The Customer Service Survey

Ultimate Customer Service II

by Peter Leppik on Tue, 2006-02-14 01:00
Here's a random thought about Ultimate Customer Service. We know that most of the time spent in an IVR or speech recognition system is spent on task recognition, not task completion. In English, that means that when you call a customer service number and interact with an automated system, most of the time spent in automation is just the computer trying to figure out what you want to do. Once your task has been identified, actually completing it (or routing the call to a human) is usually easy.

Recognizing this fact, some speech recognition vendors are promoting natural language call steering systems. These systems ask the caller to state what she wants to do, then use sophisticated software to try to categorize that request and route it. But such systems are expensive and take a lot of effort and tuning to get good performance out of them.

It turns our that humans are very good at figuring out what task someone wants to do when presented with a natural language response. So why not turn the model on its head: instead of using an automated system to direct the call to the right person or self-service application, use a person. Yes it would be more expensive than using an automated system, but probably not as expensive as you'd think, since most calls the "call director" would handle could be done in just a few seconds:

Thank you for calling ACME. How may I direct your call?

I need to check my account balance.

One moment, I'll connect you to our self-service account information line.


Thank you for calling ACME. How may I direct your call?

Uh, I need to talk to someone about a problem on my bill.

I'll connect you to a billing resolution specialist.

(Astute readers will notice that there's a special name for this particular type of call center agent: "Receptionist.") The result: customers get the human touch immediately with every call, they spend less time on the phone, and with human intelligence behind call routing, misdirected calls can be significantly reduced. In some cases, the reduction in misdirected calls might even be enough to pay for the extra agent time. If cost is still an issue, the call center can prerecord both the greeting and the most common "I'll connect you to..." messages. The agent just has to listen to the customer then click one button to dispatch the call.

As an added bonus, when an upset customer calls, the agent can immediately take control and help resolve the problem, rather than letting the customer stew through a made of automated options.

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