Saying "Aloha" to Our Hawaiian Customers

How We Used Speech-enabled Technology to Boost Efficiency and Customer Satisfaction

That's the familiar greeting Hawaiians use to say hello and goodbye, and to express affection, compassion and sympathy.  Yet beyond those definitions, "aloha" extends a sense of warmth and welcome that is uniquely Hawaiian.

At American Savings Bank, we live the philosophy expressed by aloha.  So when we planned a speech-based system to offer customers easier and more convenient services, we wanted to speak with a voice that was "local" to Hawaii. 

Here's how we worked with a proven vendor to deploy a Hawaiian-voiced self-service system that reduced costs and improved efficiency while at the same time boosting customer satisfaction.

A Local Challenge
American Savings Bank is Hawaii's third-largest financial institution with $6.5 billion in assets.  American Savings Bank provides a full range of financial products and services, including commercial banking and consumer deposits and loans.  Serving Hawaii since 1925, we employ some 1,400 banking professionals and have the second-largest branch network in the state, with 68 branches and nearly 170 automated teller machines. 

The bank operates an active contact center operation to assist customers with general inquiries about deposit accounts, loans and mortgages, ATM and debit cards, bill payments and bank policies, products and services.  The bank is increasingly focused on the promotion of convenient self-service vehicles including ATMs, online banking and Interactive Voice Response systems.  Contact center conversations are inbound.   

American Savings Bank had, for years, used only traditional touchtone IVR technology to provide automated customer self-service through our telephone-based contact center.  By listening closely to those customers, the bank realized it could extend its use of self-service offerings, thereby gaining important savings and efficiencies for the bank, while at the same time increasing the overall satisfaction of our callers. 

Speech-driven voice automation offered clear benefits, but there were no speech systems in the Hawaiian market at that time, and we were concerned with offering our customers a system that was both personable and appropriate for our unique local community.  We wanted to be sure the application was right before we put it in front of our customers. 

Fortunately, our institution had an established relationship with a leading source of speech technology and voice automation solutions.  That source, Dallas-based Intervoice, worked with American Savings Bank to research, test and deploy the first speech-enabled banking application ever deployed in the Hawaiian banking marketplace. 

Usability Testing
The key to creating a successful speech-enabled system - one that encourages maximum customer use and satisfaction - is to test and re-test every component of the application with actual end users.

While some providers sell pre-developed applications, the most successful speech-enabled solutions are created and customized to meet the needs of real users.  To establish a firm foundation for our speech-enabled launch, Intervoice conducted comprehensive usability testing in Hawaii.

That research began with a detailed assessment of how speech technology could be used in our marketplace, as well as a close evaluation of the bank's specific customer service objectives.  The research phase also examined our customer base, existing self-service systems, and how common inquiries could be streamlined to ensure optimum usage and success for the new application. 

Based on those initial findings, a basic application was developed, and through the design and implementation stages, that system was tested and tuned repeatedly - again, based on input and responses from real customers - to ensure it met all requirements. 

Voice as a Brand
The best speech-enabled systems give callers an effective, efficient, pleasant and trustworthy experience.  But to do that, they must speak in a voice that customers find friendly and comfortable.  Today, companies can deploy specific, customer-oriented speech applications to identify with their communities, to drive corporate brand initiatives, and to support other basic business objectives. 

American Savings Bank has a proud heritage as a Hawaii-based bank, and as such, we wanted a uniquely local voice for our speech-enabled application.  Rather than using a speech application that employed a generic access from the continental United States, we sought local voice talent to provide a personalized touch for this new speech application. 

To project a warm and very localized image, the application was developed using a local female voice talent with a Hawaiian accent and a regional dialect, and using local salutations such as "Aloha" and "Mahalo." 

The bottom line is that our customers are in Hawaii, and we wanted a system that makes them feel like they are talking to a banker in Hawaii.

Technical Capabilities
American Savings Bank's speech application was built using Intervoice's Omvia® Voice Framework and operates within a Cisco IP environment. 

The Omvia® Voice Framework is an open voice solution that delivers exceptional flexibility and scalability within traditional, VoiceXML or SALT environments.  Omvia® standards-based solutions include advanced messaging portal, IVR and payment applications. 

During the same period, American Savings Bank also implemented other key technological systems.  In 2003, the bank converted its call center to Voice over IP (VoIP) technology in an ongoing effort to control telephony costs.  The bank has automated the training and testing programs needed to comply with more rigorous state and federal regulations, such as those for Do Not Call lists and customer privacy restrictions.  The bank also introduced an online banking service that allows customers to send secure messages to the institution.

While some banks have turned to outsourced or offshore bank contact centers, we found that our customers prefer to deal with the local bank.  Our service reps and the voice automation system that we developed and deployed are able to pronounce the Hawaiian names of branches, streets and customers that outsourced providers often cannot.  Our bank will continue to monitor and control call center costs, with the goal of avoiding the need for outsourced services.

We believe voice is an important way we can offer more efficient and personalized automated service.

Lessons Learned
We learned a number of important lessons in the course of developing and implementing this speech-based system. 

First of all, we took the time needed to do it right.  That included creating a detailed definition document that analyzed the bank's requirements, our marketplace and customer demographics, IVR systems and call flows, and the branding and audio requirements of our new speech-based IVR personality. 

We partnered with a trusted vendor, and created shared responsibilities between that vendor and an internal team consisting of business, marketing and technical experts. 

For the critical "usability testing" phase, American Savings Bank employed a local Honolulu research firm and actual American Savings Bank customers.  The tests were conducted with customers of various ages and backgrounds, and were reviewed by a professional linguist to ensure maximum communications efficiency.

American Savings Bank also eased the transition to voice by closely integrating the speech experience with our existing touchtone system, and by allowing customers to choose the self-service system that best met their needs.  The bank will continue to promote the use of our entire range of self-service alternatives.

Finally, we listened to our customers and used that input to plan and adjust the system before it was launched.  Rigorous planning produced a very workable prototype system, which was tuned more than once to ensure optimum performance.

The result was a voice automation solution that met the bank's needs and satisfied our customers - all with a uniquely Hawaiian accent. 

American Savings Bank's speech application went live in May 2004, and customers have responded enthusiastically to this voice automated alternative.   The application is integrated closely to the institution's back office systems, and now gives our customers fast, convenient 24/7 access to their account balances, loan information and an interest rate hotline. 

By offering customers a voice-automation option that is convenient, easy to use and that reflects our local community, our bank encourages utilization of this efficient new system.  Within its second month of launching, we saw overall use of the IVR increase to handling over 340,000 calls.  The IVR is our least expensive service delivery channel.   

For American Savings Bank, speech-enabled self-service has allowed us to lower costs while improving both customer service and satisfaction.  In December of 2004, the speech-based system developed by Intervoice for American Savings Bank was recognized as one of the year's 100 most innovative technology projects by InfoWorld Magazine

Renee Lum is AVP/manager of American Savings Bank's Customer Service Center.  She manages the bank's customer service center, which consists of approximately 50 call center representatives. Lum is the bank's business owner of the Interactive Voice Response Unit.

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