Kerry Robinson gives an insight into how to choose the right self-service system and offers tips on making the right decision for your business needs.
Chances are if you are reading this article you’re looking at introducing self-service systems, you’re unhappy with what you are currently using or you need to make a change for other reasons. At this point it’s tempting to dive into the usual cycle of internal requirements gathering, inviting tenders, selecting a vendor, and initiating a project. My advice is don’t! An IVR system is not a straightforward IT purchase. It’s specialised, it’s complicated and it’s strategic. There are a lot of vendors out there happily pushing their products and technology, when what you really need are business outcomes. So how are you going to get those outcomes?
This article is written to give guidance to the various stakeholders within an organisation who will choose, be impacted by, sign off on or implement a typical self-service solution. I’ll try to help you think about the questions that really matter to you and your customers, and help you guard against the ‘product push’ of technology vendors.
So why are you thinking about this at all? Is it that you need to take costs out of your call centre? Or do you have concerns over the customer experience of your existing IVR? Are you responding to changes in your organisation or industry? In my experience, there are four main drivers for IVR investment:
- Reduce costs in the contact centre with automation, improved routing accuracy, or by deflecting calls to other channels.
- Increase customer satisfaction which can impact Net Promoter Score and help with customer retention by improving customer journeys.
- Increase revenue with better marketing, upsell opportunities and by enhancing brand perception.
- Enable new initiatives such as improved debt collection, a new product launch, contact centre re-organisation or customer segmentation.
Many projects respond to all four, and there’s always interplay between them. Even if your most important factor is cost savings, you have to be careful not to damage customer experience or those savings will be wiped out by cost or revenue impacts elsewhere. On the other hand, focussing on enabling other initiatives, like debt collection, can mean that cost savings suffer.
Once you have a handle on what you’re trying to achieve, the next question is how to achieve it. The key decision points are:
- Are you just looking to automate a few specific tasks (like identifying customers or taking payments) that account for a large proportion of calls – essentially focussing on cost savings alone, or do you want to build a more sophisticated self-service environment that tackles several, or even all of the key drivers mentioned above?
- On-premise or hosted: will you buy and deploy systems on your premises, or go for a hosted or ‘cloud’ based solution where you just pay for the service?
- Pre-packaged / Bespoke: There are a few fairly standard tasks, like making a payment that are often ‘pre-packaged’ – this can keep costs and deployment time down, but in most situations a lot of customisation is required, especially if it’s more than just pure cost savings you’re after.
- One-off project or managed service/outsource: Are you happy for your supplier to walk away after the implementation, or do you want them to stay around and take accountability for the long-term success of the system?
- Personalisation: are there big differences in your customer base that affect the way you should handle their calls? Even if that’s not the case, you probably have information about your customers that would help you give a more personalised experience and show that you care about them as individuals.
- Channel integration: are you only serving customers on the phone, or do they want to engage with customer service in different channels, like social media or smartphone applications.
- Business Intelligence: you need to know how the system is performing, but what insight can you gain about your customers? Who calls most often? What products are they asking about? What sequences of tasks are most popular?
- DIY or turnkey solution: you need to decide how much you want to do yourself and be realistic about your capacity to do it. Most people under estimate what it takes to deliver business benefit over the long term.
- The needs of different stakeholders in the business will ultimately help decide these things. I’ve identified four roles within an organisation that have their own set of unique factors to consider when making changes in self-service or switching to a new IVR platform.
Choosing the right self-service system for an IT professional goes beyond a cost analysis or a customer service need. Self-service platforms require specialist expertise and technical understanding to achieve optimal performance and ROI on an ongoing basis.
Discussion points IT professionals should always consider include:
DIY or outsource? Does your current team really have time or skills to devote to IVR development, support and maintenance? Can you afford to train and retain the people you’d need to do it? Often it makes sense for IT to focus on providing the back end services that can be used by all self-service channels, while a specialist vendor takes responsibility for the delivery and maintenance of the IVR – either on your premises, or in a hosted environment.
On-premise or hosted? How will it integrate and will this have any effect on your hosted technology?
Can you provide the integrations? The job of an IVR is basically to expose available back-end services to customers so they can self serve. So the potential of the IVR is totally dependent on the quality of services that are available. You need to think about CTI and integration with CRM and payment gateways, but you should also consider integrations with other channels, and with outbound campaigns. It helps if the left hand knows what the right hand is doing.
How will you manage change? One of the biggest contributors to deteriorating benefits and bad customer experience is the cumulative effect of all the small changes that are made to a system over time. Think about how you will manage change, and assess the impact on business outcomes.
Can you handle multiple channels? As the number of customer service channels expands, the cost of supporting and maintaining them goes up. Look for opportunities to consolidate platforms, integrations and BAU processes to lessen the load.
Who provides support? Most problems in the IVR are the result of failures in other systems. Can your helpdesk and second line support take responsibility for the initial investigations, so that you engage the right team to fix any problem? It will probably resolve faster and reduce your support costs, but your support teams will need to training to be able to do that
Customer service professionals
The majority of organisations still view implementing new self-service and IVR systems as a technical challenge and financial decision rather than considering its implications for the people involved – your customers. Successful IVRs are designed from the outside in, not the other way around. The strategic business goals are the main drivers, but the customer is the one who tells you how to get there. They hold the key to what functionality they will use and how they want to get things done. By thinking clearly about what your organisation is trying to achieve, employing research to understand how your customer views things, and aligning the two, you can create self-service systems that people will actually want to use.
Consider the following questions:
What are the high volume tasks? Self service is all about the 80:20 rule – you need to know which tasks are most common, and which of these involve simple, repeatable processes that could be automated. This data will be required to calculate the potential benefit, and will help with the design of the solution. If you already have some self service, you need to know how it’s performing. That might mean asking IT to run some custom reports for you.
What’s your agent skilling strategy? Do you have multi-skilled agents, or specialist groups? How much time is wasted with internal transfers? Assuming you could reliably route callers to the right agent, could you improve service and reduce costs by increasing specialisation?
What data do you have on customers? Are there call types that are predictable, like enquiries about an order or a bill? If so, you could consider offering individual callers the options most likely to help them even pre-empting their need with an outbound call or message.
Have you considered segmentation? Could you improve your customer service impact by identifying high-value customers and offering differentiated service? Are there sub-groups in your customer base that have different needs?
Just like your website, printed materials and personnel, the IVR is a channel through which you project brand identity. It’s also a channel though which you can offer targeted marketing and up-sell messages. Key questions to consider include:
What brand attributes must the services convey? The ‘persona’ isthe consistent character of the IVR, not just the voice but how it uses language to convey your brand.Make sure the supplier knows your brand attributes and work with them to select a voice and ‘persona’ that is effective and consistent with your brand. Organisations with multiple brands may need more than one persona.
Can you drive greater revenue through your customer service system? Can a great customer service experience engender long-term loyalty or can you increase revenue through more targeted, personalised, up-sell and cross-sell offers.
Can you help counting the soft benefit? You’re probably going to be quite demanding when it comes to the design and roll out of the system, so the least you can do is help out with the business case! Can you attribute a monetary value to positive brand impressions, or to improvements in C-sat or reduction in churn? What’s a targeted up-sell opportunity worth to you? What if it converts?
Your self service strategy must respond to the organisation’s highest level strategic objectives and needs executive level sponsorship to ensure the various stakeholders are appropriately engaged. In today’s economic climate, every investment decision needs a strong business case, but don’t let a focus on cost savings alone distract you from other significant, but difficult to count, benefits. Keep in mind the needs of your department heads and factor that into your choice. Once their needs are established consider the following factors:
Do you have a director of customer experience? Everyone in the organisation wants to have a say about what is (and is not) in the IVR. This leads to lots of ad-hoc changes that can work against one another and lead to a general deterioration of the service. Consider appointing an ‘IVR Tsar’ who’s responsible for the long term success of the service, and for collating and balancing the myriad requirements from across the business.
Which benefits will you count? Usually there are cost savings in the contact centre (calculated as a reduction in average handling time for calls, or the total number of calls reaching the contact centre). Also consider revenue increases (from things like debt collection, or generating upsell opportunities), Customer satisfaction or Net Promoter Score (NPS) improvement, Churn reduction, enablement of other strategic initiatives, creating a market differentiator, or improving Brand communication and perception.
Tracking benefits over time: the business case won’t be delivered on day one, it’s the accumulation of benefits over time that justifies the investment, so make sure you track benefits over the life of the system
How will you hold suppliers to account? Be wary of paying for features and functions when what you really want is business outcomes. Consider structuring contracts to include a risk/reward element so your suppliers are incentivised to deliver the business outcomes you want, but remember, you also need to help your supplier get the engagement and support they need. They’re part of the team now.
Hopefully these questions will help you think more widely about the issues affecting the procurement of a new IVR.
You understand the benefits, and you’ve asked yourselves and your supplier the tough questions. You know what you want. It’s time to deliver. In the next article, I’ll look at implementation.
Kerry Robinson is strategic solutions director with VoxGen.