Speech Is an Outright Success
With 30,000 calls coming in per month, The OutRight Co. UK Ltd. could not continue to misdirect 23 percent of its incoming calls on the first routing attempt. Almost 7,000 calls per month were getting routed to the wrong person, not only wasting time for callers and agents, but also causing untold damage to its overall corporate image.
The company, which provides car, motorcycle, home, and travel insurance to brokers and corporate clients throughout the United Kingdom, had been running an ineffective call center that fed off an equally ineffective, labor-intensive, and costly touchtone call routing application.
To battle the surmounting confusion and frustration of misdirected callers, OutRight began an extensive search in December 2005 for an alternative to its touchtone application, one that would not only improve call routing, but also automate routine calls to its call center in Stoke-on-Trent, England. The company ultimately settled on speech technologies from IBM and Fluency Voice.
“Speech recognition was a perfect fit to enable us to partially automate the routine calls we deal with in our call center, as well as reduce our call abandonment rates and queuing time, which in turn would help us to provide a better caller experience,” explains Ray Westwick, head of business partnerships at OutRight.
The solutions it chose to implement combine the voice recognition and textto- speech applications found in IBM’s WebSphere Voice Server with the Router functions of the Fluency Virtual Speech Agent (VSA), a packaged suite of applications that can be deployed together or work independently of one another. Though the complete VSA suite offers five applications, OutRight is currently only using Fluency’s Router application. It is, however, looking at possible usecase scenarios for the Identification and Verification with Status application, the Payment Capture application, and the VSA Locator application, all three of which are also contained within Fluency’s VSA. It is also developing a speechenabled travel insurance quick quote option that will enable the capture of key information, such as the caller’s name, destination, number of people with whom he will be traveling, and trip occurrence, to provide the caller with a travel insurance quote. Once the application gives the caller a quote, he can be transferred to a live agent to buy the policy.
OutRight purchased 30 virtual agents (ports), though it is only using 10 of them right now. The additional 20 ports in reserve will allow it to expand operations as needed. By January of last year, OutRight, together with the two vendors, had ironed out the details of equipment requirements, virtual and live agent tasks, the types of questions and prompts to be included in the applications, the order in which the questions and prompts would be handled, and the test cases.
“Project initiation was fairly straightforward. We were looking for a solution to call routing problems and speech seemed the ideal middle group between accurate but expensive live agents and inaccurate and cheap DTMF,” explains Paul Newman, infrastructure manager at OutRight. Two months later, the hardware and software were deployed. Fluency then took OutRight through three days of crash-course training on speech recognition, voice user interface design, application testing, prompt recording, and configuring the virtual agents. OutRight began a pilot phase of the new applications last April, testing a small portion of the calls to be automated with speech. It monitored these calls and determined that changes were required for the audio and the order in which prompts were given. Once the changes were in place, the solution was rolled out. The system greets callers with a company- specific message, offers them a menu that takes them through various insurance quotes for their selected options, and then transfers them to the appropriate live agent when they are ready to buy.
After deploying speech, the call center has experienced a 20 percent drop in misdirected calls. “We now have circa 8,000 calls per calendar month that are delivered to the correct point the first time, which has resulted in reduced overhead costs, better response times, and has enabled us to offer a more superior service all round,” Westwick says. With improved first-time routing, agents now spend less time dealing with calls for other departments. Their time is now spent handling more complex and revenue-generating transactions. As a result, overhead costs have been reduced by eliminating the need for the temporary staff that were often employed to field calls during operating hours. Another benefit has been the ability to collect accurate statistics regarding the volume of cases successfully transferred to the relevant skill set. OutRight continues to monitor 400 calls per day, and tracks dropout rates at all parts of the application. OutRight also audits the performance of the application with Fluency. “If they are not confident with anything that they have designed, or if they want a second opinion on anything that they have put together using VSA, then they can call us in to audit their virtual speech agents, to check that they are running well, and that they are asking questions in the right way,” explains Caroline Leathem a consultant at Fluency. “From that perspective, we haven’t been called in to do an audit because they are comfortable with what they currently have.” “The thing that impressed us most with the Fluency VSA product was the speed and ease with which applications could be deployed, and that, because we are able to do this in house, it makes it an extremely cost-effective solution,” Newman says. “OutRight was a very good customer. They were an early adopter of our software, so they received a special deal for being flexible with us,” Leathem says. “It worked very well. They were the very best possible early adopter that we could have. They were enthusiastic about speech; they view it in the right way.” “Standing still just isn’t an option at OutRight” Westwick explains. Customers now demand 24/7 self-service, and that is exactly what we can provide with the IBM WebSphere Voice Server/Fluency VSA Suite solution. The opportunity to improve service levels, reduce costs, and maintain an all-important competitive edge is boosted significantly with the application of speech recognition across our business. “We operate in a fast moving and highly competitive marketplace and are passionate about the role that technology can play in increasing the speed and efficiency of our service while also improving the customer experience,” Westwick continues. “Speech recognition, when used appropriately, can deliver immense benefit to our organization in terms of reduced overhead, better response times, and an optimized and competitively superior service. This impacts customer service and retention, but significantly benefits regulated industries such as ours with improved compliance.”