Implementing a Bright IVR Idea
Bright House Networks, a digital cable TV, phone, and Internet service provider, was launched in 2003 with the promise of putting customers in control. The company’s Central Florida Division, which serves 800,000 residential customers in nine Florida counties, is making good on that promise with an interactive voice response (IVR) system that has more than doubled the number of customers using the self-service option since it was installed in April 2005. In fact, the calls handled through self-service have risen by 130 percent in the last two years.
The IVR solution, Aspect Software’s Customer Self-Service voice portal, has also cut the number of internal call transfers in half. By routing
the customer to the right agent the first time, the application has helped Bright House maximize agent resources, significantly reduced queue
times, and saved the company enough money to justify the cost of a complete system. The system in this case includes a full 24-hour customer service line for sales, billing, technical support, and other inquiries.
The application employs a speech recognition engine from Nuance Communications, and with it, customers can use their voices to check account balances, make payments, confirm or cancel service appointments, reset equipment, and find out about or report service outages. A prompt early in the menu allows callers to conduct their inquiries in Spanish or English.
All calls come into one central location and are distributed across four inbound contact centers, staffed by 600 agents who are segmented
into two groups—universal agents who handle sales, billing, and service appointment requests, and specialized agents who provide technical support for the Internet and phone offerings. The four contact centers and central location are all linked with Bright House’s own fiber infrastructure.
In addition to the Customer Self-Service application, Bright House also employs Aspect’s Enterprise Contact Server, a computer telephony integration (CTI) layer that handles the call routing and screen pop to the agent’s computer; eWorkforce management, a software tool that helps plan agent schedules and tasks based on expected call volumes, staffing levels, skill sets, and availability; and Aspect’s DataMart, an enterprise reporting tool and consolidation layer that pulls data from each of the four call centers to give Bright House historical and real-time reporting capabilities.
With DataMart, “we monitor thousands of calls so we can determine all the utterances that a customer can make, and then fine tune the application to meet their needs,” says Bill Sievers, vice president of customer care at Bright House.
The entire solution took only six months to deploy across all four locations. Prior to implementing it, callers had to either connect with a live agent or navigate through an unpopular and ineffective touchtone system that had been in place for several years.
When it finally decided to implement the speech solution, Bright House did so because “we felt that speech technology was mature enough that it was ready for deployment,” Sievers says. And the company is glad it did.
“There was going to be a lot of new data and technology available to the CSRs on their desktops, and we knew the customer experience was going to be different,” he admits. “Through the CTI and speech recognition, we’ve turned everything upside down.
“We wanted to differentiate ourselves from our competition, and one way to do that was to brand our service as easy to use,” Sievers explains. “The speech application has made it a lot easier for our customers to communicate their needs. The DTMF often forced them down a menu tree that they didn’t want to use.”
By taking advantage of the flexibility that speech recognition technology adds, Bright House was able to automate processes, such as address collection, that could not be handled with the DTMF system. It also was able to take advantage of other speech technologies, such as text-to-speech and voiceprint identification.
Today, callers to the Central Florida call centers are “greeted by a friendly voice that seems to know why they are calling right away,” Sievers says.” That’s due in large part to an automated function that logs the number from which a caller is dialing and uses it to retrieve relevant account and other data prior to routing the call.
“The auto number identity tells us a lot about a customer when he calls in. We can customize the script in the IVR for that specific customer,” Sievers explains. “If he has a service appointment scheduled, we know that right away and can tailor that into the dialogue.”
Bright House is constantly tuning and tailoring its speech application in many other ways as well. Even prior to the implementation, during the testing phase, all Bright House front-line employees were required to call in and give recommendations for enhancements. Each of the 600 comments was considered, along with research conducted before and after the implementation and input gathered from focus groups.
One of those focus groups, assembled just nine months after the application went live, revealed growing satisfaction with the self-service option, up from 35 percent with the previous system to more than 45 percent with its current one. In fact, many customers in that group commented that the new system was “better than most” or “the best they’ve seen.”
“Our focus groups have shown that people prefer this,” Sievers says.
To support his statement, Sievers has the backing of J.D. Power & Associates, which awarded Bright House the top spot in customer service, billing, and image among residential telephone service providers in the Southeast (covering Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, North Carolina, South Carolina, Mississippi, and Tennessee) last year. J.D. Power & Associates also named it the best cable/satellite TV provider in customer satisfaction, billing, image, and offerings/promotions in the South (covering Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Arkansas, Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas). It has also been named top satellite cable provider in the southern United States, and second-best Internet service provider in the country.
“We’ve done a lot of improvements, and we’ve won two J.D. Power & Associates Awards for customer service as a result,” Sievers notes. “The speech application truly is the foundation of it. Speech recognition is one reason weenjoy the image that we have.”
The J.D. Power & Associates awards “demonstrate our commitment to giving customers what they want, when they want it,” adds John Rigsby, president of Bright House Networks Florida Group office. “All of us at Bright House Networks work diligently to provide stellar customer service.
“We believe our success in customer satisfaction can be directly attributed to our long-standing commitment to customer service,” Rigsby says. “Our customer service centers are local and our operators are available 24 hours per day, seven days per week, including holidays.”
But Bright House is not resting on its laurels. In addition to implementing a speech-enabled customer survey application, the company is looking to further improve its speech application with Nuance Communications’ Speak Freely product. It hopes to have that up and running in the fall, and, once it’s rolled out, it should reduce internal transfers by another 50 percent. “It will open up with ‘Tell us why you’re calling,’ and with that, we can redirect callers even more to the right level of support,” Sievers explains.
“So far, it’s been a truly great application for us,” Sievers maintains. “It’s driving a lot of efficiencies for us. We really hit a home run with this.”