The 2007 Implementation Awards
In our first installment of the Speech Industry Implementation Awards, we recognize companies that have garnered impressive results from their recent speech technology deployments. In addition to financial returns, this year’s winners also recognized soft returns—such as productivity gains, improved efficiencies, and better customer satisfaction scores—from their speech technology deployments. The four winners this year span three industries: financial services, telecommunications, and healthcare. While three out of the four winners (Wachovia, Telecom New Zealand, and Bright House Networks) implemented speech technologies to improve their customer service efforts, one organization, Church of God Home, implemented speech to improve the quality of care provided to nursing home residents. Read on to learn more about their success stories.
Customer: WachoviaThe Results:
• automated more than 160 million calls in 2006;
• migrated 100 percent of bank customers from touchtone to speech in three months;
• maintained top ranking in University of Michigan Customer Satisfaction Survey;
• reduced 2007 IVR platform cost per contact by 20 percent;
• improved speech-user IVR customer satisfaction 33 basis points (based upon independent satisfaction surveys); and
• cut average call length to less than two minutes.
Wachovia Corp., a $730 billion financial services company, was shifting to XML-based technology to share information across the enterprise. But to do so, it needed to make wholesale changes to its IVR technology, according to Nancy Staley, Wachovia’s vice president of retail distribution technology.
"We needed to do a technology refresh on our whole IVR platform," she says, adding that VoiceXML is a critical element to integrated service across all of Wachovia’s customer service channels.
Wachovia wanted not just a new application, but also a fundamental shift in the approach to the business, Staley adds. The new system needed to consolidate legacy IVR platforms while handling a growing menu for a growing customer base.
"We’re always offering an increasing amount of products and services," she says. "People don’t remember more than four things at a time from [an IVR menu]. That was becoming increasingly hard to do as we expanded."
Wachovia already had a speech-based system, but since it ran on a separate platform than the IVR, a caller would need to choose one or the other. If a customer chose the speech-based system and was dissatisfied or having difficulty with the system, he couldn’t switch to a touchtone menu. Despite the bank’s efforts to shift more calls to a separate speech-enabled system, customers tended to stay with the touchtone IVR.
"We were an early leader in speech in the banking industry," says Joel Gardner, senior vice president and IVR channel leader. "But most of our customers didn’t want to change. We tried to incent customers to change, but they didn’t want to. Ninety-five percent stayed with the touchtone technology. Only 5 percent chose speech; we weren’t getting what we anticipated. We wanted to get a better return from our investment in speech technology."
A better speech application was also becoming more important as customers rely more on wireless phones. Staley adds that it’s cumbersome to listen to menu instructions, take the phone away from the ear to key in the appropriate numbers, then listen to the next option, repeating the process until getting to the desired IVR destination.
According to Gardner, Wachovia sought new IVR technology that would handle touchtone IVR and speech-enabled capabilities on the same platform. A single platform would mean lower support, maintenance, and design costs. Wachovia looked at speech-enabled IVR applications from several companies before choosing a solution from Convergys.
Gardner and Staley both cited Convergys’ speech expertise and development team as major factors in choosing the vendor. "They had won a number of industry awards and had demonstrated their capability as good designers with other companies who needed large-scale capabilities," Gardner says.
The capabilities of the Convergys application and support team were proven during installation of the new system, which Wachovia underwent in mid-2006. Customers migrated seamlessly from the old systems to the new platform in only three months, with few, if any complaints.
"Sometimes there are a lot of complaints when you move from [a touchtone IVR] to speech," Gardner says. "That’s among the first concerns that you hear from companies looking at speech [applications]. Going into it, we were concerned we might lose our number one ranking (among banks in the University of Michigan Customer Satisfaction Survey) due to speech. But we ranked number one for the sixth year in a row."
The company paid close attention to customer acceptance of the technology during and immediately after the migration, Gardner says. "We tuned the application for the first six months."
Wachovia customers have not only embraced the new platform, they now choose the speech options more often, reducing Wachovia’s per-call handling costs by 20 percent, Gardner says. Additionally, Wachovia’s call handling times through the automated channel have dropped to less than two minutes.
The system is scaling flawlessly as use grows, according to Gardner. The solution automated more than 160 million calls in 2006 and is on track to automate more than 250 million calls this year.
Wachovia is hoping to encourage further use of speech applications by looking into natural language capabilities, according to Staley. —Phil Britt
Customer: Church of God Home
Vendor: Vocollect Healthcare Systems
• saved more than $150,000 in staff overtime;
• increased Medicaid reimbursement amount with better reporting; and
• reduced colleague searches by as much as 75 percent.
In the skilled nursing home environment, the two most important things are the quality of care provided to residents and maintaining financial stability. Church of God Home, a Carlisle, Pa.-based continuing care retirement community that offers independent, assisted-living, and skilled nursing care units for about 200 residents, has improved on both of these since deploying AccuNurse, a voice-powered work management, documentation, and communications system from Vocollect Healthcare Systems.
AccuNurse is a hands-free and eyes-free system that blends proprietary speech recognition and text-to-speech technology with back-end process improvements. With the system, nursing staff members pick up a lightweight headset and small belt-worn computer terminal at the start
of their shifts. After logging into the system with their voices, a central patient care management system relays voice-guided instruction on their daily assignments and guides them through detailed care plans for each patient under their care. Staff members dictate back to the system to document the care as it takes place.
Staff members also have immediate access to a patient’s full medical history and critical information. Doctors, dietitians, physical therapists, pharmacists, and other caregivers enter a patient’s critical care needs into the system when a patient enters the facility, and can update the information as the patient’s needs change.
"If a doctor puts a patient on a specific medication and the nurses’ aide is not aware of it, it could spell disaster," says Roger Byford, president of Vocollect Healthcare Systems. The AccuNurse system eliminates that risk.
Church of God Home has a full-time staff of about 175 people and about 90 volunteers. "All our nurses aides and supervisors have [the AccuNurse units] on every shift," explains Carson Ritchie, president and CEO of Church of God Home.
A built-in Silent Paging function also allows staff members to contact a single coworker or put out a systemwide message instantly, quietly, and without ever having to leave a patient’s side. Searching for coworkers, paging over the facility’s intercom, and inter-office phone calls within the nursing department have all been reduced by as much as 75 percent. This component of the system also ensures faster staff response time to any incident.
Perhaps one of the biggest benefits so far has been the elimination of end-of-shift paperwork, reporting, and information exchanges. That alone has saved the facility more than $150,000 in staff overtime that is no longer required.
"Previously, at the end of their shift, they had to document all that they did during the day. They stayed later to do that, and we had to pay them overtime," Ritchie explains. "Now, we also see faster shift changes because the shift that’s leaving does not have to stay to advise the staff coming in about what went on during the day, what they did, etc. It’s all there for them over the headsets when they come on [duty]."
Documentation is also more accurate as the system automatically logs all patient care activities as they happen. This is a huge advantage when it comes to filing for Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement, the main sources of revenue for a nursing home. The level of reimbursement that a facility receives is based on a case-mix index (or CMI), which is calculated according to the average number of minutes that staff needs to care for each patient individually, given the patient’s special physical and mental conditions.
With the improved documentation that AccuNurse provides, Church of God Home has seen its CMI rise from 1.27 to 1.34 in the first seven months after installing the system.
Of its estimated 200 residents, 109 are currently housed in the nursing home environment and most require special care. "Each small point in the CMI equals about another $15,000 in revenue a year," Ritchie explains. "If we couldn’t accurately document what we did for each patient, we wouldn’t get paid for it."
"Nursing homes work on small margins as it is," Byford adds, "and missing reimbursements can have a significant effect on their bottom line."
For Ritchie and Church of God Home, the results have been outstanding. "There have been a lot of intangibles to our return on investment that we can’t measure," he states." Our experiences with Vocollect have been very positive. AccuNurse has definitely improved our quality of care." —Leonard Klie
Customer: Telecom New Zealand
Product: Perfect Router
• first-call resolution jumped from 76 percent to 90 percent;
• improved customer satisfaction by 44 percent;
• dropped zero-out from 55 percent to 4.7 percent; and
• Increased call completion by 11 percent.
With 35 self-service topics and more than 150 destinations, Telecom New Zealand’s goal of easing the customer experience might have seemed out of reach. But against the odds, the company’s new speech-enabled, self-service system is boosting customer satisfaction levels and saving customer service representatives time.
Telecom New Zealand’s challenges stemmed from its touchtone system, which confused and frustrated callers. As the company’s annual call volume hit 24 million, its products and services also expanded. Callers were not only experiencing inconsistencies with each new toll-free number they dialed, but also were opting out of the touchtone menu’s numerical maze.
"The business behind the scenes was getting more and more complex with the services we were offering, explains Hamish Stewart, former manager of channel strategy at Telecom New Zealand (TNZ). "It got to the point where the IVR that was the front to our customer care just got far too complex and we had messes of people zeroing out—above 55 percent. They were ignoring the IVR to get to an operator."
TNZ deployed TuVox’s Perfect Router, a natural language call router, to handle calls about its landline, mobile, and broadband services. The solution is combined with Genesys Telecommunications Laboratories’ skills-based routing technology that identifies the customer based on the phone number from which she is calling. "This makes the interaction shorter and more efficient," says Azita Martin, vice president of marketing at TuVox. Genesys also provided the CTI and screen-pop technology that transfers the information collected in the speech self-service module to the live agent if needed. The TNZ team, marketing, and contact center business members worked with TuVox to develop a persona that displayed the epitome of New Zealand-ness.
The solution was fully rolled out in November across seven business units: residential, small business, mobile, faults (troubleshooting/repair), broadband help desk, credit and collections, and select advertising toll-free numbers. Customers are now greeted with How can I help you? The question works with open-ended dialogue recognizing what the caller says and transferring him to one of TuVox’s 35 speech modules or to an applicable agent. "It is very open-ended and there are two thought processes on this," Martin explains. "Some people think you always have to give directions, but we have a lot of customers like Telecom New Zealand that have so many products that listing all of the options is not the right design. It is not going to provide the same level of efficiency that our open-ended dialogue provides."
The caller can control the prompts in the self-service application with commands such as wait, skip, stop, and so on. Being able to include all of these little concepts has given way to a sigh of relief for the TNZ team. "I am just impressed that we got what we set out to do," Stewart says. "On such a big project, you expect to have to compromise along the way, but it has delivered everything that I had hoped it would."
TNZ also brought in a third-party research agency to perform weekly evaluations of customers interacting with TNZ’s various contact channels. The percentage of customers jumping ship went from 55 percent zeroing-out with touchtone to 4.7 percent with speech self-service. Customer satisfaction improved by 44 percent over the previous IVR. Speech also improved agent efficiency by increasing first-time call resolution from 76 percent to 90 percent.
"I’m finding that customers are much happier than they were using the old system. With the soft-pop we seem to be much more clued [in] because we already know what the customer wants," says Sandra Sangster, a customer service representative for collections at TNZ.
Customer satisfaction isn’t the only thing increasing with speech. There has been an 11 percent uptake in the number of customers who are completing their calls without ever speaking to a live agent.
"Telecom New Zealand believes that as more customers get used it, the adoption rate and the level of self-service is going to increase," Martin says. "One of the things they have felt very passionately about is ongoing tuning."
"I fall off my chair sometimes with what speech science and recognition can achieve," Stewart asserts. "We’ve had calls where I have no idea what the customer said and the speech system recognizes what the customer wanted. It sometimes just defies belief." —Stephanie Staton
Customer: Bright House Networks
Vendor: Aspect Software
Product: Customer Self-Service voice portal
• increased self-service calls by 130 percent in two years;
• customer satisfaction jumped more than 10 percent;
• reduced customer wait times in queue;
• automated the address collection process; and
• the system paid for itself.
Bright House Networks, a digital cable TV, phone, and Internet service provider, was launched in 2003 with the promise of putting customers in control. The company’s Central Florida Division, which serves 800,000 residential customers in nine Florida counties, is making good on that promise with an interactive voice response (IVR) system that has more than doubled the number of customers using the self-service option since it was installed in April 2005. In fact, the calls handled through self-service have risen by 130 percent in the last two years.
The IVR solution, Aspect Software’s Customer Self-Service voice portal, has also cut the number of internal call transfers in half. By routing the customer to the right agent the first time, the application has helped Bright House maximize agent resources, significantly reduced queue times, and saved the company enough money to justify the cost of a complete system.
The system in this case includes a full 24-hour customer service line for sales, billing, technical support, and other inquiries. The application employs a speech recognition engine from Nuance Communications, and with it, customers can use their voices to check account balances, make payments, confirm or cancel service appointments, reset equipment, and find out about or report service outages. A prompt early in the menu allows callers to conduct their inquiries in Spanish or English.
All calls come into one central location and are distributed across four inbound contact centers, staffed by 600 agents who are segmented into two groups—universal agents who handle sales, billing, and service appointment requests, and specialized agents who provide technical support for the Internet and phone offerings. The four contact centers and central location are all linked with Bright House’s own fiber infrastructure.
The entire solution, which for Bright House also included Aspect’s Enterprise Contact Server and DataMart, took only six months to deploy across all four locations. Prior to implementing it, callers had to either connect with a live agent or navigate through an unpopular and ineffective touchtone system that had been in place for several years.
"We wanted to differentiate ourselves from our competition, and one way to do that was to brand our service as easy to use," explains Bill Sievers, vice president of customer care at Bright House. "The speech application has made it a lot easier for our customers to communicate their needs. The DTMF often forced them down a menu tree that they didn’t want to use."
By taking advantage of the flexibility that speech recognition technology adds, Bright House automated its processes, such as address collection, that could not be handled with the DTMF system. It also took advantage of other speech technologies, such as text-to-speech and voiceprint identification.
Today, callers to the Central Florida call centers are "greeted by a friendly voice that seems to know why they are calling right away," Sievers says. That’s due in large part to an automated function that logs the number from which a caller is dialing and uses it to retrieve relevant account and other data prior to routing the call.
"The auto number identity tells us a lot about a customer when he calls in. We can customize the script in the IVR for that specific customer," Sievers explains. "If he has a service appointment scheduled, we know that right away and can tailor that into the dialogue."
One customer focus group, assembled just nine months after the application went live, revealed growing satisfaction with the self-service option, up from 35 percent with the previous system to more than 45 percent with its current one.
In addition to implementing a speech-enabled customer survey application, the company is looking to further improve its speech application with Nuance Communications’ Speak Freely natural language product. It hopes to have that up and running in the fall, and, once it’s rolled out, it should reduce internal transfers by another 50 percent. "It will open up with Tell us why you’re calling, and with that, we can redirect callers even more to the right level of support," Sievers explains.
"So far, it’s been a truly great application for us," Sievers maintains. "It’s driving a lot of efficiencies for us. We really hit a home run with this." —Leonard Klie