The First 100 Days of Deployment

The design and development phase of your speech self-service application is complete. The system is installed and a rigorous process of usability and user-acceptance testing has been performed. Now what? How do you ensure that when you flip the switch your customers will be able to successfully use the system the way you envisioned? That is what the next 100 days after the initial deployment are all about. Sure, your system has been tested from a feature and functionality perspective, but what about from a real-life caller perspective? Has it been through a thorough application tuning process? When implementing a speech solution you should use a strict process to ensure the voice design is done right the first time. Naturally, tuning is crucial for this.

The post-deployment tuning process requires superb planning, thoughtful execution, and continuous analysis for system optimization. Even the best designs build on assumptions that might not hold true after deployment. Over time customers begin to gain confidence with the system— their preferences change, and they tend to use the system more efficiently. As a result, it is important to tune the application within the first 100 days. As customers gain confidence, the way they interact with the system will change. This process will ensure optimal performance and avoid initial results of caller frustration and transfers to a live agent, which affect your overall bottom line.

Additionally, continual tuning throughout the life of the application ensures the quality and effectiveness of your customer experience and at the same time enhances the performance and cost effectiveness of your voice solution. A well-tuned application increases automation and satisfaction at the same time.

A Method to the Madness

Tuning is extremely important when deploying a new speech application where callers will be introduced to the new voice user interface. One tuning round, at a minimum, should be included in the project timeline as you increase customer traffic over a period of 100 days to ensure your customers have the best experience possible with the application. Unlike touchtone applications, a speech application improves with age and use, thus the tuning process is a strategic component of a successful launch. A best-in-class tuning process includes the transcription of several thousands of caller utterances, an in-depth view of each caller's interactions, and a thorough analysis of the tuning data by speech experts.

Here's what to look for in a tuning plan:

Tuning data collection A plan to collect a sufficiently large utterance sample of production calls for complete analysis should be defined before rollout. This entails the recording of customer interaction and utterances.

Transcription Once the tuning data has been collected, it is transcribed and then a speech scientist will compare the result of the recognizer with the transcriptions to determine recognition performance. This is where you can truly see how customers are interacting with the speech system.

Performance analysis Once all information has been collected and transcribed, your speech scientist and voice user interface (VUI) designer should review the data to find areas of improvement based on performance and efficiency in the areas of application recognition, prompt usage, and overall transaction completion.

Application recognition This involves analyzing the grammars for the following: the range of utterances that can be recognized by a grammar (in-grammar vs. out-of-grammar utterances); the accuracy of recognition, where the system correctly recognizes in-grammar utterances and correctly rejects out-of-grammar utterances; the out-of-grammar utterances to determine if there is caller confusion; and any parameter adjustments that need to be made to the system.

Prompt usage This is analyzed to improve dialogue clarity and usability in an attempt to increase accuracy, reduce caller confusion, and better guide callers to speak within range of anticipated responses to address any dialogue issues.

Now that you have a plan, what do the next 100 days look like?

Practice Makes Perfect

Your team will go through one to two tuning cycles in the first 30 days. But with each cycle of tuning and analysis, your reward will be increased by the improved performance of your speech solution. Tuning your system just right for your customers is an art. As part of your initial 30 days, it is best to roll the application into production slowly, for example, starting with 10 percent to 20 percent of your call volume. Open up the application for a few hours to capture the tuning data and gain live instances of customer interactions. VUI designers and project managers can simultaneously monitor system performance through call monitoring. If you are replacing an existing application, a good practice is to run the new application parallel to the existing application, as you may need to direct traffic to the existing application at any time.

A Gradual Increase

You've conducted your tuning cycles and you're ready to open up the system to more customer calls, driving traffic to 20 percent, 30 percent, 40 percent, and upward. During the rollout, you may capture another round of tuning data that will enable your team of speech scientists to understand how customers are reacting to and using the system, identify where customers are bailing out of the system, and identify when calls are successfully completed. This information enables you to make changes to the application to improve recognition of grammars, improve language use, increase clarity, and increase call completion. As your success rate increases, so will your confidence in turning up the volume and moving to the next round of application rollout.

Winning Them Over

Some customers will move with you and some will require a tug. Old familiarity will be hard to shake for some and, for others, the change will be a welcome event, driving increases in self-service and satisfaction. There may be some slight resistance when callers first use a new system. Don't sweat it. Some customers who were power users in the old system or who are simply in a hurry may not initially have time to try out the new and improved system. The next time they call in, they will be aware of the changes and will work with the system to obtain what they need. You may see a slight drop in success rates as with any change in process or service. That's why you undergo this period of tuning during the first 100- day cycle. Be patient. Your customers will figure it out and eventually embrace the new system. As they use the system and become more proficient, their interactions with the application will change, which allows you to capitalize on their learning and readiness.

Improve as You Go

As you move through the tuning and analysis process, you have the opportunity to learn more about your customers' preferences, usage patterns, language use, and service requirements. This knowledge is invaluable. You may discover that a particular product or service has a major issue due to the number of calls related to that topic. Use this data to drive business requirements back into the product or service so these calls or issues can be eliminated altogether. If you are looking at methods to provide improved services or upsell and cross-sell campaigns, this data will allow you to identify avenues to add personalization, productivity enhancements, or overall increased levels of customer satisfaction. How often do you get the chance to analyze data to this degree to improve the overall customer experience with your business? Take this 100-day window to get it right.

75 Days and Counting

It's time to prepare for the big announcement. You now have more than half of your calls completing and this is increasing every day. The ROI is in sight and it's time to launch. Show the depth and breadth of the tuning cycles and optimization completed when announcing your new addition. Use your call statistics, customer comments, and tuning transcripts to show the improvement and readiness of your system. You have all the data to show the system's performance and your customer performance—the proof is tangible. When you officially announce your system, your team, customers, and stakeholders will have been well prepared and will embrace the changes you have laid out. If you follow a methodical approach to driving efficiency and customer preferences into your system, your customers will be more delighted and your agents free to focus on larger business issues.

The Home Stretch

It may feel like you have run a marathon during the last few months, but the payoff is significant. By day 100 your system is stable, the business department can show success, and you and your team can begin to focus on the next project. With each iteration of this rigorous approach you will continue to improve the way systems are deployed, maintained, and enhanced throughout a project's lifecycle. Each new project is an opportunity to study your customers' unique preferences and expectations. Ultimately, this will result in developing tighter relationships in which self-service solutions will be a key component of the overall customer experience.

Committing to a rigorous process of application tuning and optimization pays off enormously to your business and to your customers. Bottom line: don't deploy a system without completing your 100-day march. If you do it right, your new speech deployment will pass the test with flying colors across the board.

Keep in mind that tuning is not a onetime investment. You should tune your system periodically to ensure the system and your customers are optimizing their interactions. Well-tuned applications have higher completion rates, higher customer satisfaction rates, lower costs, and a higher return on investment. Invest in your customers and it will pay off in spades in the end.

Andrea Holko is a senior vice president of Global Consulting at Intervoice. Contact Andrea at andrea.holko@intervoice.com.

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