A Look at Speech IVR

No matter how many or how few channels a merchant utilizes, telephone contact serves as a lifeline for enabling customers to reach the brand, whether pre-, during, or post-sale.

While essential to a retailers success, extensive customer telephone contact has traditionally been considered a profit drain rather than an important marketing resource. Over the last few years, however, retailers have finally discovered a renewed means to efficiently allow that contact and convert it to a marketing and customer service opportunity – one that can enhance brand equity and increase sales.

The solution? Automated speech interactive voice response (IVR), evolving from the contact center.

IVR is catching on because consumers are finally becoming comfortable with the technology of talking to computers. After initial negative response, merchants demanded that their providers improve the technology and make it more user-friendly. The result is extensive use of grammers, humor and customer-driven options. (Grammers allows the computer to respond to “yeas” or “unh-huhs” instead of only a clear “yes.”) Customers can opt-out quicker to touch-tone or a representative, a freedom of choice that often leads them to elect to remain within the speech IVR system.

Outsourcing customer service operations means merchants don’t have to invest in infrastructure and resources. In addition, speech IVR doesn’t replace U.S. workers like offshore outsourcing, but rather enables them to remain focused on higher-level activities such as upselling and complicated customer service issues.

Further, the pressure on improving technology and large body of data over the years has proven to marketers that the creative use of speech IVR will lead to the promised reduced costs and increased revenue. Viewed another way, a marketing investment in speech IVR can directly show return on investment and failure to improve a merchant’s telephone presence can harm a hard-earned brand identity.

So, what are a few of the creative ways to use speech IVR to increase brand equity?

Being strategic about speech IVR can creates a “voice brand” for the company. Similar to evaluating a new advertising campaign there are many considerations to review. Should the company adopt a male or female voice; what should the age of the voice be; what accents or speech patterns reflect the brand; and what hold times or other pauses in telephone contact can be filled with speech IVR? A voice personality that matches a company’s brand, even for simple speech IVR applications like store locators, can reinforce a customer’s positive in-store experience.

Savvy marketers will market test their voice brand. Does the adopted tone encourage customers to use this money-saving, automated technology? The key is to test and retest every speech-enabled application with actual end users. Retailers should conduct “voice” audits to see how their current voices and sounds are adding to / subtracting from brand equity. (The best radio advertising contains subtle messages that encourage buyers. The same would be true for speech IVR programming.)

Beyond the actual voice used, the personality of the speaker, known as “persona” can enhance the brand much like radio advertising. DaimlerChrysler is a great example of taking advantage of persona. The company has an “outdoor” track for Jeep, an “executive” sound for Chrysler, and strong presence for Dodge truck buyers. Marketers might call this their “sound brand.”

In a major CRM advance, marketers now recognize that callers are a captive audience whose brand loyalty can be extended. Speech IVR can allow the company to be more responsive by filling lengthy hold times with company history and news as well as capturing important customer data such as buying interests and experiences.

Customer satisfaction surveys can often be administered during hold times. They can also uncover latent problems, market test new products, or up-sell and lead to additional sales. In fact perceived hold periods can be used to capture information from callers which may result in actually answering the request that they were calling about in the first place without ever actually being put through to a live agent. “While you are waiting, please answer a few questions about your problem…” It’s a subtle way of creating comfort with automated systems without being too direct about the process.

Darrell Knight is president of Message Technologies (MTI), an Atlanta-based voice solutions provider.

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