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Telephony Self Service

Most of us have suffered the frustration of calling a company only to find ourselves stuck in a queue and being told how important our call is to them. It's even more frustrating when all you want to do is pay for something or renew a subscription. You would think they would want our money wouldn't you?!

Well they do. Call centre managers spend a lot of time collecting and analysing their call statistics. It's a fine balance between having agents available to answer calls but not idling waiting for the next call and callers becoming frustrated held in a call queuing system for too long. One piece of information that always gets a lot of attention is the "call abandon" rate. There will always be occasions when callers hang-up, someone at the door, an incoming call perhaps but a large abandon rate usually indicates an imbalance between the number of agents and the length of time incoming calls are queued.

Of course a lot of organisations have hosted their sales channel on-line in an attempt to capture as much business as possible. Unfortunately for some customers access to the internet may not always be possible and the phone is the only option. One way to ensure that people calling to renew a subscription or policy is to implement a self service solution using interactive voice response (IVR) technology as the input medium. This is exactly what a major brand insurance organisation did for home and motor policy renewals.

So how does it work? There are several ways to make the technology work for you but we'll run you through this particular implementation. As the phone is limited to numeric input only (0 to 9) via the touch tone keypad this dictates all input can only be numeric! The first step is to identify the caller, this was achieved by asking the caller to input their unique number allocated to the policy, then asking for the policy holder's date of birth and the digits from the policy holder's postcode. Together these three items validate the caller and we can move on to the next stage. If any one of the three items input don't match the information held on the policy database the caller is passed to an agent queue. Successfully validated callers are informed of the renewal premium and are invited to renew their policy by entering their credit card details. Once the credit card transaction is confirmed the caller is advised their policy has been renewed and the new policy document is mailed to them.

All sounds very simple so where are the pitfalls?

As mentioned earlier the phone touch pad can only be used to enter numeric digits. First problem. This organisation has policy numbers that have alpha characters and obliques as well as numerics. So the first step was to generate a unique number for each policy held on the system. A modulus 10 algorithm was used to generate a 13 digit unique number - the last digit being the checksum. This is the number callers key in as part of the identification of the policy.

You will need to record voice responses for each scenario, set a couple of weeks aside to do this. You will want to add new messages and change existing messages, with this in mind make sure you use someone who can record the new messages at short notice. Perhaps you have someone on the payroll that could become the "voice" of your organisation. If you have it's a lot more cost effective than hiring a professional voice and they are more likely to be available at short notice if you need to make changes. Try and avoid using a voice with a heavy dialect. It might sound homely but callers outside of the region may find the dialect difficult to follow and abandon the call.

It's worth remembering that many callers will not have used this technology previously. To build confidence an announcement should be made as early in the process as possible to inform callers that they can abandon the process at any time and talk to an operator. And finally, ensure that as much management information as possible is available from the system. Carefully analyse the information and see where in the process callers are abandoning. Perhaps the recorded message could be clearer? It's very interesting to see patterns emerge once the MI starts to be available.

Was it worth it?

Yes is the simple answer. In just 3 months well over a thousand callers used the system to renew. Just think that without the facility being made available a proportion of those calls may have abandoned and not come back resulting in lost revenue. Now your call really is valuable to us.

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