providing health and human services program management and consulting services, helped its client, a state-run public health insurance program for eligible low- and medium-income residents, realize an immediate return on investment of $100,000 in savings per month through a contact automation solution for calls coming into its state-operated contact centers.

After the state initiated a major health reform initiative, thousands of calls were coming into live phone agents every day, inundating them with more calls than they could handle. MAXIMUS needed a solution that was less resource-intensive, more cost efficient and more customer-friendly to continue to deliver superior customer service to its client.

Working closely with the state’s decentralized contact centers, MAXIMUS developed a pilot program in which it used interactive voice response (IVR) to start screening calls and then leveraged unique Continuous Improvement to evaluate, gain efficiencies, and grow the program. Now, MAXIMUS has automated thousands of calls each day for its clients, and provides a higher level of service to their customers.

Other benefits MAXIMUS has received include continual optimization, 24×7 system monitoring and analysis, and an ability to scale operations without increasing agents to the same degree, along with improved caller experience, higher automation rate and reduced call time on live agent calls.  .  That’s a health care solution that provides a win-win for everyone involved.

What does your contact automation solution help your company do better for your customers?

It’s all about Customer Service and Continuous Improvement

If you saw our release earlier this week, you know that we are all about helping our customers save money. In FY2009, we worked with them to save more than $4 million, and our goal for FY2010 is $10 million or more.

Through our daily focus on customer service, we try to make a company’s contact automation system a value added service, not a drain that threatens the end users’ experience. In fact, this company was founded on the premise that no one hates IVR, they hate bad IVR. We focus on providing the best contact automation experience, from IVR to email, text messaging and web self service, by making them efficient, scalable and cost effective.

We create partnerships, which the dictionary refers to as a “joint interest.” We call it goal congruency. We work with our customers to ensure we are aligned with their end goal of creating a contact automation solution that offers great customer satisfaction, is flexible and can grow with the needs of the company and its end users.

We do it through constant measurement, from pre- to post-change metrics that show the impact of the contact automation solution, its cost savings and customer satisfaction numbers. It is a day-in and day-out philosophy of great technology coupled with even better service.

What does your company focus on to create great customer service?

Partnership Focus Helps Us Save Our Customers $4 Million in FY2009

By Paul Logan, CEO

When my partners and I founded Contact Solutions in 2002, our goal was to create the best contact automation solutions company in the industry. Our focus was on creating partnerships with our customers to help them create greater efficiencies and cost savings without sacrificing quality customer service. By staying on focus and working with our customer-partners, we helped them save more than $4 million in FY2009. We plan to save them even more – to the tune of $10 million – this fiscal year.

We did it by creating a culture that rewards our employees for helping their customers even after the implementation phase. Most of our competitors get in the door, make the sale and then leave. We stay with our customers to ensure that the savings they realize at implementation actually increase in the coming years. Contact Solutions professionals are trained in our Continuous Improvement Program (CIP) and are incentivized to create savings for their customers, year over year.

In today’s economy, companies need to save money – there’s not a lot of it floating around as there was in years past. But, saving money on a system that is stagnant and doesn’t grow and change with a company is a great example of being “penny wise and pound foolish.” With our CIP, we help our customers keep their customers and more dollars in the bank… a win-win for all of us.

Is your contact automation company committed to saving you money this year? Next?

Best Practices in Outbound Calling — How to Maximize Your Contact Automation Solution

In our most recent post about the Colorado Springs Utilities (CSU) new automated outage reporting system, we shared how they are maximizing their IVR system, both in inbound and outbound calling technologies. The CSU is a great example of how a utility company can create greater efficiencies for its customers and employees through a maximized contact automation solution.

Here are some additional best practices used by other agencies or companies to maximize their on-demand IVR services:

Outbound calls when a customer is past due and then allowing the customer to choose to be transferred to Western Union to make a payment. This has increased collectibles and helps customers who may have overlooked a bill from receiving late charges.

Outbound calls to remind patients they have an upcoming appointment and a prompt to reschedule if necessary. The patient and the healthcare center win – keeping schedules on both sides running smoothly and helping the patient avoid missed appointment fees.

These are just two of many examples show how increased automation can actually improve customer service. The most important element, however, is finding a contact automation partner that understands that an IVR system is as dynamic as the people who use it – both internally and externally. Finding a company that is committed to working with you to adjust and modify your system to ensure that it is working at maximum efficiency and creating a great experience for your customers should be your No. 1 goal.

Are you realizing all you can from your company’s IVR solution?

Colorado Springs Utilities Makes Most of Inbound and Outbound IVR

When most people think of contact automation solutions, they think of the typical “press 1 for accounting,” etc. But Colorado Springs Utilities (CSU) saw greater potential than most. This week they launched an automated outage reporting system that allows customers to call a toll-free number to report an outage or get updates on an outage in either English or Spanish. And, to help their customers even more, CSU has launched outbound calls to let their customers know when a meter reader will be in the area and asking them to secure their dogs, offering peace of mind to both customers and meter readers.

These types of solutions offer greater interaction, create efficiencies, keep customer service representatives free and able to be agile, and, potentially increase customer satisfaction, particularly since customers can opt to have the utility company call them back when the outage is over. 

Colorado Springs Utilities is a great example for other agencies or companies that want to maximize usage of their contact automation solution.

Does your company or agency have a best practice to share? Let us know about it.

The Cloud Decade Part Deux: HBR’s Bright Management Ideas

In our January 12, 2010 post, we talked about the Harvard Business Review’s list of the 10 most important management ideas of the last decade; specifically, the impact of cloud computing on the way we all utilize technology.

As promised (I know, you’ve been checking back daily!), here are Contact Solutions’ thoughts on three other brilliant ideas from HBR’s list.

HBR Bright Idea: Enterprise Risk Management

Who would have dreamed before 9/11 that the hot new job of the new decade would be the chief risk officer?

And didn’t Hurricane Katrina awaken CIOs to the horrendous technology aftershocks of natural disasters?

From hackers to hurricanes, bombs to blackouts, organizations face a myriad of operational and technological threats. But don’t sweat it; if catastrophe happens, Contact Solutions has you covered:

  • On-site security on a 24×365 basis
  • Biometric security for all doors and cages
  • CCTV digital camera coverage of entire center
  • Redundant HVAC
  • Fire detection and suppression
  • Flood and earthquake protection
  • Uninterruptable Power Supply (UPS)
  • Redundant backup diesel generators
  • N+1 redundancy for all components and wiring

HBR Bright Idea: Open Source

What can I say; our moms taught us geeks to share. All Contact Solutions’ contact automation solutions are delivered using Open Standards in a service-oriented architecture (SOA) hosted environment.

What does that mean for your contact center? Flexibility! Ease of integration! You avoid the traditional limitations of VoiceXML applications; improve your time to market and quality of service.

HBR Bright Idea: Competing on Analytics

Data, meet Customer Care. Customer Care, say hello to Engineering, Research and Marketing.

Technology has opened the door for businesses to move at lightning speed, consuming transactional and statistical data and turning it into business intelligence.

Here at Contact Solutions, we pride ourselves on our unmatched Actionable Analytics. Not only do we capture your data every which way, we analyze it for you so you can:

  • Make informed business decisions
  • Increase efficiencies
  • Increase customer satisfaction
  • Drive revenue

Here’s the best part: We also recommend, as part of the deal, ways to improve your automation rates to save you money ongoing. As a customer, you get these recommendations all the time, not just on your birthday.

Say what? Our Continuous Improvement Practice eats your data for breakfast (while our competition eats frosted Pop-tarts) and provides you with reports on estimated savings.

There you have it.

Thanks Harvard Business Review, for pointing out some very amazing management ideas. Here’s another bright idea: If you want to significantly decrease the cost of automating your contact center, contact us!

What do you consider to be the brightest idea of the past decade in terms of improving contact center efficiencies, lowering costs and/or boosting customer satisfaction?
What problems do we still need to solve?

Contact Automation Meets Customer Feedback Management

Want to know what your customers think of your automated services?

Contact Solutions’ on-demand web survey capabilities allow you to survey your customers via a web interface or your IVR. We deliver all the survey questions and response data to you as a combined package, allowing for powerful call center and ‘quality of service’ management.

The best part is that our on-demand web surveys are far less expensive than you would spend to deliver parallel surveys via web and IVR. Plus, you eliminate having two sets of data to analyze. We make multi-channel surveys painless and inexpensive.

The ability for your customer to take a survey regarding their call center experience (or anything else you want to ask them about) over the web, in addition to the IVR, ultimately captures more complete customer feedback for you.

Our web survey platform utilizes all of the existing capabilities of our large-scale IVR and web-app platform, software and services. Combined with the application of our Continuous Improvement Practice, we can help you to analyze and modify your surveys for higher completion rates and more highly targeted feedback, etc.

Which means more effective customer feedback management for you.

What’s the most helpful or surprising data point you’ve gotten from an IVR or web survey?

Welcome to the Cloud Decade

Hey – You – Get on to my cloud!” (with apologies to Mick Jagger)

According to a January 1, 2010 article on the Harvard Business Review web site, one of the most influential management ideas of the last decade is IT as a utility, aka “Cloud Computing.”

(The HBR article of the decade’s best management ideas was a “Top 10” list. We’ll talk more about Enterprise Risk Management, Open Source and Competing on Analytics in the next blog post!)

As the venerable HBR reports, “The current mania for cloud computing is the latest step in a long process by which enterprises have dispensed with their proprietary glass houses and begun buying computing capabilities as services.”

As this blogger has reported previously, the biggest technology players are betting on the cloud to find new ways to bring new services to their customers. After all, cloud computing offers humongous benefits.

When you use Contact Solutions for your on-demand contact automation solution “in the cloud,” you:

  1. Reduce expensive IT infrastructure (what will you do with all that extra space?)
  2. Reduce IT resources needed for expensive infrastructure
  3. Benefit from our state-of-the-art platform and contact portal

And let’s not forget Contact Solutions’ Continuous Improvement Practice. Our cloud is serious (or would that be Sirius?) and continues to look for ways to save you money as we increase your automation rates and improve customer satisfaction. That’s something you won’t get from the other fluffy clouds.

Question: What’s your take on cloud computing as it relates to your industry? What changes are we likely to see in the next year or two?

Chuck, Continuous Improvement Practice Sleuth

If you read this blog regularly, you already know that we tend to brag a little (ok, we brag a lot) about our Continuous Improvement Practice. This is our tireless team of sleuths whose job it is to find new ways to save our customers money by increasing automation rates on a constant basis. I thought I’d share with you an actual exchange between our sleuth Chuck, and a Contact Solutions client. Chuck discovered some suspicious activity and investigated. (Cue Dragnet theme) The story you are about to read is true. The names have been changed to protect the innocent… except that Chuck is his real name.

From: Chuck Donato
To: Client Bob X, Acme Company
Subject: auto dialer calling Pismo Beach IVR?

Bob, While I was checking out your call volume this morning to make sure the call volume was low enough that I could do the test I wanted for the deployment, I noticed that there are calls coming from one ANI to 800-555-5555 about every 6 – 8 minutes and it is consistent since midnight with the same option being chosen and the call duration between 7 – 20 seconds. I called the number this morning and it is the Acme Co. office in Pismo Beach (800-555-1111). Can you look into the reason on your end, or do you need my help to locate the issue? It is lowering that great containment rate your system has.

Chuck

From: Bob X, Acme Company
To: Chuck Donato Subject:
RE: auto dialer calling Pismo Beach IVR?

Chuck, Thank you for finding this! We’ve located the reason for the increase, and have remedied the situation as a result.

Bob

And so we end another chapter of Chuck, Continuous Improvement Practice Sleuth. Want your own sleuths working 7 x 24 to find you savings big and small? Call us!

Apple is Betting on the Cloud

I mentioned in an earlier post that cloud computing is one of the top 15 technology trends according to Forrester (and they oughta know, they command the big bucks!)

Apple is now exploring an overhaul of the way it sells and stores music that will extend their influence to the Web.

According the Wall Street Journal, Apple paid a cool $85 million to purchase a company that lets people buy and listen to music via a web browser, meaning its customers can access purchases from anywhere, as long as they are connected to the Internet.

Apple may adopt that same model for songs sold on iTunes, which would give consumers more ways to access and manage their iTunes purchases—without having to download Apple’s software or their purchases.

What does this mean for consumers? The WSJ says, “It would be far easier to manage and access large libraries of music, which need to be stored, maintained and backed up on computer hard drives and portable devices.”

That sounds familiar to us, because Contact Solutions customers also find it’s far easier to manage and access large libraries of contact center data, which need to be stored, maintained and backed up, when they host it with us – in the cloud.

And like Apple, we give our consumers more ways to access and manage their applications – without having to purchase software.

No wonder cloud computing is a top trend – it’s a sure bet.

How Our New Mobile Web Site Might Just Land You a Promotion

Talk about customer-centric! Talk about continuous improvement! We just launched a true mobile version of our corporate website!

What does this mean to me, you ask?

Say you’re in a meeting and your boss is talking about how to improve your contact center’s automation rates. “Who has a bright idea about increasing customer satisfaction without adding more live agents?” he asks.

You, being the savvy team-player that you are, quickly maneuver your Blackberry Curve from last night’s sports scores and onto the Contact Solutions mobile web site! You wave our home page in front of your boss’s nose (slow enough so he can see the crystal clear graphics) and say “I do, sir, and you can see for yourself on their incredible newly enhanced mobile web site!”

Your boss grabs your Blackberry. He notes the streamlined web content, and the ease with which he locates the relevant content on our Continuous Improvement practice and on-demand hosted model.

Your boss gives you a fat promotion on the spot. Suddenly you’re the envy of the entire conference room. Job security is yours. Who knows, you may even score a date with that senior account executive who’s been giving you the cold shoulder.

Don’t have a Blackberry Curve, you say? No problem-o! Our site now runs on “smart” technology that automatically detects hundreds of mobile devices and knows which device you’re using to access the site. So you can be a super hero with an iPhone, a Motorola Q, whatever smartphone you use. Aegis Mobile, a leader in mobile solutions who built this leading edge mobile web site for us, tested our web site on hundreds of mobile devices.

They streamlined our website content by identifying which tasks users perform while mobile and then simplifying the navigation with only the most relevant links for a mobile user. They also did all the back-end development.

Thanks to their technology, we’re confident that no matter which mobile device a visitor is using when they visit our web site, they’ll see an optimized version for that device.

Be a super hero! Visit www.contactsolutions.com from your smartphone!

Executive Savings Dashboard and Recommendation Report

Contact Solutions has just launched an actionable report for our clients’, called  the Continuous Improvement Recommendation Report.

This new powerful tool focuses on Continuous Improvement recommendations for applications that, once implemented, will improve the customer experience and/or save our clients money. Applications are grouped together so executives see the applications they are responsible for via secure login and configuration.

On the report, a bar graph displays a sum total of projected dollar savings by application. By clicking on each bar the executive can drill down to a detailed description of each enhancement and its associated cost savings. It also  lists the day-to-day contact within the client’s organization, for easy contact and approval.

This visibility empowers a program’s executive sponsors to see not only the value of Contact Solutions Continuous Improvement process, but the output as it specifically relates to their programs. The report puts accurate, real-time data in their hands, allowing them to take action, tear down obstacles, and reap the benefits of each recommendation as quickly as possible.

Message to CFO’s: Do the Math, Go “On Demand”

Are you still operating an on-premise solution for IVR, email / text messaging or web transactions? Need a compelling argument to take to your CFO so you can switch to a hosted solution? Then read this post and when you’ve finished, email this to your CFO, marked URGENT.

We’ll start with one fact your CFO already knows, because we want to warm him or her up before we take out the big guns!

Fact: the on-demand business model makes better financial sense than the on-premise model.

  • An on-demand solution allows enterprises of all sizes to leverage interactive voice response (IVR) and other contact center technologies cost-effectively to provide an outstanding customer experience.
  • An on-demand solution model allows companies to acquire the latest technology and applications without a large capital investment, start-up costs or long-term commitment. (“I like you a lot but I’m just not ready to make a commitment.”)
  • An on-demand solution is scalable, gives users ongoing technical support and upgrades at no additional cost.
  • An on-demand solution requires far less IT resources to maintain hardware and applications

Take-away: The benefits and return on investment (ROI) of “going hosted” can be significant. (Your CFO has, by now, snapped to attention; so forge ahead!)

Let’s talk pricing models and total cost of ownership. (CFO’s love this, you got ‘em now!)

Most IVR vendors operate using a traditional, vendor-centric pricing model. They bring in their expensive professional services team, sit in your spare office as the clock ticks, and then send you a fat invoice for consulting and implementation. When you ask them to make changes to your system, they return with a stopwatch and a calculator and charge you by the hour.

Yikes! Where’s the savings you promised your CFO? “Where’s the amortization?” your CFO shrieks down the hall from that corner office?

Working in an On Demand model, your vendor is incented to increase the number of automated calls. More automated calls means fewer calls routed to an agent. You don’t pay hefty implementation or professional services fees. You don’t pay huge license fees. Cha-ching! You save money!

The result: Your customers receive a higher level of automated customer service so customer satisfaction rates go up. Contact Center costs stay under control, and both your revenue and bottom-line profitability increase.

CFOS: Can you hear me through that plush-carpeted office wall?

Keep it Simple, Silly

My daughter, taught by her Kindergarten teacher not to use the other ‘S word’, recently scolded me for calling something ‘stupid’, so we’ll stick with ‘silly’ lest she physically unpeel herself from the Sponge Bob video long enough to read my blog.

I just got back from VoiceCon 2009. I saw many interesting exhibits, sessions and presentations, but there’s one session in particular that really stood out.

Unfortunately, it stood out for all the wrong reasons.

I’m referring to a demo presented by a big— as in major— technology player. The demo was supposed to impress the heck out of us. The UC solution was chock full of bells and whistles and did everything except slice julienne fries. Problem was, it was too complex, and it bombed.  I have never seen half a room that size clear out IN THE MIDDLE OF A DEMO.

What went wrong here? This was an innovative giant demonstrating their latest whiz bang UC solution.  Shouldn’t the audience have hung on their every word, already preparing the speech in their heads they’d use to beg the CIO and CFO for money (‘Your Highness, this UC solution will change the world as we know it!!”)?

The problem was the demo, and the functionality it demo’d, was overkill – if it takes a super scientist and his helper 20 minutes to give the demo, how well is it going to be adopted back at the office after the 3rd failed attempt at using this solution that over-delivers on their needs anyway?  And if it’s only adopted by the tech weenies, then the productivity gains are lost, which misses the whole point.  The entire audience knew that, and the bolder ones stood up and headed for the door.

Contact Center managers face the same dilemma.  Of all the whiz bang self-service, multi-channel options they could offer their customers (CTI, speech recognition, Twitter self-service options, outbound calls and texts, analytics tools that predict customer needs, personalized IVR options, hold time announcements, call backs…and that’s just half the options), which will give them the most bang for the buck?  How will they budget for it, or ever find the time to deploy it all, much less monitor and optimize it?

Here’s the answer.

Pick a vendor whose business is doing all that, and pay them per transaction, so the incentive becomes theirs to find and implement the options that your customers will use the most.  Avoid giving your customers more than they asked for so they don’t walk out on you.

Keep it simple, Stup…ah, I mean, Silly.

Personalized IVR: the Holy Grail of Contact Automation

Have you heard about “personalized IVR”? If you don’t outsource your contact automation to Contact Solutions, I’m betting the answer is a resounding “Huh?”

Personalized IVR takes contact automation miles further than “listen carefully as our menu options have changed.” I’ll give you some examples. First, personalized IVR can be used to target certain customers and push out relevant notifications or interactions, like if you want to alert only your premium credit card customers of an exclusive pre-sale event.

Ok, sounds simple enough. But the beauty of personalized IVR is in all that it can do when customers call you. Unlike a typical VUI, which is designed to understand customer needs, personal IVR can anticipate customer needs and make decisions that affect call flow.

Scenario: Jane contacts a retailer that deploys personalized IVR. The solution identifies her based on her phone number and, accessing Jane’s purchasing history, determines that Jane has recently placed an order for a custom leather sofa. So, Jane is asked if she’s calling about her recent order.

Sweet.

Jane gets personal, “valued customer” treatment instead of a menu.

Here’s another example. Having purchased that custom-made leather sofa, Jane now phones her bank to check her balance. The IVR recognizes that Jane has a low balance and treats her accordingly. Depending on business rules, the IVR might bypass automation and route Jane directly to a live agent. Or the IVR might push automated prompts designed specifically for a certain class of customer.

This category of personalized IVR is simpler to manage but still requires that the enterprise invest in CTI in order to have the ability to recognize the caller. Most personalized IVR deployments fall into this category, and can be viewed as a gateway to more complex integrations.

Here’s where it really gets good… and infinitely more complicated and costly for most contact automation solutions. Let’s call it personalization by customer relationship. The caller relationship actually determines the kind of experience the customer will have when they call.

Say Jane has a bad experience when her couch is delivered, the movers are four hours late and they break a lamp on their way out. Jane contacts the retailer to file a complaint via their web self-service option. She calls the retailer next morning to speak to a customer service representative. The personalized IVR solution can recognize Jane and her multiple web and phone transactions, and alter the phone interaction accordingly, either by generating dynamic call flows or by sidestepping automation completely and connecting her with an agent.

This type of personalization requires a greater integration between IVR technologies and the enterprise database. And that, my friends, is why on premise contact automation solutions typically don’t do it. It’s too much work, it takes too long in the planning and implementation, and there are simply too many competing IT priorities for anyone to see it through.

If you see the huge benefits of implementing personalized IVR at your organization, don’t build it yourself. It’s better to find a hosted solution that includes a robust platform and technology to implement it faster and far less expensively than you could do on your own.

See, the holy grail of contact automation was right under your nose!

It’s the 4th Quarter, Folks

It’s the fourth quarter of the year.

For IT departments that historically means spending the last of your current year’s budget and planning your spending for next year in the hopes that you’ll actually have money to spend. Nevertheless, with a long economic recovery in sight, experts expect to see further delays in IT spending in 2010. If your customer service department runs on contact automation, that means that your infrastructure is going to get another year older. If your live agent costs are already through the roof, then you can expect more of the same in 2010. More IT resources to manage it all? Forget it.

Forrester says that Cloud Computing is one of the top 15 technology trends to watch in 2010, because with it you can “transform your organization into a more efficient and responsive service provider to the business.” Are you ready to ride the cloud?

Why spend your hard-fought-for IT budget next year on trying to stay afloat? If you go with our hosted automation solution, you will be able to do in 2010 what you couldn’t do in 2009… leverage a state of the art, rock-solid secure contact automation platform. Access an arsenal of actionable analytics that you don’t have to sift through alone. We’re talking all the bells and whistles that your organization probably can’t afford next year, much less manage: hardened data centers, three Carrier Grade sites in the continental US, the very latest in protection and security, with interconnectivity to all major networks.

Sure, you can try to hold off on improving your automation self-service until you get a well-needed shot in the spending arm, or you can find a better strategy for you and your customers. Like finding a hosted IVR solution that saves you money, frees up your already stretched-to-the-limit resources and makes use of the latest IVR technology on someone else’s dime.

If you go with one of Contact Solution’s shared IVR solutions, you can enjoy the savings that happen when more calls stay in the contact portal. You don’t touch the technology “cloud” that surrounds you so there’s no IT spend on updating hardware and systems. You just sit back while we find new ways to save you money via our Continuous Improvement Practice.

Like I said, it’s the fourth quarter folks. What are you waiting for? A big 2010 IT budget?

Reverse CTI saves money….and keeps your customers from screaming at you

It’s become common to have an Agent speak to a caller and THEN route them to an IVR. 

For example, when personal information is required for authentication purposes, but regulations prohibit the information from being communicated to a live agent the caller must be verified by an automated system.   Or, after an agent-assisted call, callers are routed to an IVR based Survey. 

In both cases, the information needs to be tied back to the original call and agent via Computer Telephony Integration (CTI). 

However, just as callers are angered when they have to repeat info to an agent that they’ve already entered in the IVR, they’re really peeved when they have to repeat it to the IVR when they’ve just spoken with an agent.  It’s the #1 customer frustration in many contact centers.

Solving this problem has never been easy and is usually just ignored because of the cost and complexity.  Tailored solutions are costly to build, requiring ongoing licensing costs, and increased infrastructure costs as they usually tie up multiple telecom ports for a single call.

Contact Solutions recently solved this problem for its clients.  We’ve had a robust CTI solution for years based on a web-services model.  This open architecture, based purely on software, allows for integration with most any contact center technology at the agent desktop. 

Instead of re-inventing the wheel, we just rolled it the other way.  We leveraged the core techniques of passing data that are well established, and then reversed them – leveraging a lot of existing code along the way. 

So what does this mean to our customers?  They solve this complex problem without additional hardware or licenses fees. 

They save money and their callers get great service, coming and going.

Disaster Recovery – Are You Prepared for the Worst?

According to the Information Technology Services Research Laboratory and Call Center Research Laboratory at The University of Southern Mississippi, F.E.M.A. had only 209 call center staffers in days before Hurricane Katrina. The Agency needed more than 16,000 call center workers to meet the call demand, which was in the millions of calls each week following the disaster. As a result, only 21% of the calls to F.E.M.A. ever even made it into the call center, much less answered.

At the risk of being a fatalist, our country faces threats from both natural and man-made disasters such as nuclear and radiological explosives, cyber terrorism, flu pandemic, hurricanes, floods, earthquakes, fires and blizzards. Any organization that depends on contact centers to provide services and information to the public and consumers needs a disaster recovery plan… no, make that a fail-safe, rock-solid,” no losing sleep at night” plan.

Contact Solutions happens to provide that piece of mind for Federal Government agencies (like the US Treasury and the Departments of Agriculture and Labor to name drop a few), plus 23 State Governments and Municipal and County Governments.

We operate independent platform locations in Virginia, Texas, and California, and provide Hot Site Disaster Recovery across all of our applications. You got an application with us – you’re protected. Our shared service approach makes it possible for us to handle significant amounts of extremely high call volume, so no matter what the weather, no matter what is burning or freezing or under water; we can handle many times our normal call volume patterns without playing a single busy signal.

For example, during Hurricane Katrina, our Mississippi debit card application spiked up to fifty five times normal call volume in one day. Contact Solutions handled all those calls without any delay or interruption of service. When the hurricane forced the closing of the Baton Rouge customer support center handling the state’s child support program, our contact portal saved the day. While our client’s emergency response center in San Antonio took calls normally handled by the state’s disabled IVR, Contact Solutions accelerated the launch of a planned upgrade for that IVR. In fewer than three days, the new IVR was answering more than 20,000 calls a day.

Could your IVR do that? No? Stop and think now, who’s going to take the heat for all those busy signals? Who’s going to help all those callers?

Don’t add your own man-made disaster to whatever catastrophe hits. Be prepared! Talk to us about how Contact Solutions can protect you if disaster strikes.

And try to have a nice day…

Per BusinessWeek, ‘Trust’ is the new message….lucky for us, it’s true

The current cover story in BusinessWeek is ‘100 Best Global Brands: The Great Trust Offensive’.  http://images.businessweek.com/ss/09/09/0917_global_brands/index.htm

Since we just ‘re-branded’ ourselves, the article caught our attention. It reports that recent polling shows “increasing numbers of consumers distrust business as a whole“, therefore, companies across the board are marketing their ‘trustworthiness.’

That makes sense to us.  Due to our busines model, trust is like oxygen – without it our business fades to black. There is an entire white paper on this topic http://www.contactsolutions.com/resource-center/.

Here’s the headline: When you buy IVR and other contact automation services as part of a managed service lease or purchase on-premise equipment, your vendor doesn’t really have to continually earn your trust. At that point, your costs are ‘sunk,’ so there is little incentive to continually re-earn your business (i.e. your trust).

When you buy an On-Demand model (which is what Contact Solutions offers), your upfront investment is much, much lower; so it’s much easier to turn to a new vendor if performance suffers. So for us, maintaining trust with our customers is more than a well-timed marketing campaign, it’s self-preservation.

A marketing consultant is quoted in the article saying, “Trust-related marketing only works if there is a message that people want to believe in. You cannot spin an audience that doesn’t want to be spun.”  

Boy, don’t we know it!

Call automation has taken a beating with consumers who universally complain about apps that have been unattended for years (‘Please listen as our options have changed’ – yeah, 10 years ago maybe). To compound the issue, people now go straight to Twitter, Facebook and other social media outlets to tell the world about their poor experience.

No one said viral marketing is always a positive. Good luck getting trust back from a person who has read negative posts about your automated service. No amount of marketing dollars or spin will make YOUR customers believe that self-service is a great option if it’s not continually optimized for them. Nor will it make OUR customers believe their trust is our biggest concern.

Lucky for us, it’s not a marketing campaign, it’s a way of life.

IVR Market Fueled by VXML Technology – Fact or Hooey?

Recently we posted a  report by T3i on our web site that states that the phenomenal growth in the global IVR market is fueled (to the tune of $514 million by 2013) by the growth in VXML technology.

To which our CTO Mark Whittle said “that’s a lot of hooey.” Mark’s British. He uses words like that.

Mark’s got a valid point. While people in the industry are saying that the growth of the IVR industry is due to VXML, we beg to differ. Don’t get me wrong, we love VXML. In fact, we build and run VXML applications; we just don’t see it as the primary growth driver for our space.  We would argue it’s the move to hosted solutions that’s driving growth in the IVR market.

Hear me out. Prior to VXML, customers were trapped by the proprietary language of their chosen IVR vendor. That meant you either trained your own team in that language or were held hostage by that vendor’s professional services organization (sound familiar?). Every time you needed to make a change – ouch – another big charge. Very costly indeed! (Mark says “indeed” a lot, too). So, VXML was a great step forward.

However, the primary selling point for VXML was ‘portability of the apps’ (i.e. bypassing the inherit traps of proprietary code mentioned above).  Here’s the thing.  As vendors added their own tags, the open-standard became “sorta open”.  Which is predictable and OK, but anyone who thinks you can truly port a VXML app effortlessly from one IVR to another needs to Google ‘hooey’.

What the market has since figured out, and what is truly driving IVR growth, is that moving to a hosted model has many benefits, including portability. Does that mean that you can take a VXML app built by one hosted vendor and instantly port it to another hosted vendor?  No, but you can certainly do so with less time and expense than an app built in a proprietary language for sure.

What the market has decided is “who cares”. When you can very affordably have hosted vendors build your app and provide a SLA around it, who cares what language they write it in? And if you’re a Contact Solutions’ customer, there is the added benefit of knowing the applications will constantly be optimized as a standard service.

The shift to hosted contact automation solutions is the real impetus for our industry’s growth. There’s no hardware/software investment, no maintenance fees, and best of all no hiked-up professional services fees… or even the need to be concerned about proprietary vs. open standards IVR languages (oh how I’ll miss that stimulating debate).

As Mark would say, “It’s bloody brilliant, you blimey bloke” (OK, OK, but he does say “brilliant” a lot).

Keep the Focus on a Specific Contact Automation Solution Offering to Provide Excellence

By Paul Logan, CEO

The recent announcement that West will acquire Holly Connects is another in a long line of examples of a contact automation solutions company going toward the “any way you want it” IVR offerings. The thought process behind it is obvious – everyone is offering managed, on-demand and customer premise equipment (CPE) in their portfolio of offerings, so it must be better. Right?

It seems like it should be a good strategy, but when you look closer at the results of these “all you can eat” offerings, you see that they haven’t realized success. That’s because, while on the surface they seem like they are tangential business models, they really aren’t. In reality, they are three distinct businesses that seem like they should work together. For example, IVR is meant to take the burden off of live agents. If you offer live agents, you need for them to have something to do. Optimize your IVR, and you eliminate the need for live agents. Now you’ve been successful on one side and weakened a different side of your business.

Worse, still, you may soon be out of step with your client who just wants to make sure that the people utilizing the contact automation solution are quickly and efficiently served and end up happy. If your customers goals are out of line with your business goals, then how do you serve both?

In my opinion, on-demand is the only one that aligns the needs of the end customer with the needs of the end user, the consumer enterprise, and contact center outsourcers.  That’s the road we’ve taken, and our focus is on continuous improvement and optimization of that methodology. It is a successful route. IVR technology is mature, and there isn’t likely to be significant changes to it. So, given that, shouldn’t a business look to a contact automation solution provider that has laser focus and become the best at what it does?

When searching for a provider, it’s important to find one that will have no “model confusion” and can maintain its focus on doing the best it can for the end customer. Improving the experience for the end customer should always be the focus, and trying to provide too many types of solutions could move that focus off of the end customer and onto the technology and its upkeep.

What does your contact automation solutions provider specialize in? Do they offer your company continuous improvement?