The 2008 Implementation Awards

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As speech becomes more pervasive, it’s no surprise that companies are finding creative ways to use the technology to improve customer service, streamline operations, cut costs, increase worker productivity, and maintain a competitive advantage. Throughout the year, Speech Technology magazine recognizes dozens of companies that have achieved impressive results from their speech deployments, but the four deployments featured on the following pages have achieved extraordinary returns from their technology investments. The companies and organizations represented span a varied collection of industries—and the technologies involved include speech self-service, automated surveys, voice biometrics, and speech analytics—but they all share this in common: recognition as this year’s Implementation Award winners. 

Customer: AAA Washington
Vendor: Verint
Product: Impact 360 Workforce Optimization

The Results
• A reduced number of callbacks from customers awaiting roadside assistance;
• A reduction of transfers by more than half;
• Double the number of agent evaluations submitted by supervisors; and
• Improved operational efficiency, employee morale, and customer satisfaction.

You’re heading down the highway when suddenly your car doesn’t feel like it’s handling quite right. The ride has turned bumpy, though nothing but smooth pavement stretches out before and behind you. You pull over to take a look, and it’s what you suspected: a flat tire.

Good thing you’ve kept up your AAA membership. An agent in the call center takes down all of the necessary details, then promises a truck will arrive within the hour. Time passes and, like anyone in your situation, you start wondering: How much longer? Did they forget about me? Should I call back?

Not if you’re in Washington State. That’s because a dispatcher would have already phoned you back to reassure you that help was on the way. You thank her, but the gratitude really belongs to Verint and its Impact 360 Workforce Optimization speech-analytics solution.

AAA Washington comprises three main businesses: roadside services, travel, and insurance. Before the organization engaged with Verint, calls coming into the first two divisions were recorded using Racal’s Wordnet digital recording system—which Janet Ryan, AAA Washington’s director of call center operations, calls "a typical call logger." She realized a more powerful solution had the potential to uncover a wealth of information about why people were calling. With that knowledge in tow, Ryan would be able to better address caller needs and improve call center processes for her busy staff.

"The recordings were hard to sift through," Ryan explains. "Our old recorder wasn’t serving all the purposes I wanted. We needed a module for quality assurance [and a way supervisors] could easily search, slice, and dice the information inside a solution, not on an Excel spreadsheet."
In addition, calls into the insurance center weren’t being recorded at all. "We wanted to get them recorded for lots of reasons, including compliance regulations," Ryan says.

Ryan began reviewing vendor offerings and liked what she saw from NICE Systems and Verint. "Then Verint started talking to us about speech analytics and business intelligence," she says. "We were enthralled by this. It wasn’t part of the original scope, but what we could do with that was so powerful that I went back to our CEO and explained what it could tell us."

Ryan says she was also very impressed with Verint’s presales support. The vendor spent a week inside AAA Washington, listening to call center agents on their live calls, as well as meeting with company supervisors, managers, analysts, and others to learn about their struggles.

Suffice to say, AAA Washington selected Verint’s solution; a phased-in implementation began about five months later. Soon Ryan and her team, each responsible for assessing calls received by eight to 10 agents per month, had quicker, on-screen access to the content of thousands of calls. More important, they were able to see what was driving customers’ satisfaction or dissatisfaction. For example, data mining revealed why customers who had requested roadside assistance were often calling back a second time. "They wanted to see what was going on with their trucks even though they weren’t past the time of arrival," Ryan says. "We learned we really weren’t late, but our dispatcher reports weren’t showing that. We had no way to get to that before." As a result, the organization instructed dispatchers to call back waiting customers to confirm assistance was on the way and to provide an estimated time of arrival.

Ryan was also able to get a better understanding of the number of customer call transfers. "In the old days, that number was double or triple what we do now," she says. Verint’s solution allows the company to set parameters regarding the number of acceptable transfers, as well as the number of times members are put on hold, and reports back on how call center agents are performing against those metrics.

Ryan says that Verint checks in with her a few times a year to see how the system is running. Though she wouldn’t reveal how much the project cost, she did appreciate the fact that Verint charges only for the number of agents who are recorded—and not the people who are accessing the information. "Verint exceeded all of my expectations," Ryan says. "They truly work like few vendors have ever worked."

According to independent membership surveys, customer satisfaction has improved as well, pushing AAA Washington into the top-20 tier of AAA clubs across North America. "We’ve seen gains everywhere," Ryan adds. —Gayle Kesten

Customer: International Republican Institute
Vendor: Angel.com
Product: Virtual Call Center and IVR Survey

The Results
• Delegates no longer have to hand-write their observations;
• Delegates’ reports are filed via satellite phone in real time, not hours or days later;
• Turnaround time for IRI’s full election evaluations is significantly shortened; and
• A hosted application saves IRI money and eliminates set-up time.

When voters in Nigeria went to the polls in April 2007, speech technologies helped ensure the elections ran smoothly.

That’s because International Republican Institute (IRI), a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that sends volunteer delegates to foreign countries to observe elections and report on violations of fair election practices, used Angel.com’s Virtual Call Center and IVR Survey applications to automate the reports that delegates called in by satellite phones from the field.

Prior to using the IVR system, delegates had to write their observations  in a notebook, which they turned in at the country’s IRI headquarters hours or even a day or so after the election. Then it typically took IRI at least two or three days after the polls closed to file its full evaluations.

During the Nigerian elections, Washington-based IRI fielded 59 delegates from China, Hungary, Poland, the United States, and a handful of African nations, who monitored more than 100 polling stations throughout the country. Delegates sent 92 calls through the IVR during the day.

"The biggest benefit of the Angel.com IVR is real-time information. As reports in Nigeria poured in from across the country, we were immediately able to see what was happening throughout the region," says Shawn Bieghle, IRI’s director of information technology and telecommunications. "I could see all the data coming in live as the elections were going on, from our headquarters location in Abuja, Nigeria. By the time the polling stations closed in the evening, we had all the information we needed to file our reports and go to the press with our findings."

Though Angel.com would have helped design, build, and deploy the IVR, Bieghle did it himself in two hours using Angel.com’s online Site Builder interface and toolkit. "It was my first experience with IVR design, but the way Angel.com laid out the process was so logical and intuitive that it really was that easy to set up," Bieghle says. After mapping out the call flow, he condensed the entire reporting process from three pages to eight questions.

"We’d been looking for ways to get what our people see in the field back to our offices more quickly," Bieghle says. "There are digitized forms that can be put onto a PC or handheld, but the problem is that if the laptop is lost, damaged, or stolen, all the information is lost. There are also specialized scanners for reading and recording documents, but they can be very expensive."

An added problem Bieghle encountered was that many third-world countries often lack an adequate communications infrastructure, making cell phone and Internet communications difficult, if not impossible. Even if the infrastructure’s in place, it often is not very secure. Satellite phones give delegates a clear and reliable means of transmitting their data, even under the worst conditions, Bieghle says.

Angel.com hosts the Virtual Call Center and IVR Survey applications; IRI pays a monthly fee that varies depending on how much the system is used, and typically involves per-minute charges and, at times, additional toll charges for some countries.

A hosted service is a huge benefit to IRI, whose small IT department supports more than 500 people in 49 countries and programs in 70 countries. "When we get in-country, there’s no setup time needed," Bieghle says. "We literally give a 10- to 15-minute introduction to the delegates to train them on the use of the satellite phone and the system, and that’s it."

Angel.com has designed, built, and managed applications for more than 1,600 customers, but it considers the IRI deployment "really unique." "We’ve never had anything like it before, but the beauty of Angel.com is that we have an application that you can customize on the Web," explains Kelly Brighton, Angel.com’s director of marketing and communications. "An IVR can solve virtually any business problem."

Using the delegates’ input, IRI determined that Nigeria’s election fell below the standard set by previous Nigerian elections and the international community. But Bieghle remains optimistic. Data collected by the IVR could pressure internal electoral reforms within the country and convince other nations to push for reform as well.

"I never felt when I got into IT that what I would do could have such an impact on the lives of people," he says. —Leonard Klie

Customer: Bell Canada
Vendor: PerSay
Product: VocalPassword

The Results
• More than 600,000 voluntary customer voiceprint enrollments and 1.3 million verifications occurred in the first 12 months of operation;
• Roughly 15,000 customers now sign up for the voice biometrics service each week;
• The current verification rate averages 40,000 calls per week and exceeds 2 million per year; and
• Call duration has been slashed by 50 percent (20 to 40 seconds), increasing call center efficiencies and decreasing costs.

One of the worst ways to spend an afternoon is on the telephone, trying to reconcile a bill. What should be a quick transaction is bombarded by prompts for an account number, a PIN, and the name of the pet hamster you kept as a child. But given Canada’s growing incidence of identity theft, the inconvenience was necessary for determining a caller’s identity.

Still, in an age of enterprise mobility, remote authentication, and real-time responsiveness, Bell Canada knew there had to be a better way to make its call center more efficient while ensuring customer privacy and security. The latter responsibility was also mandated by the country’s Telecommunications Act, which states as its final objective: "to contribute to the protection of the privacy of persons."

In late 2006 Bell Canada began the process of finding a voice biometrics solution; it had previous experience using the technology for internal applications. The carrier chose PerSay’s VocalPassword voice biometrics platform to power its Voice Identification Service, which provides voice security across Bell’s landline, wireless, Internet, TV, and Voice over Internet Protocol customer base. The application includes numerous out-of-the-box features and takes into account the specific needs of the various departments involved in the integration.

IBM Global Business Services, with whom Bell and PerSay both had prior relationships, served as the integrator of the application, which was up and running by March 2007.

Here’s how it works: When customers sign up for Bell’s Voice Identification Service, they are prompted to say At Bell, my voice is my password three to four times. This correlates each user’s voiceprint with the phrase—a two-factor, text-dependent approach traditional in speaker verification. Following entry into the Bell database, callers need only repeat the phrase once to access their billing information. After a successful authentication, the system gives callers access to live customer service agents, who see the positive identification via a desktop prompt.

"The live agent ensures that they’re talking to the right person at the right time," says Charles Giordano, marketing lead for Bell’s Voice Identification Service.

The implementation wasn’t without its challenges. Noise, for one, is an issue that affects the entire telecommunications infrastructure, be it wireless, data, or VoIP channels. Still, the accuracy level has improved markedly in recent years, which PerSay CEO Almog Aley-Raz cites as one of the reasons for the increased customer-facing deployments of voice biometrics. "Today you can take a system and integrate it very quickly," he says. "Do a controlled rollout and once you’re satisfied, open up the system to your customer base."

In addition, it was particularly important for Bell’s databases to be in sync. The company operates multiple businesses, and a single customer’s identity often crosses those disparate business units. For recognition and verification to be successful, all of the databases had to be able to communicate.

But the biggest issue Bell faced was customer acceptance. Wisely, the carrier knew to conduct research to make sure the new system would fit with its customers’ perceptions of the company. Although biometrics as a whole is detaching itself from old associations with invasions of privacy—and voice seems to people to be the least intrusive—Bell officials were still sensitive to the stigma.

Research findings were invaluable. In early tests, for instance, Bell had end users repeat their telephone numbers to access their accounts. Some callers balked at what seemed to be an invasion of privacy. Later the company tested the phrase Bell is my telecommunications company. "There were some thoughts that Bell was trying to mind-meld," Giordano says. "The focus group pointed toward vanilla-type phrases as most acceptable."

Since implementing the system, customer feedback has been uniformly positive, and sign-ups have steadily increased. "Part of it is just customer education on our part," Giordano says, "letting them know this application does work and in order to enroll, they’ll need their account number."

Bell now verifies more than 40,000 calls and averages 15,000 sign-ups each week—impressive given the program is strictly optional and coexists with Bell’s traditional, more prompt-laden security solution. The opt-in enrollment takes roughly two minutes to complete. With more subscriptions, Bell provides customers quicker access to agents and reduces average handling time for authentication. That has reduced its overall call center costs substantially. —Ryan Joe

Customer: Time Customer Service
Vendor: TuVox
Product: OnDemand Portal

The Results
• A 40 percent reduction in costs;
• Increased call center capacity;
• Automation rates of 51 percent for name and address change requests and 71 percent for cancellation requests; and
• A greater ability to identify callers by linking into Time’s circulation databases.

Worldwide, more than 145.5 million adults read one of Time’s magazine titles each month. Managing that kind of a subscriber base requires a sophisticated customer service operation, and Time has a whole business unit dedicated to just that.

Time Customer Service is the global customer service, information systems, marketing services, and subscription fulfillment operation of Time, one of the world’s largest publishing companies, with a stable of titles that includes Time, People, Sports Illustrated, Fortune, Money, Health, Entertainment Weekly, Essence, National Geographic, and Southern Living.

Across the five facilities it operates throughout central Florida, customer service is more than just a name; it’s a company mandate. So it was no easy task when management told the group to cut costs while continuing to provide a world-class customer service experience to 10 million callers a year. Though the financial savings would be considerable by outsourcing some call center operations to India or other locales, that option was ruled out for fear of losing the ability to maintain control and consistency across all calls every day. The other option was automation, and in mid-2007, Time Customer Service began a limited roll-out of the TuVox On Demand Portal, a suite of hosted speech applications that combine voice self-service technology with conversational speech applications.

Time Customer Service "was skeptical about speech," recalls Pat Kaufman, vice president of customer service, "so we started with one change-of-address application and allocated a small percentage of calls into it. If the application performed well, we would allocate all the subscriber information calls into the system."

The initial deployment did work well; and today, the TuVox OnDemand Portal handles name and address changes and subscription cancellations across all of the more than 60 magazine titles that Time Customer Service handles for its parent company. It also responds to voucher redemption requests allowing customers to redeem gift certificates and complimentary trial subscription offers, for a number of magazines under the Southern Living umbrella.

Using these applications, Time Customer Service has been able to automate 51 percent of all name and address change calls and 71 percent of all cancellation calls, equating to roughly 2 million calls previously handled exclusively by live agents. That has led to a 40 percent reduction in costs and increased call center capacity.

According to Kaufman, these applications were perfect candidates for speech instead of touch-tone because a lot of the information needed from callers, such as names, addresses, magazine titles, and ZIP codes, is alphanumeric. The TuVox system also links with existing circulation databases so that it can look up account numbers and the like if the customer does not have that information available at the time of the call.
"For customers to be able to change their addresses in our databases with voice is phenomenal," Kaufman says, "and for Time Customer Service, it’s a large part of our call volume."

Additional savings have come as a result of TuVox hosting and managing the applications. Because of that, Time Customer Service did not need to invest in additional technology to get its systems up and running. And, new magazine titles or other applications can be added to the system rather quickly.

Time Customer Service has also slowly been rolling out a voice application from TuVox that Kaufman hopes will help retain customers who dial into the call center to cancel their magazine subscriptions. The application, which it will implement across all titles during the next few months, will allow Time Customer Service to offer unique, prerecorded cross-sell and promotional opportunities to targeted customer calls. "It’s probably still a few months out, but we will watch it very carefully," she says. "We believe it will be a success."

"TuVox as a company is very skilled in using speech recognition," Kaufman says. "They’ve put together a viable solution that our customers use." —Leonard Klie

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