Using Speech IVR As a Holiday Staffing Strategy, Part II

This is the second of a two-part series on using speech recognition technology during the holidays. To read the first part, click here.

A recent Oracle survey entitled “Holiday Season 2006: What’s in Store?” noted that merchants “are putting IT solutions into place to address [holiday staffing] issues.” Speech automation—also known as speech-enabled interactive voice response, or SIVR—is well suited for addressing such issues because it enables you to streamline your contact center operations. A speech automation application gives customers a self-service option to access information or services they are requesting without the need for a live CSR. This solution can take the best attributes of their best contact center agents and replicate those in a consistent manner.

SIVR in use
Speech automation can be especially useful during the holiday season as store locators, to handle order status inquiries, and to activate gift cards.

For instance, speech automation can communicate brick-and-mortar holiday hours that vary by location, as well as directions and other necessary information. The store locator applications can also include special promotional messages, as delivered by store managers or by corporate headquarters, on a location-by-location basis as well as promote catalog or online shopping alternatives.

During the holiday season, contact centers are inundated with customer order-status inquiries. Customers want to ensure that their packages will be delivered on time. An order-status speech automation application is an incredibly efficient way to divert and handle these routine calls. A live agent is needed only when complex issues arise.

Gift-card applications enable customers to activate a card, buy a card, indicate where they want it sent, how much money to place on it, and whether they want a personal message. At this last step, customers can have the option to escalate to a live agent. This hybrid approach of speech automation with easy voice transfer to a live agent is very popular.

Aside from handling customer calls, speech automation can reduce internal costs for hiring seasonal employees. Many companies now use SIVR for employment “prescreenings.” The technology asks a series of questions to each prospective applicant, who speaks his or her answers.

Prescreening tools are being developed with the advice of industrial psychologists. Standardized questions analyze personality traits such as honesty and dependability. In addition, federal, state, and local labor and employment laws and regulations on interviewing are being integrated.

Companies tailor the prescreening questionnaires to their needs. They can also include “knockout” questions, which if answered inappropriately prevent candidates from moving to the second body of questions. For example, you may want to ask, “Do you have your own transportation?” or “Can you work a flexible schedule?” Questions can also raise specific issues that hiring professionals might want to address, such as “Would you alert management if someone was using illegal drugs on the job?”

The responses are recorded and converted into data that can be sorted. Prospective candidates can be ranked in comparison to the rest of the applicant population and contacted by recruiters to conduct additional interviews.

Costs and ROI
According to Richard Feinberg at the Center for Customer Driven Quality at Purdue University, “Estimates indicate that speech IVR costs less than $0.25 per contact; live CSR $6-$20 per contact; online chat $2-$12 per contact; and e-mail $2-$5 per contact. Only IVR [without a speech component] at $0.10 and FAQs at $0.01 per contact are less expensive.” Your actual return on investment depends, of course, on the custom applications involved.

Simple applications such as a store locator are based on data that are segregated from customer-dependent information such as pending orders. A packaged store-locator application can easily integrate with a static database. Because the application does not require extensive information capture from the caller or elaborate data dips, you can send basic store location data to a speech automation solution provider, resulting in a less complex, speedier development process.

Mark Abramson is chief executive officer of Atlanta-based interactive speech services provider Message Technologies, Inc.

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