Improving Customer Service- One Solution at a Time

Organizations throughout the world are proving everyday that speech improves customer service, decreases operational costs and drives top-line performance. If you were fortunate enough, as I was, to attend Nuance’s recent V-World event you were exposed to many successful deployments of speech technology. Here are a few speech success stories:

• Wright Patterson Air Force Base has deployed Philips’ Voice ReQuest(tm) auto-attendant product to quickly and efficiently route incoming and internal calls to its 20,000+ military personnel population.

•United Airlines has taken over 50 million calls since its SpeechWorks application went live at the end of 1999. This application has saved United Airlines over $25 million handling routine flight arrival and departure inquiries. The cost to handle a flight inquiry call went down from 65 cents to 16 cents with speech.

•1-800-PICK-UPS allows customers to voice their tracking number and receive shipment status, handling 120,000 daily calls with spikes up to 240,000. The Nuance deployment saved UPS 60-90 seconds per call, reduced costs by over $2 per call and generated a 100% payback on investment in three months.

•Speech recognition from SpeechWorks enabled the State of Michigan to save over $2 million each year using speech. The average cost per agent call is $1.65, compared to 15 cents per call with speech.

•Dreyfus Express is a Nuance solution enabling customers to access accounts, fund information and market/fund quotes. This solution shortened call duration by up to 43% and increased automated call completion by 18%. Investment payback was achieved in nine months with up to $1 million saved annually.

•Manulife’s call abandonment rate dropped by a ratio of three-to-one, and the average call time fell from 12 to two minutes after installing a solution from SpeechWorks. Per call cost has been cut to less than 40 cents compared to the $4 cost of agent-assisted calls.

•T. Rowe Price implemented an IBM WebSphere Voice Server with Natural Language Understanding (NLU) to allow its customers to access and manage their accounts by conducting natural conversations with an automated phone attendant. T. Rowe customers can access their 401(k) plans and check fund and account balances, fund prices and investment objectives - all by using natural sounding phrases.

•1-800-MERRILL is a Nuance solution that increased automation rates from 82% up to 90% with a savings of $6.3 million per year.

•An Amtrak speech solution provided by SpeechWorks handles 72% of train status calls; a 30% increase over their touch-tone system.

•University of Pennsylvania is currently deploying the Philips Voice ReQuest(tm) auto-attendant system to support the routing of internal and incoming calls for its 50,000 faculty, staff and students.

•A recent Datamonitor report (www.datamonitor.com) found that one-quarter of the Fortune 500 invested in voice business in 2001, up from 12% in 2000.

All of this evidence proves that speech technology is an effective means by which organizations can improve their overall operations. The speech technology industry has a great message that we must work diligently to deliver. Speech is an interface that customers will use and most importantly- want to use. Let’s be on the proactive side of delivering the message that speech technology is more than just a way for organizations to reduce operational costs, but it is also a solution to providing better customer service.

To me, this is similar to the debate in the late 70’s/early 80’s concerning the use of ATM’s by bank customers. Today if you walk down a street in New York you will find ATM’s with lines in front of the machine and tellers inside the bank with no customers. This does not mean that ATM’s have replaced tellers, obviously not, but they have certainly complemented them in a way that is similar to the way speech technology complements the call center agent. It is a simple fact that customers prefer automation to handle many of their requests. The speech technology industry is developing solutions that truly engage the customer rather than put them off as many touch-tone systems have done over the years.

There is a perception among some (particularly in the media) that automation, while cutting costs, does not improve service. We need to work together in a proactive way to make sure that the stories of speech’s success are told. John Kelly is the editor-in-chief of Speech Technology Magazine. He can be reached at john@amcommpublications.com.
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