Speech Technology Magazine

 

Self-Service Becomes Multichannel

A wireless carrier adds text capabilities to its IVR channel to expand customer choice.
By Adam Boretz - Posted Nov 1, 2008
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A few years ago, when T-Mobile Czech—which provides mobile phone service to more than 5 million people in the Czech Republic—was looking for an application server to power its self-service phone portal, it chose VoiceObjects.

And when it wanted to upgrade its system to allow for self-service text messaging, it didn’t need to look very far—it simply went with what had already been working and upgraded to the new VoiceObjects 7.

"We upgraded to VoiceObjects 7 because of their multichannel approach," says Jan Safka, senior head of voice and mobile services at T-Mobile Czech. "We decided on VoiceObjects because of the flexibility, ease of making changes, and because of reporting."

According to Safka, T-Mobile Czech, the local arm of the German telecom giant, originally went with VoiceObjects due to the inflexibility found in many older interactive voice response (IVR) platforms. Many of these other systems required IT personnel to program changes manually, which was a time-consuming process.

"This takes anywhere from weeks to months, so that’s why we chose VoiceObjects," Safka says. With VoiceObjects, "changes could be done easily," he adds, noting the importance of VoiceObjects’ new multichannel capability. "VoiceObjects gave us a fantastic tool so that we could implement a new channel—which was this Unstructured Supplementary Service Data (USSD)—within weeks." 

Bonnie Crater, senior vice president of marketing for VoiceObjects, echoed the importance of USSD and the multichannel approach for T-Mobile. "They’re not only able to implement a voice system, they’re able to implement a text system that is super low cost for them," she says.

Crater also notes that VoiceObjects’ software allows customers to build applications to suit their needs. "They use a standard that’s built into the network—it’s called USSD," she says. "They’ve implemented the same set of menus in their text system that they have for their voice system, and this is sort of a simple recompilation basically. A couple days later, you have another system customers can access through the text channel. That’s a unique capability. Only VoiceObjects can do that."

And that capability allows T-Mobile Czech to tailor its system to the needs and desires of its customers.

"We want to offer the customer freedom of choice so that he can choose whatever channel he wants. As long as it is self-service, we want to support him," says Safka, who notes that up to 75 percent of customers are using T-Mobile Czech’s self-service capabilities. "Different people have different behaviors. Some are more visual and would like to see what they are doing. Some are more vocal and would like to hear the voice. And we would like to give them the opportunity to use the channel of preference." 

Citing a customer survey from earlier this year, Crater notes the success of T-Mobile Czech’s partnership with VoiceObjects: "They have 90 percent customer satisfaction over the IVR, so that’s very good. Their hold times, of course—to get an agent—are much reduced because a lot of the traffic is going to their self-service system. It has been a very significant business impact for them, and they’re excited about this system."

According to Safka, T-Mobile Czech’s efforts have received a warm reception, and most customers actually prefer the text channel to the traditional IVR.

"Eighty percent of the whole IVR tree we changed or we have moved to USSD," Safka says. "We put there—instead of sound cards—text, which we have written and which needs to be different from IVR. The structure and the business logic behind it and all the…connections remain the same, which gives us the flexibility that whenever we change something, then we change it across all channels, and we know we haven’t forgotten something. And it gives [the customer] the possibility to choose whatever channel he wants, and he will always get the same service and the same steps and the same familiar look and feel."

Because T-Mobile Czech was already working with VoiceObjects, Safka says the transition to version 7 was simple.

"The implementation was quite smooth," he says. "[VoiceObjects 7] was already on the market for three months. We knew what we should expect, and we knew what needed to be upgraded. And it wasn’t the first time we upgraded VoiceObjects. So our technology guys had experience with it. They did upgrades on version 6 and even on version 5. So no major challenges. I’d say the upgrade was within one or two days."


A Cheaper Option
Both Safka and Crater also cite time savings, resource savings, and revenue generation as major benefits of VoiceObjects 7.

"This is where the cost equation is really important," says Crater, who is quick to point out that sending and receiving text messages is cheaper than calling into an IVR, which is much cheaper than talking to a live agent. 

"One of the things about T-Mobile is that in their IVR system with VoiceObjects, they have a big focus on revenue generation. Right now the customer service department as a whole contributes about half the revenue to the company," Crater continues. "And in their last count, 27 percent of that revenue from customer service comes through the IVR—people topping off minutes, they’re changing service plans, and they’re using these applications for revenue-generating programs. So, of course, they’re very excited about this because it’s a very low-cost sales channel for them. Customers are self-serving and buying more stuff from T-Mobile Czech without having any agent involved."

According to Safka, the ability to generate revenue with VoiceObjects has led to an excellent return on investment.

"The return on the investment is definitely very high, and the major benefits are based on the flexibility, which gives us the opportunity to do much more cross-sells and upsells," Safka says. "About 27 percent of cross-sells and upsells in customer service…are being done through IVR, and this is mostly because of VoiceObjects, because of the flexibility."

Safka also praises VoiceObjects’ ability to help T-Mobile Czech better understand its customers. "With VoiceObjects you get complete customer insight, which means you know where customers are going," he says. "It gives you complex insight, and you also get a lot of standup reports with VoiceObjects that enable you to see the customer."

Safka spoke highly of the partnership between VoiceObjects and T-Mobile Czech and the companies’ ability to influence each other’s products and services. "We are trying to influence their road map, as well, because we feel that we are one of their partners," he explains. "And we have regular talks on my level and also on the local level. We are trying to influence their road map based on our needs and what we think that the customer wants. So it’s really a partner relationship. This partner is quite important to us, and I think it’s beneficial for both sides."

Crater agrees. "T-Mobile Czech is a really important customer of ours because they helped us specify our ability to do multiple channels," she says. "So when you build an application with VoiceObjects, you can implement it as a voice application, text application, mobile Web application, or video application. [T-Mobile Czech was an] early customer of ours in the text area—this USSD support—and so they helped us really define where we were going. We worked closely on that, so it’s a tight relationship with them."

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