Are You Checking Your Speech-Enabled Voice Channel?

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A major concern of small-business owners is what goes on when they are not present. Larger businesses create complex organizations to ensure that business keeps chugging along 24x7. Or so they believe.

As someone who just moved for the first time in 11 years, having to make changes with multiple businesses highlighted to me how poorly managed many companies are in 2016. Whether it is poor strategy, design, or people skills, it seems that unless customers do the exact same thing every day, some of America's biggest firms cannot manage their way through even small changes at the customer level.

Out of 20-plus companies that I had to interact with, only two experiences were pleasantly easy and led to outcomes that met my expectations. Like most Americans, I try to accomplish everything on the Web. Failing there (though I wasn't surprised that most of my attempts failed; I have been a naysayer about companies' digital channels for years because they often do not involve customer service operations), I picked up the phone—the old channel that has been around since Alexander Bell, and organized with contact centers that have been around since Dallas was America's No. 1 TV show. You're probably saying to yourself, "They must have gotten this right; calling a company isn’t something new!" Of course, you'd only think that if you haven't recently called the companies I did.

Alas, it seems that every great contact center manager of the '80s and '90s must have retired and been replaced by surplus Teddy Ruxpin dolls or Max Headroom clones. Sample problems: speech-enabled IVRs that haven't been tuned since, well, ever; incorrect routing to groups that don't even realize the relevant group exists; dead air while in queue; and disconnection of the voice circuit while in mid-call with a customer service rep.

Whether you outsource your entire speech-enabled voice channel or keep some or all of it in house, using your customers as canaries in a coal mine is not the way to do business in the 21st century. Your business could be dying and you'd have no warning of anything amiss until it was too late.

Think about your organizations' various customer touch points. Where do your customers interact with your organization? If you have brick-and-mortar storefronts, someone reviews those locations daily (local staff and management) and they likely are formally reviewed on a scheduled basis by district/regional management, as well as by a facilities team. If you have an Internet presence, your company allocates resources to test your site(s) and keep them updated (though too often not from a customer-effort standpoint). Now compare your voice channel and honestly answer if your organization provides an equal amount of skilled resources and associated tools to ensure that it treats this channel with the same care and respect as your other touch points.

The first step toward protecting your voice channel is to monitor it continuously for caller experience. Companies like Cyara, Empirix, and IQ Services (recently acquired by Integrated Research Ltd) provide such offerings as Pulse, VoiceWatch, and Heartbeat, respectively. These companies deliver monitoring services in the cloud or on premises, or in combination. By having the service check in every 15 minutes, as an example, you'd never be more than 14 minutes away, at the worst case, from discovering something's gone wrong.

The alternative is that millions of your calls each day are plagued by poor service, resulting in abandoned and redialed calls and making your workforce management more complex. Not to mention the negative experiences you are forcing customers to endure.

Some of the best voice channel outsource providers offer excellent monitoring services, but we still recommend that you have your own monitoring as a failsafe. It is the old fox guarding the henhouse conundrum.

And remember, don't rely on a customer (like me) calling your toll free number 24x7 and reporting back to you when something isn't working right. 

Kevin Brown is managing director at VoxPeritus, where he specializes in speech solutions and caller experience consulting. He has over 20 years of experience designing and delivering speech-enabled solutions on-premises and in hosted environments. You can reach him at kevin.brown@voxperitus.com.

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