IVR Is Good News for Scripps

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The E.W. Scripps Co. operates 14 newspapers, the Washington-based Scripps Howard News Service, and the United Media syndication service that delivers comic strips like “Dilbert” and “Marmaduke,” columns from nationally syndicated writers like Miss Manners and Cokie Roberts, and puzzles and games to more than 400 editorial offices around the country.

The central Florida–based media company must manage a readership base of 630,000 weekday and 790,000 Sunday subscribers in cities throughout California, Florida, Indiana, Kentucky, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Washington. Newspapers account for about 56 percent of total revenue at Scripps, which also owns and operates nine ABC- or NBC-affiliated local television stations in Oklahoma, Ohio, Missouri, Michigan, Maryland, Kansas, Florida, and Arizona and one independent TV station.

With subscribers scattered throughout the country, Scripps has begun standardizing all of its newspaper subscription services on a single interactive voice response (IVR) system built using the VBVoice development toolkit from Pronexus, which is based in Ottawa, Canada.
Scripps first installed the graphical  user interface-based VBVoice at its Treasure Coast newspaper group in central Florida in 2002. After a systems integrator built the subscription system based on VBVoice, Ed Lindoo, senior director of IT infrastructure at Scripps since 2001, took over the maintenance and further development of it. “Within a matter of about three or four weeks, we had a fully functioning IVR working for us,” Lindoo says. “From there, we’ve just kept building on it.”

Recently, other Scripps newspapers have started to adopt Lindoo’s IVR, attracted by the system’s affordability and effectiveness and the increased customer retention and cost savings that it has already yielded. The publications are also replacing separate circulation database systems at each location with a single centralized system. Once they have been completed, both the central IVR and the central circulation system will be cloud-based.

The entire standardization project will  take about 18 months and is due for completion sometime in early 2013. “If I was just doing a single-site IVR upgrade, I could have it done in a week or two, but what we’re doing is pretty complicated,” Lindoo says, noting the project involves multiple sites, databases, back-office circulation systems, and credit card processing. “It’s a pretty big undertaking because we’re going to have 14 newspapers running on that one system,” he says.

Once completed, the Scripps IVR is expected to field about 10,000 calls a day, or about 200,000 calls a month, for all 14 of the Scripps newspapers. All delivery complaints, vacation stops and restarts, delivery confirmations, and credit card payments will be handled through the automated systems.

The current IVR usage rate falls between 57 percent and 59 percent, while the old system, which was made by Chatterbox, has been operating at between 32 percent and 35 percent. That’s a 70 percent increase.

The company employs between 50 and 60 customer service representatives as well, “because some people just don’t want to talk to a machine no matter what,” Lindoo says.

Scripps’ VBVoice-powered IVR accepts touch-tone inputs, and the average call handling time is now two to three minutes, which isn’t expected to change much with the new system because of the nature of the calls being handled.

“The difference will come when we have a call center that’s slammed with calls. We will not have to worry about that anymore,” Lindoo says.

The new system will cover three time zones and vary its greetings based on the local time, taking advantage of multithreading.
Over the years, Lindoo has modified the system with easy-to-use drag-and-drop controls several times in response to changes in other back-office systems and in Scripps’ IT infrastructure.

“One of the things that I like about VBVoice is its flexibility. Making changes is fast, and we get terrific support from Pronexus,” he says. “It’s been very easy to use and very reliable.”

The new systems are being hosted at Verizon collocation facilities located in New York and San Francisco, and each channel can handle as many as 125 calls at a time, giving the Scripps IVR the capacity to handle up to 250 calls simultaneously.

VBVoice has been hugely successful for the Scripps publications that use it, and Lindoo expects similar savings for the rest of the group. “The new IVR will save us somewhere around $1.5 million a year,” he says.

VBVoice is free for developers; once the system is ready for deployment, customers would pay run-time licenses based on the number of lines they have. It’s an economical price point, Lindoo says.

“In a fiercely competitive market like the newspaper industry, VBVoice can help deliver superior customer service while keeping the costs down,” Jordan Sommerville, territory sales manager at Pronexus, said in a statement.

News Editor Leonard Klie can be reached at lklie@infotoday.com.

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