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Article : No More Menu Mazes

Too Many Options Is Not An Option
It's one of the classic annoying self-service phrases, one that immediately makes any caller's eyes roll. "Please listen carefully as our menu options have changed." It puts you instantly on alert, ready to play another round of deep menu diving. Is it under Account Info? Or maybe Billing Inquiries? Maybe Other Options will have the answer this time. Or is it time to hit 0 and wait for an operator?

Across industries, from telecom to financial services, there is a need for a more customer-friendly, cost-effective way to greet and route customer care calls to the appropriate agent or automated destination. Many organizations offer so many options within their self-service interactive voice response (IVR) systems that they end up frustrating customers. Companies are incurring considerable costs due to misrouted calls and low automation because the callers "zero out" to an expensive agent. In addition, there is the overall problem of low customer satisfaction due to caller frustration with an unfriendly or confusing interface. Do all contact centers have to sacrifice customer satisfaction in order to save money?

Menus Within Menus
The culprit is this concept of menus within menus for a phone system. Nested menus make sense for a graphical user interface. After all, a user can skim rapidly between choices, moving up and down a menu tree with the flick of a mouse.

But a telephone interface is linear by nature. Information arrives one piece at a time, not all at once. Interacting with an IVR system is nothing like talking to a live human – it violates basic conversational niceties by forcing you to choose from a list of responses at each menu level. Many callers, figuring they don't have time to play Twenty Questions with a touchtone menu, try to bypass the system for a human agent – even if it means waiting on hold. These callers feel that a live agent can solve their problem or put them in touch with the right person in just one step – without nested menus or a series of multiple choice questions.

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If an IVR system could combine all of its multiple choice questions into one flat menu, just like a live agent, then it could direct callers to the right place quickly. We can do that today with Call Steering solutions.

Call Steering uses speech recognition technology to provide accurate, cost-effective call routing for contact centers from a single point of access. Callers describe their needs naturally, in their own words, and are immediately routed to their destination without having to navigate complex menu mazes.

For example, a customer could say "Uh, yeah, I have a question about my statement," and be directed to either an appropriate self-service menu or a live agent who specializes in resolving billing disputes.

Learning The Language Of The Callers
Let's say you took a job as a concierge at a hotel… one whose guests didn't speak your language. You might survive by keeping a translation phrasebook on hand and learning a few key questions and answers. Perhaps you would ask each guest the same question, "Would you like directions, help with your bags, or a taxi cab?" and hope their simple responses were covered by your phrasebook. If someone answered unexpectedly, you might not be able to meet their request, and would be forced to ask additional questions. Each interaction with the guest would be rather long as you cycled through possible options: "Do you want directions to the nearest bathroom? To the front desk? To the elevators? To the…"

Whether they use touchtone or speech, most of today's automated self-service systems follow the same approach. They don't make an effort to understand what a caller needs. Instead, they follow a directed dialog approach – offering a distinct set of choices, and asking for one piece of information at a time. As long as the caller gives responses understood by the system – whether by pressing the pound sign or by saying "Payment Menu" – the system slowly but surely guides the caller to an appropriate destination. Effective? Sometimes. Efficient? Rarely.

Now consider a different approach to your hotel job. You stand next to a previously trained concierge, and listen as he answers tens of thousands of questions from guests looking for help. By the time you've heard all these questions, you've become familiar enough with the language used by guests that you'd be able to recognize most of the questions they ask. Whether someone was asking for a taxicab, help with their bags, advice on a good restaurant, or a weather forecast… you'd have heard plenty of examples that may not have been covered in your phrasebook. By the time you took over the job yourself, you'd be able to answer most of the common and some of the uncommon questions that most guests would ask. And if they said something unfamiliar, you could probably ask a few questions to figure it out… or, worst case, call a native speaker over to help you.

This is the approach used by a Call Steering solution to train the system to route callers. Rather than explicitly preprogramming a grammar of all the possible things you could say to the system – for instance, every possible synonymous phrase for "pay my bill" – the system is pre-trained to choose an appropriate destination based on actual examples of customer requests. By the time it's heard thousands of examples, the system's statistical language model is quite capable of understanding, categorizing, and routing calls from customers who use their own words to describe an issue. It can ask follow up questions to clarify a request. Should the system be asked an unusual request, it can defer to live agents (its own "native speakers") for help. Like any successful speech deployment, these applications succeed thanks to careful gathering of caller requirements, with follow up usability testing and tuning engagements for continuous improvement.

The Results
Call Steering solutions reduce costs by reducing the number of misrouted calls. By connecting callers to destinations accurately and efficiently, contact centers enjoy shorter call times and higher automation rates. At the same time, Call Steering solutions improve the caller experience by eliminating complex menu mazes. Callers describe their needs in their own words and move directly to their destination. By consolidating multiple customer service lines into one single access point, a company can better communicate its brand with a caller experience shared by all customers.

With 90 percent of most customer contact occurring by telephone, an increasing number of organizations recognize the value of a more customer-friendly, cost-effective way to greet each and every caller. Depending on call volume, a Call Steering solution can provide a return on investment in a matter of months. Speech-enabled call steering solutions make routing by touchtone obsolete.

About Jeff Foley:
As solutions marketing manager for Network Speech at Nuance Communications, Jeff Foley creates and manages marketing and messaging for Nuance's portfolio of telephony products. An MIT engineer-turned-marketer, Jeff focuses on bridging the gaps between sales, marketing and development.

About Nuance:
Company LogoNuance Communications (NASDAQ: NUAN) is a provider of voice and language solutions for businesses and consumers around the world. Its technologies, applications and services make the user experience more compelling by transforming the way people interact with information and how they create, share and use documents. Every day, millions of users and thousands of businesses experience Nuance’s proven applications.
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Today's Tip of the Day - Brand & Service

Read today's tip or listen to it on podcast.

Published: Monday, November 6, 2006

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2021 Buyers Guide Call Routing Optimization

Eastwind Communications

Eastwind sells Oracle, Ribbon, and Dialogic SBC and routing solutions for both premise-based and cloud-based deployments along with Microsoft Teams integration. Eastwind offers managed service offerings and complete 7x24 support.
PH: 508-862-8600

Lieber & Associates

Call Routing and Contact Center Optimization
L&A provides consulting services to optimize contact centers, including call routing, skills-based routing, and multi-location routing. The firm's senior consultants have several decades of experience each in this area and work with all vendors' systems. L&A's president pioneered skills-based routing.
PH: +1-773-325-0608

OpsTel Services

The SPEED solution solves for service level issues while cost optimizing the environment with automation.

Provides an enhanced way to speed up & optimize invoking temporary agent skills configuration changes into the contact center environment.

Speed allows you to schedule both future changes & temporary changes that auto-revert back to the original state when scheduled time expires.

Speed features:

*Automated / Scheduled Temporary Agent Skills Configuration Management
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*Descriptive Monitoring Activity Dashboard
*Detailed “End to End’ Audit Trail and Performance Monitoring
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