Speech analytics, contact centres and the battle to overcome the cynics

Speech analytics, contact centres and the battle to overcome the cynics

To the cynical, it can seem as though speech analytics is claiming to solve every problem that a contact centre could possibly have, says Steve Morrell. But it can certainly assist in many ways.

Most contact centre solutions have a specific, easily-communicated reason for purchase, usually around cost savings. The most popular and widespread solutions, such as IVR, workforce management, CTI and outbound dialling, have all had a clear and quantifiable route to cost savings and improved efficiency.  
Speech analytics has a different appeal to contact centres, and can be used in many different ways to address various business issues. This is an advantage - it is hugely flexible - but it can also make its message to the market more complicated, and to the cynical, it can seem as though speech analytics is claiming to solve every problem that a contact centre could possibly have. However, depending upon how speech analytics is used, it can certainly assist in cost reduction, agent improvement, business process optimisation, avoidance of litigation and fines, customer satisfaction and loyalty improvements, and increases in revenue.
Against a ubiquity of call recording, the current penetration rates of speech analytics are far lower, with 14% of respondents using it today, higher in the outsourcing, finance and TMT sectors. However, 12% of respondents to "The UK Contact Centre Decision-Makers' Guide 2011" expected to implement in 2012, with a further 9% expecting to implement after 12 months, a very rapid growth rate.

Most contact centre solutions have a specific, easily-communicated reason for purchase, usually around cost savings. The most popular and widespread solutions, such as IVR, workforce management, CTI and outbound dialling, have all had a clear and quantifiable route to cost savings and improved efficiency.  
Speech analytics has a different appeal to contact centres, and can be used in many different ways to address various business issues. This is an advantage - it is hugely flexible - but it can also make its message to the market more complicated, and to the cynical, it can seem as though speech analytics is claiming to solve every problem that a contact centre could possibly have. However, depending upon how speech analytics is used, it can certainly assist in cost reduction, agent improvement, business process optimisation, avoidance of litigation and fines, customer satisfaction and loyalty improvements, and increases in revenue.

Compliance

Contact centres have tried to reduce risk through scripting, call monitoring and call recording, but these do not offer any guarantees or proof of compliance. Speech analytics means that 100% of calls can be verified as compliant - and be proven to be so.

Agent evaluation and improvement

By moving from anecdotal or fact-based decisions, from qualitative to quantitative information, some order is put on the millions of interactions that many large contact centres have in their recording systems, improving the reliability of the intelligence provided to decision-makers. It doesn’t remove the need to listen to calls, but it means that the calls listened to are far more likely to be the ones that should be listened to. Apart from 100% monitoring of calls, speech analytics is used to flag cases of talk-over, as well as silence detection. The former can be a source of irritation to the customer and long silences can indicate lack of agent knowledge, although long system navigation times or delays in system response times can also cause this.

Contact centre performance improvements

The vital thing to understand about speech analytics is that it gives contact centres the answer to 'Why', not just 'What'. Why are average handle times so different across agents? Why are customers of this product upset? Why are people calling the contact centre? With high quality data inputs, mixing audio information with data such as call outcomes and revenues, analytics also identifies patterns which the business had no idea even existed, suggesting best practice and identifying areas for improvement at agent, contact centre and process levels.

Business process improvements

Speech analytics offers the ambitious business the greatest potential for improvements in business processes, but there is a great danger of underachievement with so many departments and divisions potentially involved. The marketing and website departments are the non-contact centre areas most likely to be benefiting currently from insights about customers' views, but there are also examples of how delivery, provisioning, billing and even warehousing departments have learned from the analysis of customers' experiences in the contact centre.

Business intelligence

With some speech analytics solutions, it is not even necessary to know what you are looking for: automatic categorization of calls into their constituent types is a starting point, based on the types of words and phrases that typically get used within these types of calls (e.g. "complain", "not happy", "disappointed", "speak with a manager" etc, will often relate to customer complaints). The tracking of word usage compared with its historical use (e.g. a 300% rise in the use of the phrase "can't log-on" after a software upgrade) can quickly indicate and identify issues that can be handed to the relevant department much more quickly than typical inter-department channels could usually manage.

Product and pricing feedback

Speech analytics allows businesses to seek out key words and phrases, such as competitors' names or any instances of pricing, or to gather feedback after a marketing campaign goes out.

Complaints handling

Speech analytics gives businesses a chance to quantify the reasons that customers complain, identifying the most important factors, assessing trends and spikes, and providing hard recommendations based on every call taken. 4% of UK calls and 8% of US calls received by contact centres are complaints, with respectively 87% and 80% of these being about problems elsewhere in the enterprise (rather than in the contact centre). Understanding and acting upon what is driving these complaints will clearly make a huge difference to cost and customer satisfaction.

The customer experience outside the contact centre

Businesses using speech analytics to review failed self-service sessions will be able to categorize many of them in order to improve the processes at a macro-level. Common findings from the analysis of these calls is that the IVR system was poorly worded or menu choices are not intuitive or match current service choices. Other failures occur through mistakes in IVR routing, and there may also be problems with a lack of customer awareness that various activities can be carried out by self-service.

Debt collection and improving cross-selling & up-selling

Although many debt collection firms have detailed scripts for their agents - often driven by the need to comply with regulations - the results, such as the promise-to-pay ratio - can differ widely by agent. Speech analytics provides two benefits for debt collectors: the ability to prove compliance, and through the analysis of successful and unsuccessful calls, the chance to understand the type of agent language and behaviour that yields the best results, and share these with underperforming agents. The same principle of matching successful outcomes with particular call traits can be used for improving crops-selling and up-selling rates in sales environments.

Managing customers at risk of churn

Using real-time analytics, linked with a company's own CRM systems, agents can be provided with up-to-the-second advice on how to handle customers identified as being at risk of churn, including linking what the customer is saying on the call back to the transactional model in order to update the best offer available for that customer.

Feedback on marketing campaigns

Tracking customer comments and outcomes after the advent of a marketing campaign can mean the difference between success and failure. Messages that are incorrectly understood can be identified and altered quickly before the contact centre becomes swamped with calls about the issue. 

Phone-based contracts

Real-time speech analytics mean that phone-based contracts can be seen to be completed first-time, with all relevant information provided to the customer on the call, and red-flagged on the agent's screen if they have missed saying anything vital, or made an error. This reduces the need to call a customer back and avoids any dispute over whether a legitimate contract has been made.
Steve Morrell is principal analyst at ContactBabel.
More information on building a business case for speech analytics, best practice for implementing and using it, and an assessment of key players in the industry can be found in "The Inner Circle Guide to Speech Analytics", a free extended White Paper available from www.contactbabel.com/reports.cfm
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