The Best Response to a Tough Economy

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Managing the paradox of business—doing more with less—has become a daunting task given the current recession. Slowed economic growth, rising unemployment, and falling stocks have businesses wondering how to maintain profitability and viability. 

How should companies respond to the crisis? If history teaches us anything, the key to success is in a company’s ability to focus on its core business while improving its focus on customers. To do so, enterprises must determine whether now is the time to spend money to make money, and if so, where to spend limited resources. 

A decade from now, business survivors will remember investments in speech technology as their smartest moves to keep customers first. Bill Lenhart, a partner at BDO Seidman, recommends the following tips for businesses to survive the recession:

  1. take fast and decisive action;
  2. develop a comprehensive approach;
  3. manage costs with targeted and timely reporting;
  4. manage operating results proactively; and
  5. conduct internal assessments for possible restructuring.

To drive a superior customer experience, companies must enhance business performance by applying the right mix of technology-based self-service and agent-assisted care to support customer interactions from the front line to the back office.

How does this apply to speech technology? First, the self-service voice portal is the main customer-facing application. Businesses must see its importance to their survival, and evolve and optimize it to increase customer satisfaction. 

Second, the current infrastructure must be assessed at all levels, from the physical hardware to the customer-facing application. A strategic plan that meets the needs of the current business plan—with the nimbleness and foresight to address ever-changing customer demands—must be developed and documented. Here are a few questions that need to be asked about the voice portal to increase customer satisfaction and reduce costs:

  • Does the current solution meet customer demand? Does the customer get the information he is calling for in a timely and pain-free fashion?
  • Can advances in speech recognition, like natural language understanding, improve retention rates and/or customer satisfaction?
  • Do emerging multimodal technologies reduce costs or drive customer satisfaction?
  • Does the current solution allow for the best use of resources? Do legacy systems need to be replaced to allow the best options for new technology deployments and staffing? 
  • Can we improve our ability to quickly assess actual results and use those results to drive needed change?

Third, once complete, the plan will not only act as a road map but also as a gap analysis for driving change. Business owners have realized that other customer touch points could be automated through the voice portal and have launched projects to realize savings quickly. 

Fourth, consider outsourcing this functionality through a hosted speech arrangement. Enterprises have realized the following benefits:

  • improved customer satisfaction;
  • reduced expenses through a lower total cost of ownership;
  • business growth by leveraging upsell opportunities;
  • improved uptime and reduced risk; and
  • an ability to cope with market and technology advances by ensuring access to required skills, while remaining focused on core competencies. 

Hosting frees company resources to focus on core business initiatives while limiting capital expenditure. Drawing on industry expertise to manage the voice portal nets successful management of the “do more with less” paradox. The total net cost of a customer-owned and operated solution without considering human capital is more than the cost of hosting the solution with a world-class provider. 

Fifth, the procurement and deployment of an end-to-end contact center solution must be wisely managed to ensure success. Managing costs and results through timely and proactive reporting is key. Closely tracking and charting associated costs lends itself to ongoing justification of the budget required to further optimize the solution. However, this can’t be to the detriment of the overall project delivery. 

Finally, continued review of results through accurate and substantive data gives companies what they need for continual improvement that drives a positive customer experience.

The planning and decisions will not be easy, but they must be part of an end-to-end customer management plan that oversees the entire customer relationship in a more comprehensive manner across multiple channels. Investments in the enterprise customer voice portal are required for long-term success in today’s experience-based economy.

Scott Manghillis is director of hosted contact center technology and business development at Convergys. He can be reached at scott.manghillis@convergys.com.

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