Karan Kapur, Head of Customer Contact & E-Business, Mashreqbank

Q Please give a brief overview of the recent speech technology deployment at Mashreqbank.

A Mashreqbank operates in the UAE, where more than 80% of the population are expatriates from practically every country in the world. More than 150,000 calls reach a trilingual IVR system each month. The IVR has been in operation for over five years. The service now offers Toll Free Voice Recognition Banking in both English and, for the first time, in Arabic. MashreqBank Contact Center which is based in the city of Dubai, receives three million plus inbound calls annually and more than 50 percent are serviced end to end on IVR. Voice recognition menus now take caller convenience to the next level. Given the fact that the UAE has one of the highest per capita mobile phone penetration rates in the world, this makes even more sense - banking can be truly 'handsfree'. Ascent's AscenTel Voice Platform was selected because it is best of breed and uses the latest VoiceXML technologies for ease and reliability. It is a fully integrated system with unique features that provide streamlined application development and a robust high performance runtime environment.

Q How was it determined that a speech solution was needed?

A At Mashreqbank we are constantly searching for ways to raise the customer contact experience. We aim to beat global standards rather than local standards. The high penetration of mobile phones in the UAE was the primary motivator for the rapid deployment of a speech solution. Over 40 percent of all our inbound calls are originated from a mobile phone. Mobile handsets are inconvenient to use where keypad inputs are required to navigate through an IVR menu. Unless the user has a hands free kit or speakerphone, one can often miss voice prompts and confirmations while shifting the handset from eye level to ear level. Keypad input is also very inconvenient when driving a vehicle. By providing a more human interface to the user, the IVR functionality becomes more appealing, and the need for the caller to request for human assistance is reduced. These are the key factors that spurred us forward towards a speech solution.

Q Has this speech solution improved customer service? Please provide any supporting statistics.

A The success of the speech deployment is measured through customer usage of ASR menus against traditional keypad menus. Since ASR does not work well in an environment with high ambient noise, users are presented the choice of both Keypad Inputs or Voice commands right after the first greeting. This design puts the control over the mode of navigation in the users hands, and many who are used to keypad navigation, prefer to use this route directly. Improved adoption of the speech menu has been evidenced by 17 percent of our callers choosing the voice command menu option when presented with the Keypad or Voice Command menu. This represents approximately 2,500 users selecting the voice command menu each month on the Credit Cards line where the system has been piloted. This is an encouraging start, and the measure of satisfaction with their experience will be validated through a year-end customer channel satisfaction survey.

Q Has the speech solution cut costs? Please provide actual numbers.

A The primary objective of the speech solution was not to cut cost, but raise the customer contact experience to a higher level. More simply, an IVR experience which is closer to a human contact experience. In fact for routine functions, such as balance and transaction enquiries, the objective was to make the experience more natural than what is available on traditional keypad IVR. The migration of keypad users to ASR users is gradual and cost savings will be evidenced, when ASR functionality and deployment become superior to traditional keypad functionality. When users have fewer reasons to opt out and speak to a real person, the cost savings are worth measuring.

Q How many languages are offered within the system? Please list all and explain the percentage used of each.

A The ASR components are presently enabled in two languages - English and Arabic, which are the most used languages. For Hindi/Urdu which are the other main languages supported in this multicultural country, deployment will take place when speech recognition engines for these languages are more mature. The current profile of language selections is English - 50%, Arabic - 40%, Hindi/Urdu - 10%. While English is the most commonly spoken language, customers who speak English may prefer to be answered in Arabic or Hindi/Urdu.

Q Have any surveys been conducted to understand consumer acceptance?

A Since the system has been launched, each month a sample of customers is contacted to assess their user experience and obtain feedback on improvements and new functionality. These are evaluated and tabled for deployment and our objective is to continually 'tweak' the system so that customers enjoy a more natural interface. Customers who have used the system from an environment with low ambient noise are delighted that they do not have to keep punching the keypad on their telephone to navigate. Several initiatives to raise the awareness of the convenience and simplicity of voice-based commands for telebanking are in progress. This will be communicated using direct mail, email shots, statement inserts and above-the-line campaigns.

Q Are there future plans for incorporating more speech technology solutions for Mashreqbank?

A Sure, Mashreqbank as a service leader and innovater will continue to deploy speech technology wherever it will materially improve the customer contact experience. We aim to deploy solutions for customer inquiries and transactions which are faster and more convenient for the customer than traditionally available technology. This includes the ability to process utility bill payments using voice commands rather than keypad inputs.

Q What role do you feel this new system plays in growth and overall customer service satisfaction?

A Every element of new technology needs to be communicated and presented to users in a manner that illustrates benefits clearly. In a competitive environment it is service that makes the difference, and the closer that technology can be leveraged to giving a human touch to a contact experience, the greater your chance of meeting customer expectations. Voice continues to remain the most widely used and convenient channel for customers, despite the advent of internet and mobile banking. Using speech technology to emulate a human voice contact experience enables callers to experience a level of quality and consistency that often cannot be matched by real people. With voice personae and fast recognition engines in a variety of languages, the challenge is for speech solution implementations to be executed with great attention to the user experience. A simple goal we follow is to "Design and implement the speech solution contact experience, to be better than a human voice contact experience for 80 percent of the calls". The unstructured complaint or new customer purchase-related call requires the spontaneity and intelligence of the human mind to be handled most effectively .These are the 20% of calls we really don't aim for response by a speech solution or IVR . It's all about having a speech solution for functions that works better and faster for customers, and often these can be designed not only to replace keypad IVR navigation but also, human responses. The test of an excellent speech implementation is when the user ends the call thanking a voice persona as if he or she has just spoken to a human being. When this starts happening, you'll know you've got it right! Until then, keep tuning and improving the speech interaction experience.

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