My Article on Organizational Gaps in CRM (translated to English), Banka magazine, March 2003

The article elaborates the problem of a “CRM organization” – the one that behaves in a consistent way throughout all of its ways of operation, including different departments, people and processes. Author has put a special focus on “non CRM” departments, such as fraud detection and collections, because those often forget to take part of an integral CRM ecosystem…

CRM organization and its gaps

If you will use this text for publishing or academic pursposes, be so kind to cite the author and source: Alen Gojceta, Banka, 03/2003. Thank you!

The main target of Customer Relationship Management is to provide consistent, yet differentiated, service based on one-to-one principle in all interactions, all functional areas and over all organizational layers to your customers. CRM starts by putting the needs of individual customers at the very center of the overall business strategy.

Mature CRM organizations are those rare that manage to provide an experience of a genuine, consistent and personalized service, simulating one to one relationship with their customers. CRM organizations acquire this kind of “CRM maturity” by a sufficient quantity and quality of collected customer data. They possess information systems that support “intelligent” interaction with a large customer base throughout business systems. Mature CRM organizations gain true acceptance of the corresponding philosophy in all aspects of their business operations including people awareness and adapted processes design. CRM is often emphasized to be a strategy, a business philosophy, rather than an IT solution. However, personalized relationship with each individual from a large customer base is achievable only by use of modern IT solutions. On the other side, it is important to understand that IT is just a part of a successful CRM story.

An often and among the most dangerous mistrusts is that it is enough to purchase a CRM solution to enhance the customer relationship. Well that’s not the whole truth. Data collection is only feasible through a lengthy and carefully designed process. Consistency in managing customer relationships is a matter of internal organization and the degree of the maturity of the related business processes.

Gaps of a CRM organization are caused by lack in managing internal business processes and missing to create a corporate culture that makes CRM an integral part of the organizational ecosystem.

The most common CRM gaps are those coming from the inconsistency of the organization itself. Simply put, they occur when CRM is managed by a separate department or departments within the organization. In such cases there is often no true intrusion of a CRM strategy throughout the organization. The “CRM departments” are usually marketing, sales or a specialized customer relationship (customer care, customer intimacy) department. Relationship with customers is not “painful” in organizational segments that are oriented toward clients by their nature. Problems arise elsewhere.

The obscure guys in the CRM team

Modern organizations often have obscure departments similar to police cells whose job is to identify and sanction “non-complying” customers. Unfortunately, these departments often maintain tradition of methods known from the time of economic system that where common throughout the world, regardless of the political system – the monopoly. One supplier and one attitude towards customers shorten to the phrase “you need us, we possess you anyway.”

The most common business processes that are managed by “anti – CRM departments” are fraud management and collections (collecting accounts receivables). Both business functions often take an integral part of financial and telecommunications industries, known as strong acceptors CRM strategy. What makes the difference between collections and fraud detection processes during the economic monopoly and today, during the era of CRM (open markets), is the starting point of observation of the resulting problem (potential fraud or unpaid obligations). CRM organizations start from exploring reasons of a customer behavior. On the other side, organizations with recurrence of monopolistic behavior begin with the assumption that they are always right, and that customer is the sinner who should be sanctioned.
The basic assumption to the selective and intelligent approach to the potential customer “sins” would be the use of information technologies that are an integral part of modern CRM system. In such scenarios, business intelligence tools can recognize potential fraud or debt. Given the user’s position within the CRM segmentation model, campaign management tools generate different messages (research or warning) or trigger different background processes (e.g. block account). The campaigns are carried by the interactive part of the CRM system, usually contact centers, and the results are forwarded to other departments such as finance or fraud management.

A mature CRM organization will, before marking a customer as a defaulter, check whether it is possible that there is a mistake made by them. They would check whether customer’s transactions where properly processed within the systems. When this is done, they would contact the customer to hear his side of the story, without anticipating the final result. Only after the verification call, the CRM organization will put the “carrot” aside and start threatening with “sticks” in form of activation of different methods of pressure or forced collection. Even when the user is actually “guilty”, CRM organization shall, before starting the “mechanism of force”, try to collaborate with the customer to negotiate a solution of mutual interest.

Comparing advanced CRM organizations that have succeeded in merging CRM philosophy with its own corporate culture and some unsuccessful companies in this regard, significant differences in the resulting relationships with customers can be noticed.
There are two most common reasons: (1) inconsistency in customer relations through the whole organizational structure and (2) the process mismatch.

A bitter experience

Everyday life is full of examples of how the experience in doing business with organizations that invest considerable effort in building advanced customer relationships can turn into a nightmare.

Recently my colleague from a neighbor country described his experience with one of their mobile operators. After he got married, his wife moved to the capitol, where he worked for some time already. When moving she required her bills to be sent to the new address. She notified the operator about her new family name. The change procedure was simple. She could have chosen between different channels of communication: Internet, fax, mail or telephone. She decided to use the Internet option, so she filled the form from the mobile operator’s portal. After a short time, she got a call from the contact center agent who wanted to verify the entries. The changed data appeared on the protected area of the internet portal.

The process was simple and perfectly comfortable. Her mobile operator was gaining credit. Everything was fine until the time when the first bill should have arrived to her new address. It was just not coming to the new destination. After ten days from the standard bill date, the woman decided to take the initiative. She sent an e-mail complaining to the customer care department. Right after, she received an answer that the bill will be sent soon to the new address. In the meantime, she began to receive SMS alerts. The new bill was not coming. After an additional 10 days, she noticed an envelope with the logo of her mobile operator put aside of the mail boxes in her building. She took a look at it, and there was her maiden name which was not located on her new family mailbox. She paid the bill with almost 30 days of delay, when she already started receiving severe threats of service termination. The next month the data was correct. On the envelope was her new family name, but her new account balance was showing properly accrued interest for the “delay” from the previous month.

Us or the client?

It is obvious that the young woman’s mobile operator, despite all the investment in modern infrastructure, was unsuccessful in aligning back-end processes. Collection and the customer service departments where simply not in sync. Detailed insight into such CRM implementation can reveal its false side. All processes that are important to support the CRM strategy arise from the needs of the mobile operator, rather than the needs of its clients. Besides a good contact center application and a convenient customer facing processes, in essence the mobile operator has cared only about itself. As a service provider their major concern was to force the customer to pay. They did not care about finding out who was to blame of the payment mistake, nor they shown effort to connect the logic of user complaints about the bill with the errors in the address directory and the penalty interest. The colleague’s wife remained faithful to the mobile operator despite the sad episode, but not without bitterness.
There are dozens of such examples on the market: a bank that accommodate their clients in leather armchairs at its branches while, on the other hand, they require travelling hundreds of miles from province to the nearest town to raise a loan; or the authorized car service with perfect kindness and state of the art customer processes with employees that forget to mention tax and cost of labor when proposing a service.
If you want to survive in today’s market by being desirable to your customers, then you need CRM, a business strategy which originates from the very top of the organization, merges all departments, and integrates with all channels of customer interaction. It’s a way of thinking embedded in all the pores of an organization, in all of its processes, including knowledge management and human resources, supply chain, partner relationships, as well as “customer punishing” processes such as fraud management and collections.

My Article on CRM customization (translated to English), Banka magazine, September 2002

Organizations in mature phase of managing customer relationship are becoming able to implement real time dynamic (micro) segmentation in addition to the traditional segmentation based on “obvious” customer parameters. Personalization of the content, on the level of individual customer, is possible through matrure data collection and management. The article starts by an original introduction into the topic by an example of a restaurant with 150.000 tables…

Contact me… in an adaptive way

If you will use this text for publishing or academic pursposes, be so kind to cite the author and source: Alen Gojceta, Banka, 09/2002. Thank you!

Restaurant with 150.000 tables – no thanks

Technological maturity has made possible what we call today Customer Relationship Management (CRM). The need to establish a business strategy based on technologically supported CRM philosophy, emerged from 3 factors: (1) high penetration of products and services, (2) highly saturated competitive markets, and (3) a large customer base.

When managing relationships with a relatively small number of customers, we do not need support of advanced technological solutions. On the contrary, the most effective CRM is the one based on close, frequent contact, strengthened by mutual trust and understanding.

Many of us have a favorite coffee shop where the waiter serves us with the “usual” drink, or restaurants that are part of daily gastronomic routes, where they know that we do not want vinegar in the salad, or don’t stand cakes with cinnamon. But let’s imagine that a restaurant does not have 15, but 150,000 tables all occupied by “regular” guests. In this case there is a choice: the restaurant management could allocate one waiter for every 5 tables, or make use of technological benefits. In the first case we would achieve the desired effectiveness and personalized relationship with customers, but with the same cost and a lower level of service. Actually, to help a waiter remember returning guests and their habits, the latter would be forced to sit always in the same “district” between the 150,000 tables of the giant restaurant. It is clear that gastronomic experience in such a large restaurant would be far from ideal. Let’s then rather split our tables in some 100,000 restaurants and enjoy properly for a little higher price.

Let’s consider the other case and reach for technological solutions, the same ones that lie below any contemporary CRM solution. In this scenario, we would still have 150,000 tables, but the number of waiters would not be 30,000 any more, but much less, say 10,000, keeping similar level of service. Except for the efficiency achieved by a CRM system, the reduced number of waiters may be additionally achieved by the use of different workforce management or advanced enterprise resource planning systems, often seen in conjunction with modern CRM solutions. The best part of such solution would have been the choice for a guest to sit in any part of our imaginary endless restaurant, and be served by any CRM waiter in a similar, yet adapted (personalized) manner. This is the basic idea of CRM philosophy: collecting and storing information about customers and acting upon it seamlessly across the whole organization, with the aim to establish and maintain relations adjusted to the individual customer or a customer segment. Our CRM waiters would have been equipped by hardware and software solutions that would help them to identify the customer and gain insight into their habits and aspirations. Such IT infrastructure would have enabled them to simulate mature established relationships with their guests, similar to the situation of a restaurant with 15 tables and a returning guest. All that would have been made possible despite the fact that the CRM waiter and the guest have had never met before. Unfortunately, the atmosphere of the enormous restaurant would have still been far from pleasant, but the scope of CRM is not perfection in mapping customer requirements, but rather a compromise between aspirations and wishes of individual customers, and objectives of CRM organizations.

The 150,000 tables in a restaurant is just an exaggerated picture of what’s going on during the past hundred years with dozens of industries from retail or manufacturing to tourism – the introduction of massive scale as a vehicle for maximizing revenues and reducing costs per unit of product or service. Such business model has led to the alienation of business organizations from its end users. Rapid growth of processing power on computer clients, improved database technologies and means of interaction with customers (Internet, call centers, laptops and PDAs) have enabled introduction of technologically supported customer relationship philosophy, the one that seeks to simulate intimacy of the increasingly lacking personal contact.

Dear George

Traditionally, marketing strategies have been relying on market segmentation and targeting specific market segments by different marketing initiatives.

The most primitive, the most easily applicable and the most widely used segmentation is based on revenue (who spent what with us) or, in a more advanced case, on financial potential of our customers (who has the money to buy our stuff). The theory of marketing segmentation is being developed for decades, so today we have advanced models that go beyond profitability or demographics, taking into account a number of parameters such as lifestyle, social affiliation, cultural determinants and the like.

CRM philosophy has set new standards for the segmentation. Its purpose is to recognize the most profitable or potentially profitable customers, adjust the value proposal to their profile, keep them as customers and create long-term (profitable) relations. The tendency is to use advanced technology to make interactions with customers as close as possible to their most positive expectations under a reasonable cost for the organization. The usual number of customer segments in an average organization is less than 10. It is easy to conclude that the communication strategy based on 10 groups from a large customer base is nothing less than a compromise. At the bottom line, such marketing strategies, especially those based on profitability segments, are reduced to the most profitable, or even just the wealthiest customers. Often the maximum achieved is differentiation model where those get a better service levels (better response, higher quality,…).

Organizations that where pioneers in using technology for accessing large customer base, have often emphasized their ability to show the names of visitors of their web sites and outbound e-mail messages as personalization. Most often, they where able only to simulate the classic “Dear George” message, which would be followed by content, usually not adapted to the message recipient. Despite the trend to call this ability personalization, use of term personification would have been much more suitable for this capability to address the message recipient by his or her name.

Personalization is a higher degree of content customization within marketing communication. It is dominant within advanced CRM oriented organizations today. Personalized message contains customized content, in addition to the simple addressing the one to which it was intended. There are more organizational and technological ways to solve “recognizing” specific user affiliations towards certain content or his/her eligibility for a particular marketing proposal. The most common, and also the easiest way to identify user preferences are different customer query forms put as part of a contract or a form that would allow access to a protected part of the company’s web site. The customer should be provided by opportunity to express his/her area of interest and communication preferences.

Such inquiries are known as permission-based marketing. The additional information collected allows classification of the customer into one of the segments defined within the organization. Additional data are gathered from the transactional history. From technological perspective, the more demanding part is later processing of customer information for the purpose of classification into segments defined within company’s marketing strategy, and further splitting within sub segments that mark propensity to buy certain products or services. For this purpose, different tools are used to search databases, analyze the stored data and predict future patterns of customer behavior. These tools and methods are database query, OLAP and data mining, known under common name of business intelligence (BI).

Advanced CRM organizations today, usually combine interest areas and preferred channels chosen by the customer with the segmentation parameters from available relevant customer data. Targeted marketing campaigns are conducted by additional selection of potential members from one or more segments by using advanced BI processing.

Dynamic micro-segmentation

The goal of a CRM strategy would be to adapt the business to the customer in an efficient and effective manner. Ultimately, this means that customer’s experience would be marked by an unexpected match of approach, communication, offer and service, still preserving the organization’s business objectives. How to achieve such combination? Organizations that have developed their businesses to the level of personalization filter large customer bases through different BI processes, using combinations of the mentioned parameters, to mark those most suitable for a specific offer or message. Such process is based on visible customer attributes (e.g. demographics) and historical behavior, disregarding the current behavior.

BI tools serve to recognize the potential behavior (e.g. purchase decision) of a targeted customer group, marked by some common features, based on the behavior of a test group or an existing (returning) customer group. Limits of personalization, such as too large segments and research on a case by case basis will be eliminated in the next stage of CRM evolution – the dynamic micro-segmentation. The prerequisite to the dynamic micro-segmentation is large amount of data about a particular customer combined with patterns gathered from a wide customer base. The quality and nature of the customer data is such that it is impossible to collect it through the traditional market research. The only way is to systematically gather information about user behavior during their interactions with the company. It is obvious that this phase of development of relationships with customers is intended only to “mature” CRM companies, i.e. to those that have a long lasting history of processing and storing of customer data.

Remark: to this view from “2002 perspective”, we could add today (2010) that “mature” CRM companies are those that are able to leverage data collection through different means of Web 2.0. as well.

George’s satisfaction

So, what is it all about? The simplest example of a dynamic micro-segmentation will be described on a case of a client of a bank calling its customer care call center. By calling the bank’s toll-free number, the client is greeted by the latest generation of IVR system, with the automated announcement: “Dear Mr. George (Oh, no. Dear George again! 😉 ), we noticed that you where searching for information on housing loans on our web site. Do you want us route you to our credit department or you would like to choose an other service? “. If the user chooses to be routed to the credit department, not only will the system do so, but the clerk receiving the call will be automatically noticed on his screen about George’s solvency and previous credit obligations. And that’s not all. The screen will show the best possible offer for Mr. George: loan repayment period in accordance with his income, and previous habits. This is just an imaginary example, similar to the many that customers of mature CRM organizations are already starting to experience. These organizations are equipped with modern technologies that enable such data processing and managing customer interactions.

Of course, implementing and managing such processes it’s not that simple. Considerable efforts of the organization are needed on the field of data integration from various sources and automation of background processes with systems that participate in customer interactions. A CRM organization in a mature stage will assure the same level of personalization through other channels as well, such as call centers or traditional “brick and mortar” offices.

Some analysts, one of them is Eric Schmitt of Forrester Research, believe that in the future the winning strategy of the majority of CRM organizations will rely on segmentation based on the traditional 10 segments instead of the infinite number of dynamic micro-segments. Schmitt believes that the advanced personalization, which may be based on a very large set of rules, is too complex for most ordinary mortals. Indeed you will not be able to achieve a level of dynamic personalization by a simple business decision. The maturity of business processes, data collection methods and information resources are required. Management understanding and tradition in collection and processing of customer data have no less importance. So why wait? Start today with the systematic collection of information about your customers and their behavior. Get ready for tomorrow’s real time market segmentation.

My article on IVR systems – PART 2 (translated to English), Banka magazine, May 2002

This second part of the article published in Banka magazine in May 2002 talks about the recent technologies and trend in Interactive Voice Response (IVR) industry. While the first part of the article is pretty universal from time perspective, this one has to be read taking in mind that it was written in 2002. Today the major change is about today’s handy nature of mobile broadband and all the services and applications that exist on modern mobile devices. Enjoy reading how the future looked like in 2002.

IVR – technology for a great compromise – PART 2

Part 1 of this article was posted immediately before the Part 2. I recommend to read it first.

If you will use this text for publishing or academic purposes, be so kind to cite the author and source: Alen Gojceta, Banka, 05/2002. Thank you!

The Future of IVR

Except the growth of the number and size of call centers and the need to reduce their labor costs, the IVR market growth forecasts rely on new technologies that enable easier and more natural interaction comparing to the one based on tone dialing and pre-recorded speech sequences.

Here we primarily emphasize Natural Language Speech Recognition (NLSR), Voice Recognition (VR) and Text-to-Speech (TTS) technologies. Growing trends are as well driven by the new approach to using IVR technology, so called voice portals.

When it comes to advanced IVR technology, the future has already begun. Many solutions already exist. Due to the complex technology, there are a few suppliers of functional NLSR, TTS and VR software products in the world. To support these technologies, the leading providers of IVR systems usually integrate technological solutions by niche software vendors such as Nuance and SpeechWorks.

NLSR technology supports giving instructions to IVR by voice, using natural language. In the case of well-designed system, an order will be given in spoken like: “I want to make 550$ transfer from my savings to my current account”. The machine will perform the operation without employee interference. NLSR makes possible what was hard to imagine, and in some cases, it is inevitable replacement to the traditional service management based on tone dialing.

TTS technology enables translation of any digitally stored text to speech. In this way it is possible to dynamically leave a message to a caller. For example, a bank client contacts the call center to check the status of his account or other routine interaction. After identification of the client, the IVR automatically communicates a personalized message that was entered into the system in form of text by a bank employee in the loan approval department: “Dear sir (Jones) we are still waiting for your mortgage estimation to close your credit claim. Please contact mrs. Patty on 123456. Thank you.”.

VR technology is based on voice recognition algorithms that rely on original features of each individual’s voice. VR is one among many increasingly popular biometric identification methods, based on specific characteristics that are unique for each of us, such as fingerprint, eye pattern, and even the DNA structure.

All this technologically demanding solutions are based on complex mathematical algorithms and artificial intelligence technologies, such as neural networks. Important role in its success have the ever more affordable processor power and storage capacity.

The companies providing these technologies have operated at loss for years, funded by capital from different sources. We are witnessing a market capitalization of the few that survived. New technologies are constantly making management of IVR services easier, transforming in this way the IVR platform from a system of compromises to a system of customer desires.

Voice Portals

Voice portals are single access points that allow a caller to retrieve different types of information or manage personal communications services, by voice using the telephone service. Voice portals integrate Natural Language Speech Recognition (NLSR), Voice Recognition (VR) and Text-to-Speech (TTS) technologies with the communication infrastructure and application expertise. Simply put, voice portals are IVR systems with extended functionality resulting in increased ease of use and a better flow of information, thanks to the use of new technologies.

The concept of voice portals is very similar to the concept of web portals, so the supported types of services are very similar to those on the Internet. Most of these services will be focused on content, communication, voice commerce (as opposed to online store) and remote access to business resources.

The advantage of voice comparing to web portals, is in the handy nature of telephone communication. Consequently, the information that the user “pulls” by a phone will be the one that is urgent, updated and time sensitive.

As in the case of web portals, business organization behind the voice portal is a labor-intensive and complex. Therefore, their maintenance is left to specialized organizations that provide such services on the market. In line with this need, recently a new category of service providers appeared – Voice Application Service Providers.

Today (2002) we can identify a large number of application cases using the advanced IVR technology in various industries such as booking systems in tourism and passenger transport, access to financial data and performing transactions in banking, retail and catalog sales, accessing information of the government administration, CRM applications at mobile service providers…

As already mentioned, the Croatian market of “traditional” IVR systems is well developed. We will still have a lot to wait for new technologies like NLSR or TTS due to high cost of development of new languages patterns. But this is the fate of all small “non English speaking” markets.

END

My article on IVR systems – PART 1 (translated to English), Banka magazine, May 2002

This is the English translation of an article published in Banka magazine in 2002. The article is about Interactive Voice Response devices (IVR). IVR systems find their “best fit” within call center environments where they represent the “finest compromise” of a CRM strategy. This is the first part of the article, addressing pretty universal topics of CRM, IVR and call centers, and therefore still actual, despite its origin from 2002.

IVR – technology for a great compromise – PART 1

If you will use this text for publishing or academic pursposes, be so kind to cite the author and source: Alen Gojceta, Banka, 05/2002. Thank you!

CRM – the concept of technologycal compromises

One of the basic postulates of any CRM (Customer Relationship Management) strategy is to make customer’s interaction with the organization easy and accessible. Taking an ideal situation from the financial industry as an example, it would mean that each of us had his or her personal banking clerk on full disposition. In accordance with our wishes, let’s call him Super personal banker. He would appear at our office or apartment shortly after we called him. In a pleasant atmosphere, he would carry out the necessary transactions, advise on investing our money, and help us select the optimal insurance policy or recommend the best plan to close our loan. Of course, in this ideal case, the client would not need to pay considerable financial amount for such a great service.

It is obvious that the ideal case for a bank is not the same as the ideal case for its clients. That’s why the CRM strategy is usually characterized by multiple win-win challenges, where such wins-wins are necessarily converted into (winning) compromises-compromises.

Managing customer relationships is basically oriented to managing such compromises. By balancing between the cost of advanced customer service and provided total added value to the client, healthy development of a successful CRM strategy is assured.

IVR – the simplest service making the greatest savings, 24×7

The existence of a call center as supporting tool for an advanced CRM strategy also represents a compromise of its own. Whatever our position on cost is, a call center is a pretty expensive tool for any service provider, looking on a short or long term. The reason is simple – the price of labor makes up to 70% of the total call center cost. Exactly for this reason, there are machines that substitute different functions in the Call Center. These machines are called Interactive Voice Response (IVR) devices.

When talking about telephone communication, IVR devices represent one of the most common compromises of advanced customer relationship management. IVR is, in its principle, a computer that performs certain activities automatically upon caller’s requests, given by phone.

IVR functions can be divided into two basic groups.

First, filtering phone calls based on who the caller is and what is the purpose of the call, and finally attaching such attributes to the call. Based on those, calls are further processed within the call center routing algorithms. Processing herein means operations such as identification of caller’s segment, call routing to a particular agent or group of agents, triggering certain applications to enable agents solving caller’s requests. All of it based on the attributes that IVR has attached to the call.

Second, automatically solving telephone inquiries, usually via dial tone or voice recognition. IVR can read the data, both dynamically from a database, or just play predefined recordings from static voice boxes. Responses to inquiries can be using voice, by fax, or via e-mail. Usually the answers are numbers synthesized by a computer, from pre-recorded sequences. There are several providers that offer IVR solutions with messages in Croatian language. Known examples of IVR solutions in Croatia are widely adopted various forms of automated telephone banking in different banks, popular Infozap and devices for activation of prepaid services for GSM operators.

IVR applications are mostly being easily made and changed by special tools. There are cases when those can not be changed. Such machines are usually intended for specific areas of application as complete solutions.

IVR role in call center environment

In the Computers and business insert of the last issue of Banka magazine (03/2002), there was a Gartner’s estimation that IVR systems within call centers will be one of rare segments of the IT market that will record higher growth rates than average. This is not unusual. In the EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa) region there is an average of 5 new call centers a day. Different analysts predict growth of the number of call center agents in Western Europe between 400 and 500% for the period 1999 – 2004. Although IVR systems can function as standalone solutions, their real value is shown when implemented within call center ecosystems.

The growth of the total number of employees in call centers and growing number of transactions and CRM processes that rely on telephone communication causes growth of the related work force cost. IVR solutions are among the most effective vehicles to reduce this cost. Of course, such solutions are driven by compromises introduced earlier in this text. IVR lets service providers to provision simple information to its users in an inexpensive and efficient manner, 24 hours a day and seven days a week. Customers have the ability to access frequently requested services and information, in a relatively simple manner, with guaranteed quality and availability. The compromise is reflected here in the lack of human contact and unpopular scrolling through predefined dial tone menus.

There are two factors where IVRs significantly reduce labor costs in Call centers: reduction of the needed number of agents due to the calls managed by the IVR, and reduced turnover of agents who are released from boring, repetitive and uncreative activities.

Statistics say that, usage of an IVR system reduces the average call length for 18%, which cause reduction in related labor costs. In today’s call centers around 12% of calls are resolved within IVR systems without any interaction with “live” agents. In some industries, such as financial services, entertainment and tourism, this share ranges even between 16 and 18%. Moreover 35% of total calls, before being routed to agents, are received to the IVR system.

Health Risk Management – an example of a successful IVR implementation

This case study has been extracted from a Lucent white paper. The source document is available today (January 2010) at: www.goldsys.com/…/21-Gold%20Systems%20Health%20Risk%20Case%20Study.pdf

Health Risk Management Inc. (HRM) is a company from Minneapolis, United States, which since 1977 provides health care services and health risk management. As a part of the U.S. health care system, the HRM takes care of the medical insurance coverage for health treatment expenses. They assess health risk and serve as an intermediary between health institutions and health insured.

Like other companies in the industry, HRM already owned an IVR system which provided restricted functions to callers, such as checking the status of their requests. In order to reduce traffic and offloading call center representatives, HRM decided to introduce two IVR applications: the eligibility of patients for medical services and health insurance benefits. In addition, the existing application, that checked statuses of requests for refund of medical services, was enhanced.

While the old application was limited only to communicating the status of a request, the new one has added information about reasons of delays. In addition, the insured was able to get the information about the amount of health services covered by the insurer and the remaining of the amount to be paid. As part of advanced customer relationship, support for Spanish language was introduced. Some HRM customers had up 15% of the Spanish-speaking insured. The new application eased their access to information through their native language.

Calls to check eligibility of a policy holder for a particular health service where performed by physicians and medical institutions. IVR application used to return the information about the status of an insured, services covered by health policy and its expiration.

When integrating applications for medical benefits, the major challenge was how to communicate complex, accurate and understandable information from a wide selection of options in a reasonably short time. HRM was able to overcome this obstacle by achieving the most important compromise of IVR systems – releasing people of simple tasks, thus making a machine provision easy and fast automatic self-service, enforcing customer satisfaction.

HRM’s success was complete. IVR system was very well accepted. It used to completely resolve 58% of 50,000 calls dialed during the first three months. More importantly, the surveys among users showed no objections to such self service “information supplying system”.

TO BE CONTINUED IN PART 2… My next post will be the last two paragraphs of this article: “The future of IVR” and “Voice portals”. My plan is to post it on January 11 2010.

My article on call centers translated to English, Banka magazine, February 2002

Call centers represent the very hearth of a CRM strategy. Why do we need call centers? How do we choose it and what is the experience of those who decided to modernize their customer interaction environments? These questions and more I tried to answer in this article, published in 2002 in Croatian Banka magazine. I have translated it to English for the convenience of all English speaking visitors of this blog.

Call centers in the mission of customer satisfaction – the thing is (not) about technology

If you will use this text for publishing or academic pursposes, be so kind to cite the author and source: Alen Gojceta, Banka, 02/2002. Thank you!

Call centers today are unavoidable part of a successful strategy of advanced customer relationship management, known as CRM (Customer Relationship Management). In brief, CRM is set of rules, technological procedures and applications that companies implement, on large customer base, to simulate close relationship, which is usual between customers and small corner shops. Large customer base, in this case means thousands, hundreds of thousands or millions of users.

CRM strategy was built during early nineties in economies where keeping the existing customer base became a priority due to high penetration of products or services and existing strong competition.

Looking from this perspective, the CRM strategy is a natural process that can be recognized already on economic models of ancient world – when the logistics and human resources where not capable for new conquests (which where very often the means of economic growth), fortification and preservation of existing properties used to take place.

Concept of CRM today suggests technology as being in the “first line” of relationship with the customer. This technology include applications for managing marketing, sales and provision of user services, including communication channels that allow managing interactions with individual persons, belonging to a large customer base, who influence buying decisions or is involved in use of products or services.

The heart of CRM strategy

Call center, as technological solution for efficient and effective telephone communication with a large customer base, most often represents the very heart of a CRM strategy.

Choice of the most appropriate call center solution depend on the form and level of integration of business processes, number of daily calls, intensity of marketing campaigns, ratio between inbound and outbound calls and integration of different communication channels that would be used. As higher the quantity of calls (interactions) is, the more advanced Call Center technology has to be for management of inbound and outbound calls.

Users want to do business with organizations in a simple way. Take as example a bank customer that wants to know how and under what conditions to refinance a housing loan. By dialing a free phone number of the bank, he quickly gets the right person with the right information and, preferably, a solution to the problem in a form of revised contract received at his home the next day. Interactions as described are proved to assuring increased customer’s commitment to a bank that provides such fast and efficient service. Study conducted in 1998 by the JD Power and Associates on a sample of 10400 users of services of five leading U.S. credit card issuers, revealed that price was not decisive. The study showed that the quality of service was the key to retention and customer satisfaction. In this type of business, the service is reflected in three major elements: the quality of call center contacts, transparency in payment processing and perceived financial strength and confidence about these companies.

Exactly due to the need for fast and quality interactions, some invisible items of call center operations can be critical to success. As larger the call center is (proportional of the number of daily contacts) as important becomes technological side of the solution to enabling the business success.

Success factors

There are two magic formulas that indicate the success of a call center supporting CRM strategy: service levels, and customer satisfaction.

The level of service is measured in percentage of calls that are received and processed in a certain time frame compared to the total number of calls. The level of service of a call center is directly connected with intelligent call routing capability. This would ideally mean that the system automatically recognizes the phone number and the individual customer, anticipating his or her reason of call, and addresses the most appropriate call center agent to handle the call. If the most appropriate agent is busy, the system will, in order to preserve the required service levels, make a compromise and forward the customer call to the following most appropriate available agent. Thus, the system will try not to let customers wait too long or ultimately hang up the call. You certainly have that experience when, after your call, you keep hearing the famous “Wait a minute …” phrase for some minutes more than you can stand.

Such behavior is unacceptable for a service provider who wants to build long-term relationship with satisfied customers. Customer satisfaction is a direct consequence of the level of service, and other processes that affect the speed, quality and efficient customer service. Advanced call center technologies ensure that your call is not infinitely rerouted among agents and departments.

Also, after a caller establishes communication, the agent has to be enabled to perform the desired transaction, provide information or to start a process. Customer satisfaction depends not only on call center technologies. In addition, it is supported by a whole set of CRM applications and processes, including internal company organization. It is therefore important, when deciding about call center technologies that the platform is open and capable to integrate with different CRM applications.

Despite the fact that it is hard to intuitively perceive measurable results of usage of advanced call center technologies, the experience is positive. On larger call center solutions that engage fifty or more agent seats, advanced technology may affect increase of service levels to from 20% to 95%. It means that the number of calls not solved would be reduced from 80% to 5%.

Problem solving solutions

Faced with deregulation of the market in Eastern Europe and aggressive new competitors who where realizing multiple growth rates, one of the leading telecommunications company in its region find itself in situation of redefinition of their business model, including managing of relationships with existing customers. After decades of enjoying the benefits of monopolist position, the company was forced to change the approach.

Given the relatively low market penetration, the challenge was twofold: to attract new customers and preserve the existing ones. Preservation of the existing customer base was the task of the customer care department. For the first time in their history, they started to measure the effectiveness of the existing call center. The results were disappointing. In some periods, almost 80% of the calls happened to be lost or otherwise unresolved. Users where giving up because of infinite redirections of calls. The existing system was not capable to support traffic peaks, so it simply used to refuse the calls or let them for long waiting.

A decision was made to implement a call center solution with advanced technologies and intelligent call routing, where agents where divided into dynamic groups based on their expert knowledge and skills. Transformation that followed was amazing – calls where positively solved within first attempt in 90% of cases. Users were satisfied and, combined with the efforts of the marketing department; the service provider has adopted growth rates comparable with the new competitors.

This is just one of dozens of similar examples. One well known case concerns Capital One, the credit card issuer. PricewaterhouseCoopers brings this case in their book on the CRM (Stanley A. Brown, Customer Relationship Management). After strong growth rates of customer acquisition, based on aggressive pricing policies and marketing approach, Capital One has lost its pace showing below market average growth rates.
After measurement of customer satisfaction, they realized that the ineffectiveness of their call center significantly increased with the enlarged customer base. Due to the increased diversity of their products and services, the need for segmentation and customized approach became more important.

With the introduction of technologically very advanced call center in combination with advanced CRM technologies, the level of customer satisfaction increased significantly. The average length of calls as consequence of increased efficiency fell to one third of the previously measured.

The cost reducing factor

Modern Call center technologies do not only bring the benefit of satisfied customers. The same solutions that contribute to increased customer satisfaction reduce the costs of call center management, where human resources cover 60 to 70% of its total costs. Five to ten thousands of daily interactions make a very common number for a market of Croatian size. Such amount of calls can be generated by customers of a company which is among market leaders and puts strategic focus on modern channels of communication with customers.

Assuming an average call time of four minutes, saving thirty seconds per call, on pattern of 5000 calls a day, would mean saving more than forty man-hours per day. For the same functionality it would take five agents less. In the same way savings in network costs and other call center costs occur. This calculation is very approximate and does not include the distribution of calls during time, queuing, traffic peaks and a host of other factors. But the message is clear. Significant are savings than can be achieved by changing the business channel model. Good integration of business processes within the call center can significantly unload or even replace the traditional and costly forms of interaction with users, such as “brick and mortar” offices.

Call centers are a paradox of today’s business philosophy that is focused on close customer relationship. From organizational perspective they look like sophisticated, automated mass production factories, while their end product is intimacy of corner stores and, consequently, user satisfaction.

In the next issue of Banka magazine’s Computers and business, we will address technologies that enable automatic service provisioning, without direct client’s contact with the call center agent, such as IVR (Interactive Voice Response) and CTI (Computer Telephony Integration).