Lean Six Sigma for Contact Centre Optimisation

Here's a nice introduction by Openspan to the use of Lean Six Sigma in the contact centre environment. Of course, they've put it together to make a selling case for their tools and expertise, but that doesn't detract from the great introduction to the topic.

Lean Six Sigma is all about reducing waste (Lean) and reducing variation/errors (Six Sigma) - combined they offer powerful techniques for identifying issues and optimising contact centre performance and efficiency. All of the principles that were originally applied to manufacturing can just as readily be applied to customer service and contact centre and in this webcast it is explained how.

Direct link to the page if the embed didn't work for you.


..On Self-Service technologies

I found an old interview I'd done with Contact Centre World back in 2005 about self-service technologies (while I was at BT). Everything that was said then is just as relevant today.

Nik Sargent - Self-Service Product Manager, BT On Self-Service Technologies

What do you think are the three biggest mistakes managers make when choosing a self-service technology?
A common mistake is getting too bogged down in the technology. It's important to remember that the technology is a means to an end, a way of delivering a better service to customers. The three most important things to consider are usability, usability and usability. It is also important to have a framework that can grow and adapt with your business without holding you back. But that's as much about your people and processes as it is the technology.

In your opinion, what criteria should be used when evaluating different self-service solutions?
It's easy to be lured by cost alone, both in terms of cost of the solution and the promise of cost savings.  This should absolutely be part of the decision-making process, but it's also necessary to understand that your self-service solution is an important customer touchpoint: it can win and lose customers for you.

From a service point of view, how are you going to be able to deliver a slick customer experience: is designing this your core business, or do you need to buy this in? What flexibility will you have to modify your solution as your business evolves – and who will ensure your service works as well after it is changed as it did on day one? From a technology point of view, are you getting robustness and flexibility to shrink and grow and handle the volume you need to? If customers like your solution, then they will start to depend on it.

Within the next five years, which self-service technology do you think will have the biggest impact on the contact centre industry?
Speech Recognition will have a huge impact. Adoption rates of the technology are steadily increasing and organisations are seeing significant benefits. The availability of mass-scale solutions demonstrates that the technology is totally viable, and also educates the public about these types of services and how to use them. As we have seen, anything that can transform the cost base of the contact centre industry – such as outsourcing – can have a big impact, and Speech Recognition fits this profile.

What types of questions do you believe online self-service technologies should be able to answer?
I think the days of the Internet solely being a glorified brochure-publishing medium are over. Users are increasingly savvy and looking for more. What organisations shouldn't forget is that consumers are using this medium to educate themselves and to ask and answer complex questions. As a result, consumers that call your organisation may actually have more knowledge than some of your employees, which then results in frustration and wasted cost.

Traditionally, self-service only catered for the "average" consumer, yet the technology can now segment and analyse customers to provide personalised experiences. This is a major boost for companies that want to offer a more comprehensive web service. For example, if I'm looking for car insurance, but cannot get an answer online because there is no way to ask if my particular circumstances are covered, I will have to revert to speaking to an agent. This costs the organisation a series of calls that could have been answered online, and costs me my "web discount" – so effectively results in a lost sale.

What do self-service technologies aim to accomplish?
From a user's point of view, self-service should be simple, speedy and satisfying.  From our own personal experiences we know this is what makes for a good self-service experience, be it a vending machine, a cash machine or a telephone transaction. From a service provider's point of view, self-service technologies shouldn't divert you from your core business – they are a means of extending your customer touch points to offer choice, capacity, flexibility and reduce costs. A good self-service solution reduces costs, but a great one also delivers a rewarding and effective user-experience.

How can a contact centre utilise its self-service technology to increase contact centre capacity?
It's about finding the right business processes, or parts of them, that are simple and repetitive enough to automate, and driving volume through this. This might be self-evident for certain businesses, but for complex technologies like speech recognition it usually needs an expert to analyse processes.

The important thing to realise is that a self-service channel and an agent are not the same thing, and do different tasks differently. Rather than using self-service to try and fully replicate your agents and create capacity that way, have it do the tasks that it is suited to, and take those tasks away from agents in their entirety. This changes the balance of how your run your contact centre, and the roles agents perform – to get maximum value from them.

Once again, it's about having a user-centric view. Getting it wrong can end up generating more work for your contact centre. This was one of the great "shocks" of the web for early adopters – they ended up generating even more support calls.  Businesses should also tread carefully when thinking about forcing customers to use a self-service solution. This means you may take your eye off the usability ball, and in the long run this could backfire. On the other hand, a well-designed solution will have customers sailing through it and completing tasks that used to require an agent. If you can automate 30 seconds of a 2-minute call, then you've effectively increased your capacity by 30%.

40% of callers avoid speech systems wherever possible


Many consumers avoid using speech automated systems when calling customer call centres and prefer to use the Internet as their first port of call. In fact, one-third of consumers surveyed struggle to see any benefits to using an automated contact centre service, representing a rise on last year’s figures.

Most consumers also believe companies only use automated services in their contact centres to save money. Furthermore, two in five people claim they are unhappy with the automated systems’ ability to deal with queries.

These are some of the highlights of the 2009 Alignment Index for Speech Self-Service report releasedby Dimension Data in conjunction with Cisco, and Microsoft subsidiary, Tellme Networks Inc.

The report, which compares and measures consumer, vendor and enterprise perceptions of speech systems, reveals that of 2,000 consumers polled across six countries* some 40% - up from 36% in 2008 - said they avoid using speech systems “whenever possible”, while 50% said they use the Internet as their first choice for interacting with a business or organisation.

And with only 25% of consumers saying they would be happy to use speech solutions again, organisations are not winning their hearts and minds.


When using automated systems, over a third of consumers that were polled are most frustrated when a human agent requests they repeat themselves after they’ve already provided information to the automated system. And 19% of consumers say that they are most annoyed when the system doesn’t recognise what they’ve said.

On the other hand, companies that have deployed speech recognition are fairly optimistic about the long-term viability of such systems for customer service. They believe the path to improving customer satisfaction with speech recognition lies in making it easier for consumers to use the systems.

Looking at consumer behaviours, the report statistics indicate that attitudes toward customer service among the younger age groups are changing. Over half of consumers between the ages of 16 and 34 use an online channel for their customer service needs, and this will continue to place more pressure on companies to design customer service solutions that provide choice, accuracy and speed.



The 7 deadly sins of contact centres

Some contact centres are still getting the basics wrong in fostering a proactive approach to customer services.

1. Organisations say that they want to get closer to their customers and provide a personalised service, but their customers receive email responses that say ‘do not reply to this email’!

2. Companies still get their “valued” customers’ names wrong both on the telephone, and in writing. For example, Mr Eastman, Eastham, Eastern or even “Dear Easton…” or just “Easton…”

3. Requesting the same information from the customer over and over again

4. Outsourced contact centres not understanding the product or its context. For example, a customer calling up to renew a football season ticket who asks the call centre agent what he thought of last night’s game, and getting the response “what game?”

5. Customers are still finding their way through the IVR maze and are then confronted by an agent or ’script-hostage’ with no empowerment to help the customer there and then.

6. Calling customers in the evening at home still persists - why not email the customer with a personalised email that they can read in their own time instead?

7. Having delivered excellent service via the contact centre, the parcel delivery contractors destroy the brand they represent by delivering when it suits them - not the customer, or by handling goods without care and attention.

Add your own!

Hosted Solutions Can Breathe New Life into Legacy Systems

So it’s Spring 2009, and your contact center development budget has already been cut due to expected revenue downturns. Yet your business partners keep knocking at your door for new applications, because they’re being asked to get creative with their revenue generation and retention efforts. And, you’re being asked to pull costs out of your expense budget, which inevitably comes from IT or development headcounts. Maybe your contact center is contracting, too.  All of these conflicting pressures and market changes are forcing companies to seek out new options. Contact centers and IT organizations can get more functionality with less investment by blending their current solutions with many combinations of hosted or SaaS (News - Alert) solutions, from call routing to CRM to unified communications (UC).

(more in source article)

Conversive Announces New Speech Solution

Through its work in Web chat, Conversive has learned that many questions can be ably handled with one answer.  Unlike, it says, with previous ‘natural conversation’ speech recognition technologies, its speech solution readily recognizes the wide range of ways in which customers ask a single question.      Conversive’s speech solution works well in both standalone applications and in inbound call streams to divert calls to self-service. One of its key appeals is its ability to resolve a customer’s issues while they are on hold.  Instead of listening to music or a solemn voice indicating how many minutes remain before a contact center agent can take the call, a customer hears a voice asking: “How may I help you?”  The Conversive Speech Recognition solution turns the customer’s stated response into text.  Then, the Conversive Automated Conversation Engine matches the text string to the most appropriate response.  The answer is provided to the customer with a recorded voice.  

Message Intros New On-Demand Intelligent Voice Search Service

Message Technologies has announced the availability of MTI Natural Chat. The new hosted on-demand service allows enterprises to add Intelligent Voice Search and natural language understanding to their customer service offerings.

MTI Natural Chat is the result of MTI’s partnership with a number of speech, Web and Artificial Intelligence-based technology companies. It is a completely hosted offering for Voice Search and natural language understanding. MTI Natural Chat allows any new or existing IVR application to incorporate a truly intelligent natural language option anywhere within the IVR call flow. This incorporation offers a number of benefits such as significant increase in call completions, reduced per-call costs, and higher caller satisfaction levels.

Self-service saves UK contact centres £1.6bn per year

“The UK Contact Centre Operational Review (6th edition - 2008)”, a recent major study of over 200 contact centres carried out by ContactBabel, has found that although only 6.5% of inbound calls are dealt with entirely through self-service, rather than a live contact centre agent, the savings to the UK contact centre industry amount to over £1.6bn per year.

Findings within the “Self-Service” chapter of the report, sponsored by Vicorp, show that of the 10.3bn calls per year that UK contact centres receive, 670m of them are dealt with entirely through automated processes. Respondents to the survey stated that on average, each call dealt with by a contact centre agent costs £2.88, whereas one dealt with by self-service costs only 43p.

“This demonstrates how organisations can benefit from self-service,” says Brendan Treacy, CEO at Vicorp.  “The business case for appropriate automation of simple and repetitive tasks is impressive and now that such services are more widely accepted by callers the savings impact is growing.” [click heading for more]

Speech self-service speaks the language of savings

Speech self-service is still a minority toolset in the touch tone-dominated call center world, but its impact on the customer experience continues to improve for such companies as DirecTV and Orbitz.
Alan Hubbard, senior vice president of Aberdeen Group's customer service and support group, reveals that while only 20% of best-in-class companies have speech self-service, 86% of those firms have seen their customer retention and satisfaction rates climb. They have also witnessed a 10% drop in abandoned calls. [click heading for more]

Nationwide open-question call steering: some suggestions

This week sees a switch over to speech-based call steering for Nationwide Building Society, using open-question style prompting - "how may I help you?" (0800 30 20 10)

The opening prompt - somewhat long-winded - is as follows:

Welcome to nationwide. Calls may be recorded to help us improve our service to members. Briefly tell me in your own words what it is you are calling about and I'll direct your call to the right member of our team. You're free to interrupt at any time. For a list of available options, say" what are my choices"; so how can I help you?

I'm not sure I would have designed such a laborious prompt, even though there is clearly a lot of information to get across. Here's my suggestion (here comes the free consultancy).

Welcome to Nationwide. Calls may be recorded to help improve our service. At any time, just tell me in your own words what you are calling about; so, how can I help?

[then if there is silence]
For a list of available options, say "what are my choices?"; now, how can I help?

The original prompt is over-wordy and overly-formal - e.g. why specifically mention "members"? What's more, breaking the prompt in two like this obeys the principle of giving information just in time. In the original prompt, it is assumed the caller needs to know what choices are available, even though they've already been told they can use their own words. This clutters the prompt and increases cognitive load. In my version, the caller isn't told about this option until it appears they need it (by staying silent).