As I’m sure you already know, speech recognition and speech analytics are two related yet very different disciplines. In the call center world, speech recognition has evolved from the clunky DTMF touchtone solutions of a few years ago (which you basically bolted onto your switch to handle call steering), to highly advanced, speech-enabled self-serve solutions -- or “automated agents” -- which actually have “personas” and can guide you, just like a live agent, through a transaction via natural conversation (this facilitated through today’s advanced speech algorithms and increasingly sophisticated “full vocabulary” speech engines). With today’s self-serve solutions, very often the “automated agent” can handle the entire interaction – whether it’s informational or transactional -- and the customer may never need to speak to a live agent. Speech analytics, on the other hand, primarily relates to the “mining” of recorded call data, which typically takes place post transaction, and does not require the same level of speech recognition technology as an “automated agent” or IVR application takes. With speech analytics, organizations can “mine” their recorded agent/customer interactions, post-transaction, and gain new insights into customer and agent behavior – insights which can be used to drive key business decisions. OK so there you have the basic functions/advantages of both technologies.
A while back, I blogged about EFM firm Allegiance’s recent survey of bank customers, showing that banks could be doing a lot more to earn their customers’ loyalty. I think I came off sounding a bit bitter and I might have left the impression that I hate the banking industry, which isn’t really true, I appreciate what the banks do, for all of us -- and I don’t really believe that all banks are run by evil, greedy people. But the Allegiance survey did get me thinking about some of the things I’d like to see my bank do, in order to serve me better. So here goes. Like a lot of people, I keep a “coin jar” which I use to offload my coins when I have too many rattling around in my pants pocket. Actually, my coin “jar” is really a heavy duty freezer bag that I keep on top of my refrigerator -- I started using a bag because it forces me to deposit the coins sooner than when I used a glass Crystal Rock jug, which would sometimes reach a weight of over 100 pounds when it filled up with change. Sometimes when my seven-year-old daughter comes into the kitchen and sees the bag, she asks me what I’m saving the coins for, and I jokingly tell her that it is her “college fund,” upon which she usually laughs, because she knows I’m only joking (at least for now).
A recent report from the Associated Press underscores what many of us in the call center industry have known for years: The job just simply isn’t healthy. Call center agents sit all day and barely move from their cubicles. And as many agents in India are coming to learn, that lack of activity can lead to a wide range of health problems, from obesity to heart disease to diabetes to sleep disorders. Not to mention depression and family discord (the latter probably stemming from the really strange hours most call center agents need to keep -- many of them have to work the “dead man’s shift”). After all, it’s tough working in a place where the air is stagnant, germs are abundant, and there’s little to no natural light (not to mention the generally lousy attitude and gloomy outlook on life that is so pervasive among call center workers). The article makes it sound as though the call center industry in India, which employs literally millions of people, is causing a widespread health crisis that is spiraling out of control – a crisis which might actually end up ruining the industry in that country. According to the article, many agents are quitting after they discover that they are piling on the pounds and encountering a variety of health problems.
Interactive Intelligence yesterday announced that it has been re-certified to ISO 9001:2000, marking its third consecutive year of compliance. That means the company's management system is up to snuff, as per ISO standards, and that it is equipped to deliver the products and services it promises it can deliver, with the quality that customers should expect. The International Organization for Standardization is an international standard-setting body composed of representatives from various national standards organizations. Headquarted in Geneva, Switzerland, it promulgates world-wide industrial and commercial standards. In order to gain ISO 9001:2000 certification an organization must consistently follow a set of procedures covering all key processes in the business, including monitoring processes to ensure they are effective; keeping adequate records; checking output for defects, with appropriate corrective action where necessary; conducting regular review of individual processes and the quality system itself; and facilitating continual improvement. Interactive Intelligence underwent an audit at its headquarters in Indianapolis last month to ensure it was maintaining ISO standards for the development and distribution of its call/contact center and enterprise/SMB communications solutions. "Being certified to ISO 9001:2000 gives further assurance to customers and partners that we are able to satisfy their most stringent quality, reliability, efficiency and cost-effectiveness requirements," said Interactive Intelligence founder and CEO, Dr. Donald E. Brown in a press release. "Particularly for large enterprises, as well as those representing regulatory-driven industries, such as government, financial services and healthcare, our certification gives these customers added assurance that we can meet their highest standards." Interactive Intelligence first achieved ISO 9001:2000 certification in December 2004.
Arvato Services, a leading global third-party customer service outsourcing provider, is reportedly expanding its use of Aspect Software’s leading contact center solutions. Specifically, Arvato is using Aspect’s Uniphi Connect with its existing Aspect CallCenter ACDs to create a “virtual” SIP-based VoIP contact center. With this new IP-based solution in place, Arvato will be able to improve agent performance and boost customer satisfaction. It also gains a solution which can scale more readily, and which offers greater flexibility to meet rapidly changing business needs. Because Uniphi Connect is a hybrid solution, Arvato will be able to use it to support agents working in both TDM and IP environments. By coupling the solution with Aspect CallCenter ACD, Arvato will now have a virtual contact center solution, where all end points on the network are “equal.” Such systems are ideal for facilitating the remote agent model, or the informal contact center, where other knowledge workers within the organization can be used as “expert agents,” with all the same software and resources available on their desktops as agents in the main center. Calls and other contacts can be routed seamlessly to all end points using this system.
Dell is reportedly making more staff cuts, this time at one of its Ottawa call centers. According to a report in London Free Press, dozens of employees at one of Dell’s call centers in Ottawa will be given pink slips sometime in the coming weeks. But the bigger blow is that Dell has decided to scrap its plans to add 1,200 seats to its call center operations in the province. Dell representative Jess Blackburn told London Free Press that the cuts are “part of Dell's global review of its business operations and efforts to consolidate and reduce our costs of operations around the world." For the past few years, Dell has opened one call center after another, the philosophy apparently being that opening more centers, rather than improving the quality of service, was the best strategy for boosting c-sat … but now it appears the tide has turned, and lately I’ve seen more announcements about Dell call center closings, rather than openings. This particular report makes me wonder if the current unfavorable exchange rate on the U.S. dollar in Canada had something to do with Dell’s decision … Not to go off on a tangent, but another thing I always wonder, when I read these reports, is whether self-service solutions and other channels for contact, such as email and Web, are gaining favor among consumers and are therefore starting to have an impact on staffing levels …
According to a report in the Elmira Star-Gazette, Gov. Eliot Spitzer was expected to attend a ribbon cutting ceremony for the opening of Sitel Corp.’s new contact center in Erwin, N.Y. this morning. The new 400 seat contact center -- which will be a real shot in the arm for Erwin and Elmira-area’s economy -- will be located in a 45,000-square-foot former Corning Inc. building at 103 Canada Road. According to the report, the state of New York is contributing $2.25 million to the project, including a $1.5 million grant from Empire State Development and $750,000 from the Governor's Office for Small Cities. Sitel will invest up to $4.6 million to renovate the former Corning Inc. facility. Privately-held Sitel is a leading contact center outsourcing firm with more than 145 facilities in 30 countries employing 67,000 employees. In other contact center opening news, Global Contact Services of North Carolina has announced that it will be opening a new call center in Pittsfield, Pa., creating at least 200 new jobs by early March. This will be GCS’s eleventh call center location. As per a report in the Bangor Daily News, “the move softens the loss of 145 local jobs announced Monday by San Antonio Shoe and six teaching positions that will be lost in June with the closure of St. Agnes Catholic School.”