Mood Rings Are Back

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Among the many fun consumer electronic products that Ambient Devices offers, the Ambient Orb, a frosted glass ball that glows different colors to communicate stock market trends, traffic congestion, weather forecasts, energy pricing, and more, is its most popular. The company didn’t need a crystal ball, though, to forecast trouble during the 2006 holiday season if it stayed with its existing customer support technology.

Ambient Devices, which is based in Cambridge, Mass., experienced a dramatic rise in call volume when its product availability jumped from a few thousand to a few hundred-thousand in about eight months. The company was receiving hundreds of calls per day and anticipated a significant increase as the 2006 holiday season neared. While business prospects looked really good for Ambient Devices, its existing customer support line lacked interactivity and an advanced queuing process, and customers began experiencing hold times in excess of five minutes.

“We knew we needed to be prepared for a lot more call volume during this holiday season than we had ever been before. With the previous system, we realized it would not be able to help us and that we would not be able to sufficiently handle the call volumes coming in,” says Pritesh Gandhi, vice president of operations at Ambient Devices.

Ambient was researching possible solutions for its call center when it stumbled across Angel.com on the Web. While the company was excited about the possibilities that speech technologies could afford, Ambient was most concerned with the set-up time, cost, and flexibility of the solution itself. “We were a small startup and had fairly limitedresources and didn’t want it to take up too much time trying to get it taken care of prior to the holiday season,” Gandhi explains. “Also, we weren’t sure if the automated voice response feature would be sufficient enough to be able to
handle the inquiries that came in.”

To ease the concern and risk associated with deploying a speech solution, Angel.com offered the company a 30-day free trial of its Virtual Call Center, a hosted call center management solution. During the trial period an Angel.com representative answered questions and evaluated Ambient’s requirements for the solution.

“Ambient was eager to provide automated responses to basic questions and handle new orders to allow live agents to devote their time to more advanced technical support questions,” says Kelly Brighton, director of marketing communications at Angel.com.

Ambient took Angel.com’s advice and chose the Virtual Call Center (VCC). Using Angel.com’s online toolkit Site-Builder, Ambient designed and built its own speech-enabled IVR in two days. The hosted service model allowed Ambient to bypass the VoiceXML coding step for its applications.

“Angel’s quick and easy site builder allows us to change our phone tree on the fly, ensuring we’re up-to-date and accurate
for every customer, every time,” says Noah Feehan, customer service lead for Ambient Devices.

The VCC enhanced Ambient’s call queuing and added routing capabilities to the company’s current menu options with a speech-enabled IVR front end. The company also used the IVR to enable customers to get answers to common questions, such as coverage or, in the case of the Brookstone 5-Day Wireless Weather Forecaster, the city codes being covered. The call center solution also allows customers to order products or get technical support through separate self-service lines.

The customer is greeted by the speech system and offered the option of self-service or to hold for an agent. The customer navigates the system by speaking a question/request or by pressing buttons for touchtone navigation. If the customer selects self-service, then she can opt to place a product order, make a payment, or get automated technical support.

The VCC integrates with Ambient’s customer database to provide personalized information at the time of the call. The information is provided based on the number from which the call is being placed. It automatically gives the caller information related to previous interactions. It can, for example, provide order status based on previous purchases.

“With Angel.com no call is a mystery: we know who is calling, what it concerns, and how to help,” Feehan adds.

Angel.com offers standard reports on Ambient’s call volume, call history, and call queue usage, as well as customized reports on caller activity. Ambient is using these reports to measure how many calls are being answered by the system vs. a live agent, how long the caller is on the phone, where the call is coming from, the main reasons for the call, and wait times for callers seeking more information or assistance from a live agent.

“The statistics that Angel.com provides allow us to analyze the day’s calls instantaneously. We can spot trends before they become a crisis,” Feehan explains.

The customized reporting for caller activity enables Ambient to identify and diagnose problems and then make changes to the system on the fly to fit the needs of the callers. However, this was not the most impressive part of the speech system to Ambient. “The rate at which it was able to help answer questions up front for customers was by far the most impressive,” Gandhi states.

Every day, the automated system answers and completes between 30 percent and 40 percent of all incoming calls, which has saved the company the equivalent of one full-time employee’s time and cost. The system also cut caller wait time for a live operator in half, from an average of five minutes to less than three minutes.

“By automating many common tasks, the new Angel.com system was able to free up agents to handle more important customer inquiries resulting in not only decreased on-hold times, but also in proper caller routing to the most appropriate support representative, both of which increase customer satisfaction,” Brighton explains.

“Using the Angel.com system, our customers can now have basic questions answered in an automated way without delay, and in the process we have gained a better understanding of their needs,” Gandhi says.

Ambient is also considering expanding the self-service menu to help answer more questions through the automated system. The company is currently looking at the number of calls answered by live agents and hopes to push more of the frequently asked questions through the speech system by the early summer.

“This is a great example of an effective IVR solution, Angel.com CEO Michael Zerngibl says. “Ambient Devices’ customers benefit from an effective, streamlined process, and the company benefits by having happier customers, reduced hold times, and a new and growing set of
data to analyze and leverage.”

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