Comcast and DIRECTV Tune Customers in Using Speech

Companies are increasingly turning to speech applications with the goal of providing customers with a world-class customer care experience.  Comcast and DIRECTV, two leaders in the cable/satellite industry, both recently deployed speech solutions with the goal of providing an excellent, innovative customer experience and staying ahead of their industry competitors. Both applications have received positive customer feedback and resulted in cost savings. The success of these deployments has positioned speech and natural language as key components of both Comcast and DIRECTV's customer care strategies.

Comcast Natural Language Troubleshooting

Comcast  is a leading provider of cable, entertainment and communications products and services with 21.4 million cable customers, 8.5 million high-speed Internet customers and 1.3 million voice customers in 35 states.  Comcast's call centers handle more than 28 million calls per month, approximately 35 percent of which are requests for technical support. 

Comcast constantly seeks ways to stay on the leading edge of the technology curve with its products, services and customer care applications.  The number of products and services offered by Comcast has grown during the past five years and demand for high speed Internet and Voice over IP services has increased. The growth of these products presented Comcast with a challenge - how to balance live agent and voice self-service support to provide the best possible customer experience and control costs.

Natural language speech technology using statistical language models (SLMs) was a logical evolution for Comcast, who is running many of their voice self service applications using dual tone multi-frequency (DTMF) or touchtone. Comcast wanted a phased deployment and decided to launch natural language technology for a single, high impact call type—high  speed Internet (HS-I) troubleshooting. 

Comcast partnered with West Interactive to design and develop a natural language-based troubleshooting application for Internet access, registration and installation issues. No support for these call types existed in the voice self-service application prior to the natural language deployment—callers were routed directly to a technical agent for support. During the design process, Comcast listened to recorded calls and conducted agent interviews to better understand the most frequent types of HS-I support calls and the standard troubleshooting path agents walk through to diagnose, confirm and resolve issues.  They also conducted application usability testing.

Today, when a high speed Internet customer calls into the 1-800-COMCAST IVR and selects "1 - trouble with your service" they are routed to the natural language prompt and hear "Briefly, tell me how I can help you today.  For example, you can say things like 'I can't access the Internet' or 'I need help with installation.'  So, what can I help you with?"  Callers can respond to the prompt with a phrase or sentence describing their problem - "I need help hooking up my Internet service to my new computer" or "We have the high speed Internet and today it seems to be frozen and I don't think it's my computer."  The natural language application captures the customer's response and interprets what is said to determine the caller's need and appropriate routing. 

Callers with a problem in one of the supported areas are routed to the troubleshooting application.  The application walks each customer through a series of steps in the same way that an agent would.  The customer is given an opportunity to perform self-service troubleshooting functions and respond whether or not the troubleshooting was successful.  Customers are given time to complete each action and can initiate the next troubleshooting step when ready.  At any point in the process, or if troubleshooting is complete and the problem is not resolved, a customer may opt to speak with an agent.  Customers may also provide feedback at the end of the process via an automated survey application.  The solution provides customers with the best of both worlds.

The natural language troubleshooting application was launched in February and is delivering tangible cost savings and customer service improvements for Comcast. The functionality was released in phases to Comcast markets nationwide and currently has a 94 percent correct accept in grammar rate on the SLM-based natural language prompt.

Since its deployment, the natural language functionality has enabled Comcast to reduce the number of calls transferred to HS-I technical agents by 7 percent.  This includes problems resolved within the automated troubleshooting process, deflected calls and mis-direct saves (calls not related to HS-I troubleshooting that would have previously been transferred to an HS-I agent). The application has also enabled a 16 percent reduction in HS-I technical support callbacks (within 90 minutes) and an improvement in call center service levels.  Initial customer feedback has also been very positive, with 26 percent of survey respondents giving Comcast a "perfect score" (five) in response to all survey questions. The average customer score in response to the survey is 4.3 out of a possible five.

DIRECTV Speech Enabled Pay-per-view Ordering and Service Installation

DIRECTV is a leading provider of digital television services with more than 15.1 million customers worldwide.  They are known within the industry for their excellent customer service and have won the JD Power award for customer satisfaction. 

As industry competition has increased and new players are entering the market, DIRECTV has been focused on maintaining their leadership position and continuing to bolster their brand image. DIRECTV executives were faced with a challenge—how to provide a world-class customer experience. 

DIRECTV's existing touchtone application for movie and event ordering was functioning well, but the company wanted to make it quicker and easier for their customers to complete their pay-per-view transactions. They also wanted to streamline the field installation process and reduce the overall customer acquisition cost.

DIRECTV worked with West Interactive to design and develop a speech-enabled solution with two key objectives—streamlining the pay-per-view movie and event ordering process and automating the installer activation process.

The first phase of this effort was the development of a speech-enabled solution for pay-per-view movie and event ordering. Before the speech application was deployed, customers were required to navigate through a series of touchtone menus to request their movie or event.  Callers were required to first specify using DTMF whether they would like to order a movie or an event. They were then required to enter the channel number for the movie/event to be ordered and if the channel number was not known, the caller was given an option to listen to an abbreviated list of movies and events or talk with an operator. Speech enabling this process simplified the menu navigation and reduced the number of decision points for the caller. A caller no longer needs to differentiate between movies and events and can now order their selection by saying the name or title for which they are looking. 

Speech-enabling the pay-per-view ordering process quickly enabled a 22 percent increase in DIRECTV's conversion rate and a reduction in the average pay-per-view order cost. This has resulted in an estimated cost savings of $1.2 million annually. 

During development of the pay-per-view ordering functionality, West also worked with DIRECTV to design and implement a speech-enabled service installation application. This application allows field installers to enter key installation data and activate a customer's service within the voice self-service application. While on site at the customer location, the installer speaks the manufacturer name, serial number, model number and receiver location for each customer receiver. Once all required data is gathered, an activation signal is sent to the receivers and the customer's service is activated.

Before the speech-enabled application was put in place, all installer calls were handled by an agent. Due to the complexity of the installation process, the average agent call took up to 14 minutes to complete. 

Processing field installation calls within the self-service application instead of with an agent has saved DIRECTV approximately $8 million annually. This savings is due to a 25 percent reduction in the average installation call length and a reduction in the average cost per installation.

Both of the above examples demonstrate the power of speech technology and its ability to transform the customer experience.  Both Comcast and DIRECTV have recognized customer service improvement and cost savings as a result of their speech deployments and are working to incorporate additional speech and natural language capabilities into their customer care roadmaps.

Bruce Pollock is vice president of professional services at West Interactive. He manages West's professional services and speech recognition businesses. Pollock is a member of the board of directors of the VoiceXML Forum and the American Voice Input-Output Society (AVIOS) as well as a member of the Editorial Advisory board for Speech Technology Magazine.


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