Wyndham Welcomes Guests With a New Voice

Given the improved capabilities of today's speech applications, many businesses are examining speech automation's potential for strategic, long-term business value. David Mussa, VP of reservations for Wyndham International, was one such executive, who - looking at his customer service - found that he had a veritable laundry list of reasons for moving to speech. 

Wyndham has been known for some time as an innovator and early adopter of technology that enhances business. In the department of answering incoming calls, Wyndham wanted some changes. Wyndham had a variety of voices greeting and servicing callers; inbound calls came in on several different toll-free lines, including some received by individual hotels and then transferred to the call center.

As such, one of Mussa's priorities was to unify Wyndham's voice. Mussa also wanted to give callers the choice of self-service specifically for hotel locations, reservations and confirmations, as well as implement a system that routed callers to the appropriate agent in the most efficient way possible.  Another goal was to enhance live agent efficiency. At Wyndham, live agents are compensated based on their sales conversion rates.  If non-revenue generating calls could be successfully automated, live agents could spend more time on sales calls and improve overall sales efficiency.

Speech applications were the answer to all the issues that Mussa faced and he decided to adopt a next-generation speech application solution to resolve the problems at hand and provide the best customer experience across all inbound calls.

Once Mussa identified speech as a logical technological solution, the selection process began; a process that took several months. Mussa looked for the solution that would provide self-service options for the largest spectrum of functions. Wyndham International needed a single speech application that could deliver the core components of Wyndham's customer service strategy and provide a consistent voice and persona to Wyndham's customers. The solution also needed to serve the broadest range of caller needs, including greeting callers, dispensing information, booking rooms, confirming and canceling reservations, and transferring calls and information smoothly to live agents. Not only did the speech solution have to receive complete customer acceptance across the full spectrum of automated calls, but it also needed to be both deployed quickly and changed easily.  Finally, achieving ROI as quickly as possible was a significant selection factor. 

During his search, Mussa found that speech applications require different deployment efforts for the different kinds of call types they serve. This is because each call type has different goals with unique information-gathering needs. Unfortunately, he also found that many traditional speech applications take six to12 months to implement each new type of call - too long for his business needs. Bearing all these factors in mind, he decided to go with a new generation of speech applications that possess the inherent ability to follow goal-oriented human-agent conversation that could deploy in two to three months.

Still, no matter how quickly a solution is deployed, it does not effectively serve the business it supports unless customers adopt the service quickly and are able to use it effectively.  Mussa found that this was where traditional solutions fall short; they effectively require callers to adapt to their limited options and rigid structure. But typical conversations for customer service are dynamic - when a caller calls a hotel line, expectations are usually goal-oriented, and most calls are not linear or robotic. Instead, there is a high degree of variability in even a simple conversation.  Mussa knew that customers sometimes call with partial information (such as knowing the destination city but not the exact dates) and they answer questions with different interaction styles and levels of comprehension.

In early March of 2004, Wyndham initially deployed two Voxify Automated Agents™.  A Welcome Agent was created to help route calls to appropriate call-center destinations.  A Hotel Locator Agent was put in place to do just what you'd surmise from the name: provide hotel specifics, including information about locations, amenities and proximity. This deployment was the first phase, as future implementations of Automated Agents™ would stand specifically on this rollout. 

The Voxify Automated Agents™ took their first live calls in week five, before going 24/7 at the start of week six, immediately completing 90 percent of incoming calls successfully.  Wyndham was also seeing a call savings of 85 percent, meaning for every $1.00 Wyndham spent for a live agent, they were spending $0.15 using an automated one.  Mussa's hopes for a quick ROI were also met, as they had a complete return on investment in less than two months, a full month ahead of schedule.  The ability for Mussa to absorb deployment costs in his operation budget and then recoup up-front investments in such a short time played a big part in evaluating the success of the new application. 

"Implementation went so smoothly that we were worried we were missing something.  It was the best IT implementation I have ever been involved with," said Mussa.  As it turns out, Wyndham's IT support group only needed to dedicate about a day to help out the process.

The first Automated Agents™ also achieved Mussa's goal of giving callers choices while utilizing self-service functions.  Securing a call completion rate of 90 percent, Mussa was assured that his callers were receiving the best possible call experience.  Wyndham's strategic use of speech also accomplished the goal of one voice, across all calls, available around the clock with zero wait-time.  Also, the impact of offloading calls that would have gone to live agents cannot be minimized. Wyndham's new speech deployment earned huge fans in the live-agent department, because calls that don't produce revenue were passed off to the Automated Agents™, clearing the way for live agents to focus on what they do best.  Moreover, the benefits extend a bit further, as happier live agents reduce internal call-center churn, a hidden benefit that has an unmistakable impact. 

The next phase included three more Automated Agents™, bringing the percentage of calls handled by Voxify to 45 percent.  Those new agents included a Loyalty Program Agent that serves members of its guest recognition program, Wyndham ByRequest, and helps perform functions such as assigning loyalty numbers to reservations; a Reservation Booking Agent that processes hotel reservations; and finally a Confirm and Cancel Agent that confirms hotel reservation information, such as the number of nights the traveler is staying, rates, confirmation numbers, etc.

Traditional systems are now being replaced by the next generation of speech applications that have the ability to strategically impact a company's success.  With this new wave of success, more and more companies are looking at what speech applications will do for them, and perhaps just as importantly, what they will do for their customers.  Clearly, the shorter the time it takes to get an application up and running, the better it will be for the bottom line, but speed should not compromise quality of service.  Wyndham found that the right choice is one that maximizes customer satisfaction for simple and complex types of calls alike, but can be deployed swiftly and painlessly.

Amit Desai is the CTO and founder of Voxify. Desai received a bachelor's degree in computer science from MIT.

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