On the Road to Success
As a result of double-digit business growth both in assets and the number of contracts it maintains, Volkswagen Financial Services (VWFS) was experiencing growing pains, particularly in its call center. Agents were handling the ever-growing volume of calls, but long hold times had become a chronic problem. Calls coming into the call center were not segmented and, therefore, had to be answered by general agents. Agents spent significant amounts of time just qualifying callers before service.
To tackle all of this while maintaining its high standard of customer service and without having to hire additional agents, VWFS—a wholly owned subsidiary of Volkswagen, largely responsible for managing the more than $81 billion in assets and worldwide financial activities of the German automaker, its subsidiaries, employees, and customers—knew it had to partially or fully automate its call center interactions to achieve greater efficiency. The solution came in the form of a VoiceXML-based self-service voice portal from VoiceObjects. It includes VoiceObjects Server (a phone application server) and VoiceObjects Desktop (a graphical user interface for creating, testing, deploying, and monitoring phone self-service applications). The 90-port interactive voice response system is built on the Genesys Voice Platform (GVP) from Genesys Telecommunications Laboratories. Nuance Communications is the provider of the speech recognition and text-to-speech software.
This new self-service banking voice portal immediately helped VWFS manage its incoming call load more effectively. Now when customers call the financial services provider—whose primary service offerings include savings and investment products through a direct banking division; car, work disability, and unemployment insurance; leasing; fleet management; and auto financing—the voice portal collects their account information and authenticates their identities. Information can be entered into the system by voice or touch-tone input. Callers are then offered the choice of completing their transactions through the voice portal or connecting to an agent when one becomes available.
Through the voice portal, callers can get account information, transfer money, pay bills, change their personal identification numbers (PINs), set or adjust the availability of funds in their savings accounts, and perform a few other functions. Dynamic menus and call flows generate spontaneous interactions that take into account the caller’s prior activities and preferences. The voice portal offers 24/7/365 availability.
Within weeks after deploying the new voice portal, more than 90 percent of VWFS’s customers who had used the system reported being very satisfied with it.
For VWFS’s customer base of 8.5 million people throughout 37 countries, around-the-clock access to their accounts is a huge benefit. "Our agents are on the line from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., but now customers can call us when they want," says Stephan Schneider, project manager at VWFS.
Having the voice portal collect account information and authenticate the caller at the start of the interaction has not only reduced holding and call handling times, but it has allowed VWFS to transform its general agent pool into skills- and task-based teams that can handle calls based on the nature of the inquiry. It has also freed the contact center’s 300 agents to handle other functions, like engaging in cross-sell and up-sell activities during calls, offering more in-depth consultations, and performing other bank projects within the customer care unit.
That was one of the main reasons VWFS decided to implement a voice solution. "With voice, we want to generate business, not just lower costs with automation," Schneider says.
Of course, lowering costs continues to be a main goal as well. VWFS ultimately would like to eliminate the costs associated with about 30 agents within five years, but it’s not close to reaching that goal yet. Current savings are roughly the equivalent of costs associated with six agents. "Our savings are less than we planned because the growth of the company is higher than we expected," Schneider says.
He points out, however, that automation will not replace the agents. "If they are free, we put them in other places where we were having problems," he says.
Also hampering the savings has been a slow acceptance of the voice portal by customers. Though VWFS’s call centers received 6 million calls last year (amounting to 2,000 to 3,000 calls per day), currently only about 10 percent of all customer interactions are being done through the voice portal. Of those, roughly 20 percent are being resolved end to end without ever needing an agent.
VWFS would, of course, like those numbers to be much higher, but "acceptance by the customer is not yet where we want it to be," Schneider admits. "We have many customers who do not want to talk to a machine. They say it’s nice to have, but they want to talk to a live agent. Or they will use it for some transactions, but they want to talk to an agent for others."
That is especially true of older customers who are more accustomed to talking to a live person. "There is still not a lot of confidence in machines, especially among the older generation. Our younger customers are more familiar with [the technology] because they use it all the time with other companies," Schneider says.
As with any solution, a lack of customer awareness of the telephone option could be a factor. "We’re working on it," Schneider says. "We’re sending out mailings and making outbound calls to tell people about it."
Schneider is confident that use of the voice portal and customer comfort with the technology will grow, especially since a high volume of VWFS’s transactions are now performed online. And once customer acceptance is at a higher level, he hopes to add other banking functions to the voice portal’s capabilities.
Having the flexibility to make application changes quickly and easily without server downtimes was one of the key reasons that VWFS chose the VoiceObjects solutions. For Schneider, it also helped that VoiceObjects was easy to implement and maintain, would allow him to protect the significant technology investments VWFS had already made, and could integrate with its existing SAP customer relationship management and enterprise resource planning applications, Jetty Web application server, and Oracle databases. In addition, VWFS can analyze real-time application and system statistics using SAP’s business intelligence software in combination with VoiceObjects Analyzer and Infostore.
"It was a quick development. The application did not take long to put in," he says. "We had to develop connectors to our back-end systems, but the design was the longest part—how it would look and feel, which text we would use, and what processes we would include."
Implementation took roughly four months to complete. Luckily, "we did not have to put in the VoiceXML code," Schneider maintains. "Drag-and-drop made it easier to follow the process."