Speech Makes an Impact

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Mail and document management technology vendor Pitney Bowes handles more than 9 million customer contacts each year through three main call centers in Norfolk, Va., Appleton, Wis., and Spokane, Wash., plus a few smaller offshore facilities. Of those calls, 7 million are inbound from customers related to technical support, product information, and billing questions. The other 2 million contacts are outbound calls primarily regarding collections. 

Some of these interactions require the roughly 1,000 agents to navigate through multiple computer screens, applications, and systems. For managers charged with evaluating agent performance during the calls, keeping track of everything was almost impossible.

So in February 2008, the Stamford, Conn.-based company’s Customer Care Services Division started rolling out the Impact 360 product suite from Verint Witness Actionable Solutions to provide a standard quality assurance, speech analytics, interaction recording, and agent performance analysis platform across all of those interactions. In doing so, it replaced an outdated call recording system from Witness Solutions (which became part of Verint in May 2007). 

“That platform was so old that we had no choice,” says Emily Danese, manager of process re-engineering at Pitney Bowes. “One of the servers it was on was on its last legs.”

Impact 360 is a full suite of business solutions that provides a wide range of functionality, including call recording, speech analytics, quality assurance, workforce and performance management, customer surveys, business intelligence, and more. In fact, Danese calls it “a whole change management solution because it’s looking at so many things” within the call center and beyond.

Pitney Bowes invested in Impact 360 mainly to streamline training and agent development, but found the solution has also helped improve motivation and morale among its associates, subsequently increasing their performance levels. As a side benefit, Pitney Bowes says that it has been able to reduce costs related to agent turnover.

With Impact 360 as the cornerstone of their quality assurance program, supervisors can spend more time coaching associates. Gone is the cumbersome practice of setting up manual recorders and searching through tapes. 

“The greatest benefit of putting in Impact 360 across our entire organization was that now we could get the calls that we needed,” Danese says. “We could finally find the calls. With our old system, it was like looking for a needle in a haystack.”

The solution also allows managers to skip to certain parts within the calls. That has not only saved the managers time, but it has also enhanced their productivity because “they can do more evaluations in the same amount of time,” Danese says.

And it also helps that the solution allows them to capture a snippet of the conversation that can then be sent to the agent as an email attachment while she is still on a call or after she ends the customer conversation. “If an agent is not doing something well, we can send her a snippet of how it was done before,” Danese notes. “We can also flag calls where agents do something well.”

Another nice feature of the solution is its ability to be preprogrammed for compliance with call recording regulations. Prior to implementing Impact 360, it was difficult to identify calls placed to states requiring two-party notifications for taping. Verint’s system allowed Pitney Bowes to load the area codes of those states into the system beforehand.

Beyond the Phone Channel

In addition to reviewing customer conversations, Pitney Bowes call center managers can also evaluate the agents’ corresponding desktop activities to make sure they are following company procedures and using their technological resources effectively, and to keep track of how much time they are spending on each call. This has played a key role in helping the company assess the effectiveness of its sales pitches and the upsell and cross-sell language used by agents. “We’ve adopted more of a focus on coaching the agents, getting them to use more customer-friendly language,” Danese maintains.

The result: Revenue is up, and call-handling time is down by as much as 10 to 20 seconds per call, “which is substantial when you are talking about millions of calls,” Danese states.

As an added benefit, the speech analytics components in Impact 360 not only lets managers segment out agents with a disproportionate number of calls with longer handling times, but they can also segment out the different call types. “We are starting to evaluate why customers are calling and starting to look at how the agents are leveraging the applications with each call type,” Danese explains. “We are focusing a lot on retention and changing some of our processes around retention. We’re looking at the customers who are calling in and how we flag at-risk customers. We can take a better look at them now to see if there are commonalities.”

Despite their high amount of functionality, the Impact 360 solutions were relatively easy to install. The company bolted on the last piece, the speech analytics capabilities, in May 2008. “It was a phased rollout across all three operations at once. It all happened within a two- to three-month period,” Danese recalls. “That was a function of having the right resources at the sites at the right time. We had Verint and our own IT resources at the sites so we could triage if needed.”

A potential problem with the installation, though, was that the speed with which the deployment proceeded gave Pitney Bowes very little time to address one of the key sticking points with the technology: “The agents were scared at first. This is Big Brother on steroids,” Danese says.

The company made a concerted effort to position the solutions as tools for positive reinforcement, “so that agents could see it as something that can benefit them,” she continues. “It’s critical to take the approach that this will make [the agents] more productive, emphasizing how it can help them succeed rather than pointing out all the things they’re doing badly. It’s not a ‘gotcha’ tool but a ‘Here’s how we can help you’ tool.”

Pitney Bowes currently records 100 percent of the calls and transcribes about 58 percent of them, according to Danese. One goal moving forward is to scale back the number of transcriptions. “It’s a high sampling, and we definitely want to tone it down,” she says. “We wanted to make sure early on that we had a sufficient sampling to overcome skepticism.”

That skepticism is no longer an issue. In fact, Impact 360 has been so effective for Pitney Bowes thus far that the company is reportedly considering installing it within its supply line group in Shelton, Conn., and at several of its offshore call centers.

“Right now, we’re in the process of defining those requirements,” Danese explains. “Solutions like this are critical as companies become more customer-centric, and this tool helps us to make a better customer experience, hopefully as fast as possible.

“With our previous system, it was labor-intensive,” she adds. “This is a lot more efficient and effective.”

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